Ray Chen, violin with Julio Elizalde, piano
Friday, October 6 Program Notes
Violin Sonata in D Major Ludwig von Beethoven Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata in D Major, written in the middle of his life, was his first sonata for violin, as well as the first in a set of three sonatas, Op. 12. Beethoven dedicated these sonatas to Antonio Salieri, one of his teachers (and the infamous character that we today often associate with Mozart and conspiracy theories). In fact, these compositions were written in the wake of Mozart’s late violin sonatas. In light of those mature works of genius, Beethoven faced the challenge of establishing himself as an adept and worthy composer in this genre. Beethoven not only accomplished this in his Op. 12, as it too became a towering achievement, but he also proved himself as unique and distinct from his predecessor. In the original edition of Op. 12, the work is designated “for harpsichord or piano, with a violin.” Upon examination, this subtitle is somewhat misleading, considering that Beethoven’s notated dynamic indications are much wider in range than those seen in earlier works, and would be impossible to articulate on the harpsichord. In addition, the subtitle could also be deceiving to audiences today, as it may give the impression that the violin does not play as crucial a role as the piano. Although this kind of label was customary at the time, Beethoven in his writing pushes the envelope by having the violin assume a more prominent role. The instruments are essentially equals, allowing the two to beautifully intertwine. The first movement opens with a declamatory statement, boldly announcing Beethoven’s presence on the scene. In the second movement, a set of variations built on a gentle theme, both instruments are given elaborated versions of the theme, further perpetuating this conversation between piano and violin. Finally, the rollicking third movement explores new musical lands in between the restatements of the opening theme in a Rondo form. A heightened sense of drama and intensity characterizes this sonata, the likes of which can only be attributed to Beethoven, the mastermind behind it all. Violin Sonata No.1 in D Minor Camille Saint-Saëns Camille Saint-Saëns’ first violin sonata in D minor, Op. 75 was written at a time when the composer’s reputation in France was waning. Once considered the leader among French composers, with the emergence of new ideas and Les Six in France, his popularity began to fade. Like Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns was dedicated to pursuing both the composition of new music and new ideas while still maintaining an appreciation of the musical past. The first performance of Saint-Saëns’ first violin sonata was given by the composer himself on piano and Belgian violinist Martin Marsick, to whom the piece was dedicated. Similar to the composer’s Organ
Symphony (Symphony No.3, Op. 78) this sonata is comprised of four sections paired together into two large movements, the inner movements each being attached to the outer movements. The concept of continuous movements fascinated Saint-Saëns and is also utilized in his first cello concerto. Saint-Saëns’ virtuosity as a pianist can be seen in his demanding writing for the piano, as demonstrated at the end of the final movement in which the instruments join in unison perpetual motion. This arduous writing, also given to the violin, ended up translating well to other virtuoso violinists’ performances such as the famed Jascha Heifetz, who earned the title as the sonata’s “champion virtuoso.” Solo Sonata in E Minor Eugène Ysaÿe Eugène Ysaÿe’s Solo Sonata in E Minor is the fourth of a six-work collection of sonatas, each inscribed to a fellow violinist. He dedicated this particular one to Fritz Kreisler, a close personal friend. Although older than Kreisler, Ysaÿe looked up to him both as a fellow violinist and a composer. Known by many as the first modern violinist, Ysaÿe was especially praised during his lifetime for his masterful technique and his ability to take rhythmic liberties within phrases without losing a sense of cohesion. Ysaÿe’s compositions demonstrate his intimate knowledge of the violin, writing intricate polyphonic lines, transforming the violin—a primarily melodic instrument—into one that projects multiple lines simultaneously. It was bold on his part to write these works, given that in the intervening years since J. S. Bach’s works for solo violin were composed, few had dared to touch the genre. Certainly Ysaÿe’s work displays the clear influence of Bach; however, many would argue that Ysaÿe was able to successfully re-ignite and develop the genre by utilizing violin techniques that Bach had not used. Interestingly, Ysaÿe took after Bach in that they both wrote collections of six works for solo violin. This fascination with the number six extends even to Ysaÿe’s choice in writing six-note chords in certain passages. Bach’s influence can also be seen in this sonata with the inclusion of two dance movements that were common in the Baroque period, the Allemande and Sarabande. Further, the Sarabande is built on a descending repeating figure (“ostinato”) through the entire piece, a technique that Bach also employed. The Finale is a moto perpetuo (perpetual motion), much like the final movements of the three sonatas of Bach. Parallels aside, Ysaÿe’s works stand on their own merits and have captured the imagination of violinists and moved the hearts of listeners since their inception.
Suite Populaire Espagnole Manuel de Falla Manuel de Falla’s Suite Populaire Espagnole is a transcription, written in collaboration with esteemed violinist Paul Kochanski, of Falla’s Siete canciones populares españoles, first written for voice and piano. Born in Cádiz, Spain, and moving to Madrid at age twenty, the Spanish tradition was deeply ingrained in him. On the other hand, he also gleaned from the styles of influential peers such as Ravel, Debussy, and Stravinsky. The piece is comprised of six movements, four of which (El Paño Moruno, Nana, Canción, and Asturiana) are based on Spanish folk songs, while the other two movements (Polo and Jota) are original compositions where Falla captures the folk style. The first movement, El pano murano, contains a rhythmic Spanish flair in which the accompaniment imitates a strummed instrument. Austriana is similar in style to Ravel in the oscillating piano octaves, creating an ethereal openness. The Jota contains frequent hemiolas in which the melody is spread across the bar-lines with full harmonies and textures. If you listen intently you will hear pizzicato chords in the violin which resemble castanets. Nana, or Berceuse, as the score also indicates, is a lullaby; the calm, rocking motion heard in the rhythmic structure mirrors the lullaby text used in the original vocal composition. Cancion’s foundations are somewhat uneasy and uncomfortable; the off-set rhythms begin to feel like a mixed meter, creating interest. Polo begins ferociously with the piano playing large, accented chords which then take a backseat to the proud defiance bursting forth in the violin. Czardas Vittorio Monti The czardas is a Hungarian folk dance characterized by gradual tempo progression from very slow at the beginning to a fast and wild finish. It is a courting dance for men and women in which the women wear large, wide skirts so that as they dance, the flair of the music can be seen in the flare of their clothing. Monti’s piece is not a specific folk tune or piece but rather uses the popular nineteenth century dance form to imitate Hungarian folk music. It is more of a caricature with Italian virtuosity than an actual representation of traditional Hungarian music. Throughout the course of the piece, you will hear several virtuoso techniques such as the dramatic opening played only on the G-string, as well as a section using stopped or “false” harmonics.
Notes by Delaney Turner ’18, BM – Performance (Saint-Saëns, de Falla, Monti) and Anna Lipscomb ’19, BM – Performance (Beethoven and Ysaÿe)