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PROGRAM NOTES: SITKOVETSKY TRIO

 

Johannes Brahms: Piano Trio no. 3 in C minor, Op. 101

This is the last work Brahms wrote for the piano trio. It is a magnificent work in every respect, from the sharply etched melodies to the concision and masterly manner in which they are handled. It is also one of Brahms’s most compact scores, tightly and concisely argued using a minimum of melodic substance developed with maximum efficiency. Brahms seemed to reserve C minor for some of his weightiest, most dramatic and gravely serious works – the First Symphony, the First String Quartet and the Third Piano Quartet come to mind. The first performances – in Hofstetten and Budapest that year – were private ones. The Trio’s official public premiere took place on February 26, 1887 in Vienna with members of the Heckmann Quartet and Brahms at the piano.

The very opening is sufficient to arrest the listener’s attention and hold it for the duration of the movement: a bold, even fierce gesture that biographer Malcolm MacDonald refers to as “explosive wrath.” This first subject consists of several elements, including a tautly rhythmic figure for the three instruments in unison. The second theme, though warmly lyrical, brings no relaxation of the tension and momentum.

The second movement, also in C minor, is mysterious, almost wraithlike, yet also of great delicacy. MacDonald calls it “a profoundly uneasy movement of grey half-lights, rapid stealthy motion, and suppressed sadness.” The central episode changes to block chords for the piano and pizzicato for the strings, but the mood remains subdued. The dynamic level rarely rises above piano.

The third movement’s main features are a relaxed mood of tenderness and natural simplicity with an antiphonal treatment of piano and strings and an irregular metre of 7/4. The key is now C major rather than C minor. For the central section the music moves into another rare metre, 15/8 (five equal groups of triplets).

The sonata-form finale returns to C minor and to the spirit of grim determination that dominated the first. As in the monumental First Symphony, drama and fury give way to radiant warmth, and C minor yields to C major in the final pages.

 

Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Trio no. 2 in C minor, Op. 66

Six years after writing his first piano trio (1839), Mendelssohn produced a second. It was first performed on December 20, 1845 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, where Mendelssohn was serving as conductor of its famous orchestra. The musicians were the orchestra’s concertmaster Ferdinand David, cellist Franz Karl Witmann and the composer as pianist.

The first movement, in perfectly constructed sonata-form, opens with a restless, flowing subject for the piano, soon joined by the strings. The second subject is a glorious, life-affirming theme in E flat major. The exposition is not repeated, perhaps since the development section is so extensive and does such a thorough job of working out both themes with great inventiveness.

The slow movement offers a good measure of consolation after the relentless pace and intensity of the first. It is a three-part structure, with the outer ones gently songlike and set to the pervasive rhythmic pattern of short-long, short-long. The central section has a more flowing quality and is sustained by the piano’s continuous triplet figures.

The Scherzo flies by in a blizzard of notes. It is further characterized by much imitative writing and by a vaguely Hungarian gypsy flavor.

In its powerful sonorities, massive piano chords, extremes of range, seriousness of purpose and overall intensity, the finale seems to speak more of Brahms than of Mendelssohn. Another feature of this movement is the incorporation of a chorale-like theme that has had scholars searching intently for its German-Lutheran origin – in vain. The Trio concludes with an extensive, exuberant coda in C major that is nearly symphonic is scope.

 

Franz Schubert: Piano Trio no. 2 in E flat major, Op. 100 (D. 929)

If the public today holds a slight preference for the first of Schubert’s two piano trios, the one in B flat major, this is countered by Schubert’s own preference for the other, in E flat. Both reflect the composer’s study of similar works by Mozart and Beethoven in their refined compositional technique and equal partnership of three instruments. The first performance was given on the day after Christmas, 1827 at the Musikverein in Vienna. Exactly three months later, in the same hall, Schubert performed the piano part at the only public concert he ever gave. The concert was an artistic and financial success, but the event was never repeated.

Lasting about forty minutes in performance, the E flat Trio is longer than any Schubert symphony except the Great C major. Although it does not contain as many beguiling themes as does the B flat Trio, it has even fuller, almost symphonic textures with greater brilliance and more breadth to the development sections.

The first movement is constructed from four thematic ideas. The first of these, memorable as it is, and boldly stated in the opening bars, turns out to be the one Schubert employs the least, while the last of them is the one he exploits to the fullest. The melancholy cast of the slow movement derives from a Swedish ballad Schubert presumably borrowed after hearing a tenor sing it. The Scherzo is a canon, with close imitation between piano and strings, while its central Trio section takes on the quality of a waltz. The finale breathes an air of carefree charm and lightness, at least initially. The second theme offers marked contrast of mood, metre and key. The movement develops into one of the longest Schubert ever wrote, over a thousand measures in the original version, but even in reduced form, as commonly played today, it runs to nearly fifteen minutes. Schumann’s description of Schubert’s final symphony as being “of heavenly length” can again be invoked for the finale of the E flat trio.

 

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

Program Notes: Ning Feng

Program Notes: Ning Feng

Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin sonata no. 1 in D major, Op. 12, no. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his first violin sonatas, a set of three (Op. 12) in 1797-98. Six more sonatas appeared by early 1803, and one more in 1812. Although we refer to these ten works as “violin sonatas,” in the original scores the music is invariably identified as being “for the harpsichord or fortepiano and a violin” (rather than the other way around). Such was the case with most eighteenth-century works of this type, but hardly true with Beethoven, where we can see in even the first sonata the nearly equal partnership of the two instruments. Graceful themes, transparent textures and traditional accompaniment figures are found in abundance. Yet mingling with these attributes we also find a robustness and a boldly independent spirit straining to burst the bonds of classical restraint and moderation. This sonata-form movement combines a number of musical ideas in an atmosphere of brilliance and strength. The slow central movement is an orthodox theme and variations set in A major. Four variations, including one (the third) in the minor mode with extremes of dynamic contrast, are built from the sweetly tender theme. The finale is a rondo, written in a lively, playful style, and it incorporates several examples of the rough humour for which Beethoven later became renowned.

Edward Elgar: Violin sonata in E minor, Op. 82
Elgar’s father, in addition to owning a music shop, tuned pianos and played the organ at church, so it was almost inevitable that young Edward would learn these instruments. But the violin was the instrument he truly loved. He played it in many amateur orchestras, and for a time planned on a solo career. Hence, it is not surprising to find a rather large number of works for violin from his early years as a composer. His first published piece was a Romance for violin and orchestra. Opus numbers 3, 4, 9, 12, 15, 17, 22 and 24 are also for violin with either piano or orchestral accompaniment. His Violin concerto (Op. 61) is one of the most significant of the twentieth century. Yet, unaccountably, the Violin sonata is neglected in almost inverse proportion to the fame of the concerto. This sonata, Elgar’s last work for violin, written in 1918, is a 25-minute masterpiece imbued with the spontaneous lyricism of Schubert and the passionate warmth of Brahms.

Elgar himself left this concise description of his sonata: “The first movement is bold and vigorous, then a fantastic, curious movement with a very expressive middle section; a melody for the violin they say it is as good or better than anything I have done in the expressive way … the last movement is very broad and soothing, like the last movement of the Second Symphony.”

Manuel de Falla: Suite Populaires Espagnole
Manuel de Falla regarded the promotion of Spanish music as his mission in life, and his Siete canciónes populaires españoles (Seven Spanish Folkongs) are just one of the many manifestations of this purpose. The texts are anonymous, but the tunes have been traced to actual popular songs from all over Spain. Written in 1914-1915 for voice and piano, the songs were first heard in Madrid sung by Luisa Vela with the composer at the piano on January 14, 1915. They were later orchestrated by the composer’s friend Ernesto Halffter in 1938-1945 and by Luciano Berio in 1978. Additionally there exist arrangements for violin (by the Polish violinist Paul Kochanski in 1924), for viola, and for cello, in each case with the string instrument replacing voice. In this form, the songs are sometimes known as the Suite populaire espagnole (minus the second song, “Seguidilla murciana”).

“El paño moruno” (The Moorish cloth) is set to a pulsating Moorish rhythm from the southeastern province of Murcia. The words to the song deplore the stain on the lovely cloth that will cause its selling price to plummet.

In “Asturiana” a weeping woman seeks consolation under a pine tree, which itself breaks into tears out of compassion. The melody comes from Asturias, in Spain’s far north.

From Aragon, another northern province, comes a “Jota” in rapid triple meter, about two lovers in a clandestine relationship.

“Nana” is a lullaby from the southernmost province of Andalusia, whose songs have a decidedly oriental cast.

“Canción” (song) is another love song, this one about eyes with traitorous qualities.

“Polo” is a wailing lament from Andalusia over the heartache of unrequited love. The fiery flamenco idiom will be familiar to those who know de Falla’s famous ballet score The Three-Cornered Hat.

Igor Stravinsky: Duo Concertante for violin and piano
The Duo Concertant is Stravinsky’s only original work for violin and piano, composed in 1931 and 1932 as one component of a program for the composer and the violinist Samuel Dushkin to play on European concert tours. The first performance was given in Berlin on October 28, 1932. (A 1933 performance with these artists can be heard on YouTube.) George Balanchine choreographed it in 1972.

The titles of the five movements suggest inspiration from the pastoral poets of antiquity, and Stravinsky himself claimed that “the spirit and form” of the Duo Concertant were determined by his love of this poetry. However, as ever with this composer’s comments, one must be wary of taking them too literally. In fact, with the exception of the “Gigue,” there is little to connect the titles with the character of the music. Abram Loft, first violinist of the Fine Arts Quartet for many years, suggests that “the Duo Concertante will show to best effect as an oasis of coolness and reserve, surrounded in concert …by works of more outspokenly ‘Romantic’ quality.”

Franz Waxman: Carmen Fantasie
Ever since the premiere of Bizet’s Carmen in 1875, composers from A to Z have been creating fantasies, variations, paraphrases and transcriptions based on this opera, probably the most popular ever written. Among the best known works of this type for violin and orchestra (or piano) is the Carmen Fantasie by Franz Waxman, a composer best remembered for his 144 Hollywood film scores (Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, Sunset Boulevard, Rear Window, Peyton Place, etc.). Waxman wrote his Carmen Fantasie for Jascha Heifetz in 1946. He also used this music as part of his film score for Humoresque.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

Program Notes: Augustin Hadelich

 

Program Notes: Augustin Hadelich

Robert Schumann: Violin sonata no. 1 in A minor, Op. 105
Schumann wrote both of his completed sonatas for violin and piano in 1851. His wife Clara played the piano parts at their public premieres with violinists Ferdinand David (No. 1 in 1852) and Joseph Joachim (No. 2 in 1853). Though frequently recorded, these sonatas are only occasionally heard in the concert hall. The violin part tends to remain in the lower range where it merges, rather than contrasts, with the piano’s sonority; the upper range of the violin is seldom exploited; thematic ideas within the sonata-form movements are not always clearly differentiated; and not every movement is free from mechanical repetitiveness. But counterbalancing these qualities are Schumann’s often passionate themes, poetic ideas, rich textures and rhythmic urgency that contribute many inspired moments to the music.

The A minor sonata exemplifies many of these assets well in its opening bars. Instructed to play “with passionate expression”, the violinist plunges headlong into a sweeping theme full of romantic yearning and grand gestures. The second movement opens with a capricious but sunny principal theme that alternates with two short episodes, the first soulful, the second bustling. The turbulent, agitated mood returns in the finale. Violin and piano chase each other through a skittish first theme, whose rhythmic pattern pervades the entire movement. The second theme brings with it a measure of lyrical respite, but we are never far from the almost overbearing presence of the staccato rhythmic pattern.

Toru Takemitsu: From Far Beyond Chrysanthemums and November Fog
When Toru Takemitsu died seventeen years ago, the world lost one of its greatest composers of the late twentieth century. The enormous list of prestigious commissions, honours, awards and prizes he received (including the $50,000 Glenn Gould Prize in Ottawa in 1996) attest to his stature as one of the preeminent musical figures of our time. Takemitsu’s great achievement was to synthesize with a high degree of success aspects of both Western and Oriental esthetics and techniques. A preoccupation with timbres, textures, colours and evanescent sonorities is the hallmark of Takemitsu’s style, while freely evolving musical material, contemplative moods and a sensation of quasi-spatial experience inform most of his music. In addition, there is a sense of profound reserve and self-control in this music, which is often dreamy, sensuous, delicate and imbued with a huge palette of delicate pastels. The title From Far Beyond Chrysanthemums and November Fog (1983) comes from a stanza of a poem entitled “In the Shadow” by the Japanese poet Makoto Ooka. Takemitsu exploits the idea of “shadow” in the music by using what he calls six “dominant” pitches and six “shadow” pitches.

Maurice Ravel: Tzigane
It was through the Hungarian violinist Jelly D’Aranyi that Ravel became acquainted with gypsy music; he found it so fascinating that he determined to write a piece in this style for her. Two years later, he produced the Tzigane (French for gypsy, and related to the German Zigeuner), modeled after the freely structured Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano by Liszt. D’Aranyi and Ravel gave the first performance in London on April 26, 1924. The violin part was phenomenally difficult, and d’Aranyi had only a few days to learn it, but such was her mastery that Ravel remarked: “If I had known, I would have made the music still more difficult.” That July he transcribed the piano part for full orchestra.
The work opens with a long, unaccompanied presentation of the melodic material by the solo violin. In the course of a freely rhapsodic succession of ideas employing the so-called gypsy scale, the instrument indulges in all manner of virtuosic effects, including harmonics, double, triple and even quadruple stops.

Leoš Janáček:Violin sonata
Janáček’s music is steeped in the folk music idioms and speech patterns of his Moravian homeland, located in the north central region of what was formerly Czechoslovakia. “The whole life of man is in folk music,” he proclaimed. Hence, it comes as no surprise to find that this composer’s melodic material, both vocal and instrumental, follows closely the inflections, cadences and rhythms of the Czech language, and that he developed a uniquely expressive style.

Janáček left just one violin sonata, which he wrote in his sixties. (His two student works in the genre are lost.) “I wrote it at the beginning of the War when we were expecting the Russians in Moravia,” he declared. This was meant in a positive sense, for Janáček was counting on the Russians to liberate his country from the yoke of the Hapsburgs. Some listeners hear the sound of gunfire evoked in the final movement. Evocations of Russia can also be detected in the first and third movements, where the tone and melodic shapes resemble certain passages in Janáček’s opera Katya Kabanova, whose story comes from a Russian drama (The Storm by Ostrovsky). The sonata went through several transformations before arriving at its final form in 1922. The premiere was given that year in Brno by František Kudlaček and Jaroslav Kvapil.

André Previn: Tango, Song and Dance
André Previn unquestionably ranks among the most talented, versatile and best known musicians of our time. Now approaching his 82nd birthday, he sits comfortably at the pinnacle of numerous professions: as orchestrator (a service he was already providing MGM Studios back in high school), arranger, jazz pianist (as such he began recording in the days of 78s), classical pianist, conductor, television host, composer of film scores, author (of his memoir No Minor Chords) and composer of classical music.

Previn composed Tango, Song and Dance in 1997 as a set of lighthearted virtuoso pieces for violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. She and the composer gave the first performance on August 26, 2001 in Lucerne. Previn writes that in the first movement “the clustered harmonies are not terribly far removed from the sound the traditional accordion makes.” In the Song, “the violin predominates throughout, and the accompaniment is simple and direct.” Of the Dance, Previn notes that “I doubt whether dancers would be happy keeping time to this, but of course for two instrumentalists it becomes a good deal easier.”

 

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2013.

Three Violins and the Talented Trio

 

Imagine my delight when I received an email from Jonathan Chan in London, where he is studying at the Guildhall, telling me that he had been awarded the 1715 Dominicus Montagnana violin on loan from the Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank.  Canada’s finest young talents compete for the opportunity to use these instruments for a period of time. The competition is tough.

“I ended up leaving with the absolutely gorgeous Montangna that I had been eyeing since they (the Canada Council Instrument Bank) sent me the list of violins available.  It’s easy to play on and also easily the smoothest instrument I have played on”.

Jonathan is a tremendously gifted young violinist from Vancouver whom the Vancouver Recital Society has been mentoring for the past several years.  He has played twice for the VRS – once at the Kay Meek Centre, and he also gave a stunning performance of the Ysaye Unaccompanied Sonatas for Violin as our first ever surprise concert artist. Interestingly, there was someone from South Africa in the audience (alright, I’ll confess, my cello teacher from my university days in Capetown) and she was so taken with Jon’s performance that she arranged a concert tour of South Africa for him a couple of years later. And, imagine… on that tour he played both piano AND violin!

Then, next day I received a phone call from another young protégé of ours, Aaron Timothy Chooi. He’s a young violinist from Victoria who is entering his first year at Curtis in Philadelphia.  He could hardly speak, he was so excited. “Leila, I got a Guarneri. It’s worth a fortune. My mom says I have to lock my room every time I go out.  I get to keep the violin for three years. I’ve never had a violin for that long.”

He is the recipient of the Canada Council’s 1729 Guarneri del Gesu.  Timmy (as he is known) has also played for the VRS; once in our “Budding Brilliance Concert” at the Chan Centre a few years back; as the “opening act” to the recital at the Orpheum by pianist Yuja Wang, celebrating the 30th Anniversary Season of the VRS; and finally, he played our surprise concert in the spring and gave a splendid concert and talk for local school children.

His older brother (just by a little), Nikki Chooi, has just received his second violin from the Instrument Bank, having had to return his first. He now is playing the 1700 Taft Stradivari.  Nikki graduated from the Curtis Institute last Spring and I had the pleasure of attending his wonderful grad recital, sitting between his teacher and his mother.  Nikki played a recital for the VRS at the Kay Meek Centre a couple of years back.

It is indeed thrilling to be involved with young musicians like these… at the beginning of what we hope will be illustrious careers.  Naturally, they are all smart as well as gifted, and they are well aware of the challenges ahead.

May the violins take them to great heights!

Leila Getz

PS read about our talented trio and other winners on the Instrument Bank website.

LEILA GETZ: HATS ‘ON’ TO TWO EXTRAORDINARY MUSICIANS!

Following their incredible journey through the Beethoven Piano and Violin Sonatas in three concerts for the Vancouver Recital Society, Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov were anxious to blow off excess steam and see something of Vancouver before they left for their next engagement in San Francisco.

So I, as the tour guide, and Allison Hart, one of the concert sponsors and the driver for the tour, set out with the musicians on Sunday after they had changed and packed up. We headed down to Granville Island where the plan was to take them on a quick tour of the market before driving through Stanley Park, and then continue on to West Vancouver, where we were to meet the rest of the Beethoven Project sponsors for dinner.

At Granville Island we re-fueled the musicians with strong coffee and literally ran around showing them the wonders of the market. Then, we walked over to the Net Loft into the craft gallery where Alexander made a purchase. Isabelle walked across the corridor and spied Edie’s Hat Shop. “Oh,” she said, “I love hats!”  In we went. The young salesman pointed out that the store would be closing in three minutes, to which Isabelle responded, “Oh, you may not want to close in three minutes as you have some serious customers!”

As it turns out, Isabelle has the perfect head and face for hats. Every single one she tried on looked fabulous on her. Meanwhile, Alexander (who is a HUGE fan of Fred Astaire) asked whether they carried Top Hats. And of course, as you can see from the photograph, they do!

We left Edie’s hats 45 minutes later having purchased a total of 6 hats among us. Now there was no time to drive through Stanley Park, but we were wide awake from our hat shop adventure and decided to wear our hats to dinner. We turned a few heads, and had a wonderful dinner.

Is this really why artists so enjoy coming to Vancouver? 

PROGRAM NOTES: THE BEETHOVEN PROJECT


Ludwig van Beethoven

The Ten Violin Sonatas

Beethoven wrote his first violin sonatas, a set of three (Op. 12) in 1797-98. Six more appeared by early 1803, making a fairly compressed time span for a medium in which Beethoven was to write just one more in 1812. All but the tenth were written before the composer was 32 years of age. Yet all of them, to varying degrees, show Beethoven straining at the reins that in his early years still tied him to the genteel world of eighteenth-century classicism.

Although we refer to these ten works as “violin sonatas,” in the original scores the music is invariably identified as being “for the fortepiano and a violin” (rather than the other way around). Such was usually the case with eighteenth-century works of this type, but it was hardly true with Beethoven, where we can see in even the first sonata the nearly equal partnership of the two instruments. In these ten sonatas, Beethoven explores the ways and means of combining two voices of unequal sound mass into a dramatic partnership and coherent unity, “a colloquy of reciprocal enrichment,” in Louis Biancolli’s words.

Beethoven was renowned in Vienna for his prowess as a pianist, but he was also intimately familiar with the violin. He had taken lessons as a youth in Bonn, and later, at the age of 24, he sought further study with Ignaz Schupannzigh in Vienna. Hence, Beethoven was in an ideal position to explore the expressive potentialities and technical challenges of the violin as well as of the piano, some of which may sound “easy” to the casual listener, but which even today demand superior musicians to do them justice. Violins were undergoing changes in construction during Beethoven’s lifetime (longer neck, fingerboard and strings; higher bridge; greater tension on the strings), resulting in greater range and volume of tone. These did not go unnoticed by Beethoven, who made steadily increasing technical demands on the instrument.

Concertgoers wishing to delve deeper into the intricacies of these sonatas can be directed to books written by two of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists, Joseph Szigeti (The Ten Beethoven Sonatas for Piano and Violin, 1965), and Abram Loft (Violin and Keyboard, Volume II, 1973).

Program 1 (May 26, 8:00pm)

Sonata no. 1 in D major, Op. 12, no. 1

Right from the opening of the first sonata, there is a vigour and urgency to the music nonexistent in the many violin sonatas of Mozart and his contemporaries. Furthermore, there are numerous unconventional key relationships and excursions into remote tonalities. Notice that the violin, not the piano, first presents the lyrical theme that immediately follows the opening gesture. As for the new-found energy and urgency of the music, one can point to but a single pause for breath in the entire first movement (at the repeat of the exposition). The slow central movement is an orthodox theme and variations set, while the finale is a rondo, written in a lively, playful style, and which incorporates several examples of the rough humour for which Beethoven later became renowned.

Sonata no. 2 in A major, Op. 12, no. 2

“Where’s the beef?” Some concertgoers may remember this catchy slogan used for a promotion by a hamburger chain some years back. Similarly, one might well ask, “Where’re the themes?” in the first movement of Beethoven’s second violin sonata. In fact, there really aren’t any. Themes and melodies are not what this movement is “about.” Clearly, however, it is not the meagre musical material Beethoven works with that sets the sonata’s musical standard, but rather how he manipulates it. Not one listener in a hundred is likely to fault Beethoven for lack of a nice tune, such is the music’s jocular tone, harmonic sideswipes, impish humour and fascinating interplay of violin and piano. The slow movement is based on a lyrical, melancholic theme in A minor. Each of its two parts is announced by the piano, then repeated by the violin. The concluding movement is a high-spirited rondo with frequent humourous touches.

Sonata no. 3 in E flat major, Op. 12, no. 3

The third sonata features a sense of grandeur, power and majesty found in few other works of Beethoven’s early years. In addition, the piano writing is often of near-heroic proportions, by far the most substantial in the first three sonatas, and scarcely equalled in any of the subsequent sonatas. The violin is far from idle, but much of the piano work might just as well have been channeled into a sonata for solo piano. The second movement constitutes the emotional centre of gravity in this sonata. This is the first adagio we encounter in the traversal of these sonatas, and one of the finest slow movements in early Beethoven. To Abram Loft, it is music of “wonderful, timeless tranquillity … a lovely bouquet, fragrant with gracious melody and luxuriant turns and roulades.” The finale is a rollicking, joyous rondo with a catchy if hardly distinctive main theme. Frequent contrasts of dynamics and register are a constant feature of the movement.

Sonata no. 9 in A major, Op. 47 (Kreutzer)

The ninth of Beethoven’s ten sonatas for violin and piano is the grandest and most impressive of them all. It is by far the longest, is the most difficult, contains the richest textures, and to a greater extent than any other, puts both musicians on an absolutely equal footing throughout. Beethoven originally wrote his Kreutzer Sonata for a man named Bridgetower, but they had a falling out and Beethoven dedicated it instead to a certain Rodolphe Kreutzer, who never performed the work and even called it “outrageously unintelligible.”

Of the ten sonatas, only the Kreutzer has a slow introduction, a feature usually reserved for grand, imposing works Throughout the opening movement the violinist is called upon to execute numerous chords in triple and quadruple stops (playing across three and four strings simultaneously). The theme of the Andante con variazioni, the longest movement in all ten sonatas, is lofty, elegant and noble in its simplicity. In the finale, the rapid, nearly continuous rhythmic pattern of long-short-long-short belongs to the tarantella, a dance that originated in Italy and, according to legend, served to counteract the poisonous bite of the tarantula spider.

Program 2 (May 27, 11:00am)

Sonata no. 6 in A major, Op. 30, no. 1

Op. 30 dates from1802, the year Beethoven began sketching the mighty Eroica Symphony, a work as far removed as could be imagined from the pervasive geniality and charm of the first of the Op. 30 sonatas. But the two works share a common characteristic in the compositional process at work in their opening subjects. In the sonata, piano and violin share the material, with each hand of the piano part a separate element in itself. This means there are actually three strands of melodic material at work, intertwining and coming together to form a coherent whole. Similarly, in the Eroica, cellos, violins and winds all contribute individual melodic strands to the complex first subject. The ravishingly beautiful slow movement is in ternary form, with the outer sections distinguished by the persistent dotted rhythm (long-slow-long-slow), the inner portion by gently rippling triplets in the accompaniment. The final movement is a theme and variations set in which violin and piano take turns in presenting the melodic strands of the theme.

Violin sonata no. 7 in C minor, Op. 30, no. 2

Without question, this sonata is one of the grandest in the violinist’s repertory. It is a work of drama, passion, power and almost symphonic scope. The key of C minor immediately alerts us to music of serious import. Of Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas, this is the “biggest” in feel and scope. It is also one of just three (Nos. 5 and 10 are the others) to boast four movements rather than the standard three.

The first movement opens with a darkly mysterious, almost menacing subject divided into several epigrammatic components, a subject eminently suitable for development later on. The strongly contrasting second subject in E-flat major, march like yet playful, is introduced by the violin. The slow movement is one of heavenly beauty. The scherzo movement truly lives up to its title (“joke”) – witty, playful, full of rhythmic quirks and rough humour. The finale returns to C minor and, unusually for a large-scale work that opens in the minor tonality, finishes in the minor as well. Relentless dramatic tension and emotional strife mark this uncompromising movement.

Sonata no. 8 in G major, Op. 30, no. 3

This has been dubbed the “charmer” of the Op. 30 sonatas. Like many other works in G major, it breathes the air of unspoiled nature, untroubled emotions, lively spirits and gaiety. Indeed, Beethoven composed the sonata during the pleasant summer days he spent in the beautiful woods outside Vienna at Heiligenstadt.

The first movement is in standard sonata form with two themes in contrasting keys, a development section and a recapitulation. The central movement is neither slow nor a minuet (Beethoven specifies the tempo of a minuet, not a minuet itself). It consists of a series of slightly varied restatements of the opening subject, all set to music of enchanting loveliness and rococo grace. The final movement, a rondo, bubbles along with vivacious good humour and a strong suggestion of a peasant’s bagpipe droning away in the bass.

Program 3 (May 27, 3:00pm)

Sonata no. 4 in A minor, Op. 22

Abram Loft assesses the A-minor sonata in these terms: “In no other Beethoven sonata will the duo find a greater challenge to its sense of drama, of timing, of musical repartee … It is one of the most exciting pieces that amateur or professional can play.”

There is much that is unusual about this sonata. It is one of just two in a minor key (the seventh in C minor is the other) Its relentless first movement is in 6/8 metre, unusual for an opening movement of a sonata, as is the tempo marking of presto. Still another unorthodox point to note is the introduction of a new theme (in F major) within the development section, and still another one (in A minor) at the juncture of the development and recapitulation. The playful second movement is neither a slow movement nor a scherzo, but combines aspects of both and supports three full themes. The rondo finale returns to the driving momentum of the opening movement, its urgent main theme, always initiated by the piano, returning frequently and unvaried while in between statements of this theme are found a wealth of episodes contrasting in mood, texture, key, dynamic level and register.

Sonata no. 5 in F major, Op. 24 (Spring)

In the Spring Sonata of 1801, we see Beethoven poised on the threshold of his second-period style. He has still not completely bid farewell to the genteel world of Classicism – graceful themes, transparent textures and traditional accompaniment figures are found in abundance – yet mingling with these attributes we also find a robustness and vigour, a boldly independent spirit straining to burst the bonds of classical restraint and moderation.

This is the most popular of Beethoven’s violin sonatas. It opens with a flowing theme of spontaneous lyricism and gentle radiance, suggestive immediately of the freshness and beauty of spring that has earned the sonata its nickname. The second movement is deeply felt, so much so that some listeners find in it an anticipation of some of Schubert’s most expressive pages.

Op. 24 is Beethoven’s first violin sonata to have four movements. The “extra” movement is extremely short (barely a minute), but it perfectly bridges the sublime simplicity of the second movement and the gracious lyricism of the finale. The finale is a more or less conventional rondo.

Sonata no. 10 in G major, Op. 96

A gap of ten years separated Beethoven’s tenth and final violin sonata from his ninth. The biggest differences between this sonata and its predecessor – easily observed when the two are played in tandem, are its more intimate and restrained tone, gentler sonorities, and the avoidance of drama and heroics.

Like the Kreutzer Sonata, the first movement of the tenth contains three themes, the first of which is imbued with the gentle warmth and grace. The slow movement presages Beethoven’s late style – an adagio of ineffable beauty and restrained exaltation. Here, writes violinist Abram Loft, the players are “as close to paradise as one can approach in this world.” The short and jocular Scherzo in G minor brings us down to earth from the rarefied heights of the previous movement. The finale is a theme and variations movement. The theme has a folksy quality, and proceeds with a gentle swagger in unbuttoned (Beethoven liked the term aufgeknöpft for such music) good humor. Beethoven toys with our expectations as the music makes little detours through changes of tempo and ventures into new harmonic regions, as if the composer were reluctant to bid farewell to his last violin sonata.

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