Beethoven, Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor, Op.30, No.2
I Allegro con brio
II Adagio cantablie
III Scherzo & Trio (Allegro)
IV Finale (Allegro)
This is pure Stürm und Drang Beethoven. From the dramatic first subject of the Allegro con brio (a declaration of war?) to the insane coda of the Finale, the Sonata is dark, brooding, angry and full of passionate outbursts. The second subject of the Allegro con brio may be in a major key, but it sounds like an army on the march, and the buzzing semiquavers of the tonic minor are never far away. This driving busyness underpins even the lyrical passage at the start of the development section, and after 16 bars the violin gives up, reasoning, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. The main subject of the Finale (a rondo) is even more bold, swelling to a tremendous crash that announces each new section. The momvement is peppered with counterpoint, false starts and more notes than you can shake a stick at. Thankfully the middle movements provide some much needed respite. The vast Adagio cantabile contains one of the most beautiful and yearning melodies ever penned, with aching dissonances on the third beat of each phrase that cry out for resolution. In the various episodes of this slow movement Beethoven strays a long way from the warm key of A flat major (the same key as the slow movement of the famous Pathétique Sonata, also in C minor) and spices up the pacific mood. The miniature Scherzo and Trio are in C major; the former light and spiky, the latter like a rustic dance, whose innocent fun is soon to be shattered by the arrival of the Finale.
Grieg, Violin Sonata No.2 in G major, Op.13
I Lento doloroso – Allegro vivace
II Allegretto tranquillo
III Allegro animato
Written 65 years later, in 1867, the optimism of this work is in complete contrast to the Beethoven. And yet the opening Lento (a slow introduction in the manner of the classical symphony) is a lament in G minor that only gradually finds its way to sunnier keys. The rest of the movement is a lively rondo, built from elements of Norwegian folk tunes. Shortly before the end it seems as though the spirit of Elgar is hovering over the music, as one of the dance themes is slowed right down, and harmonised richly in a very noble, ‘English’ fashion! The E minor slow movement is in a straightforward ABA form, in which A starts gently but ends up as dramatic and angry as Beethoven and B is a distant pastoral song in a bright major key. In the last movement Grieg returns to the “springtans”, a Norwegian dance. The tranquil middle section, whose melody returns more grandly before the final flourish, is redolent of the slow movement, and in fact all the themes of the sonata are re-used and developed as the work progresses. See if you can spot the famous ‘Grieg’ theme from the opening of his Piano Concerto. Grieg wrote this sonata in just three weeks, while on his honeymoon, and his feelings are pretty clear!