Friday, 26 February 2010

the mini-series has concluded

Jane and I have loved the Grieg-Beethoven combo over the past year or so, and audiences seem to have got into the swing of things, too. Wednesday witnessed a very swashbuckling performance of Beethoven 3 and Grieg 3, and we hope to repeat it with less swash for the University of the Third Age (what a good idea that is) next week.

Ludvig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata No.3 in E flat, Op.12, No.3

I Allegro con spirito

II Adagio con molt’ espresione

III Rondo (Allegro molto)

Beethoven’s first three violin sonatas were dedicated to his teacher, Salieri (an Italian composer who didn’t poison Mozart). They display clear adherence to classical forms and were designated sonatas ‘for piano and violin’, with the emphasis definitely on the piano. In these early works Beethoven was writing music for the concert platform and music to pay the bills, not music driven by a need to express deep inner passions. There is a certain foursquare-ness to the design of this sonata. Nevertheless, more than its fellows in Op.12, this third work looks forwards. The opening Allegro sticks to the letter of classical sonata form, but is busting with dark, wayward harmonies and crams in far more notes than one might expect from such a stately opening. The Adagio’s extended coda gives space for plenty of jolts and surprises, characteristic of the composer’s maturity. In the final Rondo Beethoven employs his skills in counterpoint to good effect, along with a gift for folksy melody that one normally associates with Dvořák or Grieg.

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Violin Sonata No.3 in C minor, Op.45

I Allegro molto e appassionato – Presto

II Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza – Allegro molto – Tempo I

III Allegro animato – Prestissimo

Twenty years separate Grieg’s second and third violin sonatas. The earlier work was carefree, experimental in form and infused with Scandinavian folk music. This sonata – and particularly the first movement – is angry, extremely simple in structure and more sparing in its melodic inspiration. The opening theme rushes around before collapsing into the more lilting second subject. The development offers mystical cascades and a violent bass, ending up in a flurry of gruff diminished chords that fade away into a quiet false recapitulation. The real recap is impossible to miss! And see if you can spot Grieg’s jazz moment just before the coda. Norway seems to exercise more influence over the sweeter second movement, a simple ABA of melodies that do the hard work and various patterns of accompaniment that don’t. In the C minor third movement, a binary AB/A’B’, we are subjected to constant buzzing and foot-stomping (A) alternating with pure romantic indulgence (B). The insistent coda may be in C major, but was Grieg protesting too much in this, his final chamber work?