Friday, 15 March 2013

Programme Notes - Mar'13

Sonata for violin and keyboard in C minor (BWV 1017) —  J. S. Bach (1685 – 1750)

i. Largo (Siciliano), ii. Allegro, iii. Adagio, iv. Allegro.

Though Bach's first professional post after his voice broke was as a violinist, he was of course supreme on the keyboard. It is not surprising therefore that his set of 6 sonatas for violin and keyboard are unlike contemporary violin sonatas (Leclair, Händel, etc.), which are characteristically solo sonatas with gamba/cello bass and the harpsichord simply elaborating the gamba line according to the 'figured' suggestions of the composer. For Bach's sonatas are true duos, between violin and the fully 'realized' harpsichord; they do not require gamba. They were probably written while Bach was employed by Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen (1717-23), who (until his marriage) kept an excellent orchestra and was himself a skilful player; the period of the unaccompanied violin and cello suites, English and French harpsichord suites, Brandenburg concertos, etc. Five of the 6 sonatas in this set follow the 'slow-fast-slow-fast' pattern of movements used here. Sonata 4 is in C minor. The first movement has the dotted 6/8 rhythm of a sicilienne. The 2 fast movements are typical, quasi-fugal, pieces where the 3 voices (2 for the harpsichord) imitate each other through a sequence of keys. But the wonderful Adagio is strikingly original. Over continuous triplet figuration in the right hand of the harpsichord (c.f. 'Jesu, joy of man's..'), the violin uncomfortably drapes a 3/4 melody (again dotted), always across the bar lines.

Sonata for violin and piano in D major (opus 12/1) — L. v. Beethoven (1770 - 1827)

i. Allegro con brio, ii. Tema con variazioni (Andante con moto), iii. Rondo (Allegro)

In 1792 the 22 year old Beethoven moved from Bonn to Vienna to take composition lessons with Haydn who, however, soon (1794) left for his second visit to England.  During those first 10 years in Vienna Beethoven additionally took violin lessons from Ignaz Schuppanzigh and composition lessons from Antonio Salieri. This sonata, the first of a set of 3, was written in 1798 and dedicated to Salieri. It therefore falls in what is known technically as Beethoven's 'early' period; classical and Mozartian. Typical 'Mozartian' features include brisk outer movements (in D in this case), the 1st in sonata-form, the last a rondo, sandwiching a 'slow' movement in the adjacent key of A, itself an original theme and a set of 4 variations involving dividing and then sub-dividing the notes, a variation in triplets and another in the minor.

Sonata for piano and violin in C minor No. 3 (op. 45) — Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)

i. Allegro molto ed appassionato, ii. Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza, iii. Allegro animato.

We now move to the world of the late romantic sonata. Grieg wrote 3 sonatas for violin and piano. The 1st (1865) and 2nd (1867) come from that happy period that saw his most popular works. (In 1867 Grieg married his cousin Nina, in 1868 he wrote his piano concerto and their daughter was born, but in 1869 she died.) Our 3rd sonata was written two decades later (1886/7) during another period of relative happiness just after the completion of Troldhaugen (his fine house near Bergen). It was premiered in Leipzig in December 1887 with Grieg at the piano and Brodsky on the violin. (Incidentally, it was then and chez Brodsky, that Grieg, Brahms and Tchaikovsky all met.) It is one of Grieg's masterpieces and may be compared with Frank's A major and Brahms' D minor sonatas, all written at much the same time. Its many fine themes, related rhythmically as well as melodically, are cleverly unpicked and repetitively explored. Sombre, heroic, vital, well integrated, varied in pace, with daring intervals, tempi, and key shifts. It is a fine work.


Sonata for violin and piano in B (Op. post.) —— Frederick Delius (1862 - 1934)

i. Allegro con brio, ii. Andante molto tranquillo, iii. Allegro con moto.

Frederick Delius (born Fritz, in Bradford of German parents), anglicized his name to Frederick while living in Paris at the turn of the century. Fritz was born into a musical household and as a boy acquired a competence on the violin and piano, but a fervent enjoyment of music. The  family's wool business did not appeal, and at 22 young Fritz was allowed to try his hand at growing oranges in Florida, where however he bought a piano, took lessons in composition, gave lessons in violin and piano and started composing; he even had some pieces performed and published there. Eventually his father relented and, in 1886, he began a brief 18 month period of study in the famous Leipzig Conservatoire. That was his formal musical training. Living in Paris from 1888 till 1897, and mixing with a cosmopolitan bunch of artists (including the German painter he eventually married), he composed several operas and large scale works (none of which he heard for many years). Discernable influences include Grieg and negro music. Chamber works were easier to stage; this violin-piano sonata was written 1892 and performed privately in Paris the next year. However, it was rejected by a publisher on trivial grounds and the discouraged Delius put it aside where it languished till after his death (hence post-humous). Its appeal lies largely in its youthful freshness; it works in the right hands.

(Programme notes compiled by Ian West, from numerous sources.  )



L. Cawstein

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