Seraph is a concertino for trumpet and strings, containing three short movements. The first movement is fast, and based on two main ideas. Firstly we hear brusque, angular chords accompanying a jaunty trumpet melody which contains dotted rhythms, running semiquavers and fast repeated notes. The second idea is more lyrical, incorporating rising 4ths and falling 3rds.
The second movement, an Adagio, has its leading cantabile melodic material on solo violin or tutti strings, while the solo trumpet seems to ruminate introspectively with oppositional and contrary lines. The movement subsides in a quasi-improvisatory duet between solo trumpet and violin.
The last movement, marcato e ritmico, is based on a closely worked canonic idea, which first appears on low strings, giving a somewhat ‘ungainly’ sensation at the outset, and a more fulsome arching melody marked cantabile e sonore. The trumpet part is peppered with little military fanfares. Eventually the music settles down to a cadenza-like passage, where the soloist is accompanied by tremolando strings, before the principal canonic theme is recapitulated on the violins and violas.
A seraph is a celestial being or angel, usually and traditionally associated with trumpets. This work is dedicated to Alison Balsom.
James MacMillan, 2011
Scorpion Tales by Duo Scorpio
LE JARDIN DES PAONS (1996)
While many contemporary composers are often hesitant to write for harp, perhaps due to its inherent diatonic nature, other composers like Bernard Andrès excel at it, and find ways of composing for harp that make you believe it is a chromatic instrument. Andrès is one of the most widely performed composers of harp music, and his works are regularly performed by the world’s greatest harpists. His music fuses contemporary techniques with lyrical melodies and a strong sense of form, and he seamlessly integrates French tonal tradition with a more modern atonal sensibility, creating a hybrid musical form that is all at once engaging and distinctive.
Of the two harp duos by Andrès performed this evening, Le Jardin des Paons (The Garden of Peacocks) is the most recent, having been completed in 1993. In this piece, Andrès call on the performers to execute many colorful effects, including fast enharmonic trills between two adjacent notes tuned to the same pitch, harmonics (playing strings while touching the node, creating bell-like tones that sound an octave higher), pinching instead of plucking strings, and gentle glissandos that cascade over each other, creating delicate, feathery textures.
Andrès has said that this work is inspired by the relationship between Zeus and Hera, who were not only husband and wife, but also brother and sister. (Incestuous relationships are not an unheard of phenomenon in Greek mythology, and even their parents, Cronus and Rhea, were married siblings.) Of course, since the Peacock was sacred to Hera, we have to wonder where Andrès derived the image of a garden of peacocks. In Hellenistic imagery, Hera’s chariot was said to be pulled by peacocks. The eyes in the peacock’s feathers come from Argus, whose hundred eyes were placed in the peacock’s feathers by Hera in memory of his role as the guard of Io, a lover of Zeus that Hera had punished. The eyes are also said to symbolize the vault of heaven and the “eyes” of the stars. It is not known whether Andrès was inspired by these images in particular, so we are left to our own imagination and should feel free to read into this beautiful piece in our own way.
♬ LISTEN: Le Jardin des Paons – Excerpt – Duo Scorpio
SCORPION TALES (2012)
Gruesome creatures have always fascinated me, so when Duo Scorpio asked me if I would be interested in writing them a new piece, and their only request was that I incorporate the scorpion as a theme, I was happy to oblige.
The first movement, Trinidad Scorpion, is inspired by a fiery red pepper called the Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T”, currently the hottest pepper in the world. It measures a blistering 1,463,700 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). (A typical jalapeno pepper measures around 5,000 SHU, while a habanero pepper measures up to 350,000 SHU.) The tempo is appropriately marked con fuoco, and the contrapuntal middle section is subtly infused with Ca- lypso rhythms.
Promenade à deux is the title of the second movement, borrowed from a colorful description of the scor- pion’s complex courting and mating ritual. This begins when the male and female locate and identify each other using a mixture of pheromones and vibrational communication. The courtship starts with the male grasping the female’s pedipalps with his own; the pair then perform a “dance” called the promenade à deux. The courtship ritual can involve several other behaviours such as juddering and a cheliceral kiss, in which the male’s claw-like mouthparts grasp the female’s. In some cases, the male will inject her with a small amount of venom, perhaps as a means of pacifying her. Once mating is complete, they separate. The male generally retreats quickly, most likely to avoid being cannibalised by the female, although sexual cannibalism is infrequent with scorpions. Scorpions glow fluorescent under black lights, so I imagine the scorpions basking in a fluorescent afterglow after completing their courtship.
The third movement, The Tale of Orion, is inspired by an ancient Greek myth. According to legend, Orion boasted to goddess Artemis and her mother, Leto, that he would kill every animal on earth. Although Artemis was known to be a hunter herself, she offered protection to all creatures. Artemis and her mother sent a scorpion to deal with Orion. The pair battled and the scorpion killed Orion. The contest was apparently lively enough to catch Zeus’s attention, so he raised the scorpion to heaven and afterwards, at the request of Artemis, did the same for Orion. This served as a reminder for mortals to curb their excessive pride. A second version describes Orion and Artemis growing fond of each other. Learning of this development, Apollo, Artemis’s twin brother, grew angry and sent a scorpion to attack Orion. After Orion was killed, Artemis asked Zeus to put Orion up in the sky. So every winter Orion hunts in the sky, but every summer he flees as the constellation of the scorpion approaches. Scorpion Tales was commissioned by harpists Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade of Duo Scorpio through a grant from the American Harp Society.
A raga, the musical framework for the art music of India, is both a mode and a melodic form, and is associated with specific emotions and with a season or a time of day. (Definition : Le Petit Larousse, 2005)
In general a raga opens with a simple and quiet musical statement that is gradually amplified until all the elements of the music intertwine and catch fire.
Everything begins in this raga with a strange drumstick sliding on the metal strings of the harp to make a plaintive, distant sound; it resembles the song of a whale on the high seas. And off we go, riding the waves, until we come ashore in India with one of that land’s typical scales. We buy several percussion instruments, and then sail off again with the good old pentatonic scale oscillating between minor and major, spiced up by bells and antique cymbals … A raga for two harps with Indian spices and delicate Western flavors.
Commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for “Québec in concert” production, the Raga was composed in 2006 for harpists Judy Loman and Jennifer Swartz.
♬ LISTEN: Raga – Excerpt – Duo Scorpio
Parvis was composed in 1974 and is in two sections, Cortege and Danse. The ever-present tuning key is used as a percussion instrument, with the harpist tapping on her tuning pins as well as using the tuning key in place of fingers to strike individual notes and to evoke metallic, forceful glissandi. The Danse movement is an energetic 7/8 moto perpetuo rhythm punctuated by quick downward glissandi played with fingernails, and numerous sections featuring the dry, percussive sound of notes being plucked close to the soundboard.
Nicolas Bacri | Something old, something new, something borrowed, something…
The Concerto No. 3 for violin and orchestra op. 83, and its references to older styles.
To be understood, every composer writes music using the same language while featuring his or her own personal pronunciation. This variation in notation provides contemporary musicians the ability to distinguish the unique qualities of many composers and their time periods. Over time, new ways of saying the same ideas were introduced to the musical world that would usually take about a century to evolve and then stabilize. In present times, we find composers emerging at a rapid pace as they generate fresh ideas for new extended techniques that push performers and their instruments to new limits. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Nicolas Bacri’s works beautifully showcase the lyrical melodies that have been the tradition of violin expression for centuries. According to Bacri, his music is a form of communication and communion, always giving priority to the balance between his instinct as a composer and the discipline he has developed by working at the piano. When composing his third violin concerto dedicated to Mirjam Tschoop, Bacri challenged himself to employ non-traditional forms. His concerto is full of references to older styles like minuets and fugues mixed with 20th-century style. In combining these two styles, Bacri contributes to the evolution of the concerto by constructing a piece that is both polyphonic and concerto-like in which the soloist can still shine.
LISTEN: Nicolas Bacri – Concerto No.3 – 2nd movement
Lekeu & Debussy | Marseille
GUILLAUME LEKEU (1870-1894)
“Sonate pour piano et violon,” (1892)
Like the composer Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), Lekeu is one of the few extremely gifted composers who died too early, at the age of 24. He was considered one of Belgium’s bright young stars, but unfortunately died before he could harvest the fruits of a ripened genius. Although he was not exposed to music at a very young age, he still published his Op. 1, an Andante et Variations for violin and piano, at the age of fifteen, after alone teaching himself composition by plunging into the scores of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Lekeu’s talent impressed César Franck, who would become his teacher, mentor and close friend. Franck took the young man on a trip to Bayreuth to attend the Wagner festival. One of the operas performed there, Tristan und Isolde (1857-59), made a tremendous impact on him, resulting in a burst of creativity and encouraging a whole new level of musicality. This brought Lekeu to his quest to master different shades of feeling and plenitude. Lekeu stated “Even if it kills me, I put my very soul into my music.”
Because Lekeu shared the same belief as the Belgian violinist, Eugène Ysaye (1858-1931), that music should be what “the heart suggests, and the soul expresses,” Ysaye, regarded as “the King of the Violin,” commissioned Lekeu’s two first chamber-music works: a piano quartet and a violin sonata. Lekeu’s Sonate pour piano et violon en Sol Majeur (1892) that he claimed to have cost him “infinite pain,” was premiered in 1893, and since then never left the standard repertoire of the violin in France. It is worth noting that the title mentioned the piano before the violin, certainly to emphasize the importance of the voluptuous piano part. Although the piece was composed when Lekeu was twenty-two, and considered his masterpiece, one may feel that the composer might not have had the chance to totally find his own, unique voice.
The sonata is absolutely breathtaking; the narration of the two instruments might be felt as a dedication work to the greatest German composers and to the founder of the Franco-Belgian style, as well as a debut of Debussy’s impressionism. The influence of César Franck’s Sonata pour violon et piano en la majeur (1886) is very much implied. Like Franck’s sonata, Lekeu’s is written in cyclic form. One obvious mark of this idée fixe (a melody that is used in each movement to represent an obsessive image) is found when the theme of the first movement is literally quoted note-for-note in the denouement of the final movement. It is exactly what Franck did in his sonata with his third and fourth movements. But the genius of Lekeu shows his ability to continue and even surpass the path of the Franco-Belgian chamber-music founders by using an increased emphasis on an important compositional technique of his time, chromaticism. Coming from the Wagnerian school, this technique was the lifeblood of expressive music in the mid to late 19th century. When transferred to the Franckists, it became an additional means to achieve equilibrium and restraint, major attributes that have now long been esteemed in Franco-Belgian music.
The chromaticism is found in the first movement of the sonata, which opens with a beautiful calm statement played by the violin, accompanied by very light and sporadic piano chords suggesting moving harmony. This part also serves as a quotation to the opening of Johannes Brahms’s G-Major violin and piano sonata Op. 78 (1878-79). In order to keep his own flavor, Lekeu brings the theme into different twists and turns from its original state with the help of chromatic harmonic changes. Before leaving the maze of this first movement, the conversation between the piano and the violin arrives at a unison agreement and a victorious climax, later leading into a regretful and moving coda. This end sets the mood for the deep and touching second movement. By choosing a 7/8 meter, the first theme is continuous, as if the atmosphere is too unbearably intense to even breathe. Lekeu shifts from Brahms-like melodies, evoking lyricism towards popular songs laced with futuristic harmonies of another world. The third movement seems more traditional with its sonata form and use of counterpoint than the themes of the first two movements, which are more spontaneous with their chromatic adventures.
CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
“Sonate pour violon et piano,” (1917)
Not only is the violin sonata, Sonate pour violon et piano, Claude Debussy’s last work, but it is also his only work for violin. Although it is dedicated to his wife Emma, it may be acknowledged as written for Arthur Hartmann (1881-1956). Before his friendship with Hartmann started in 1908, Debussy had never considered composing for violin. After the few transcriptions of the composer’s various piano works and songs that Hartmann arranged Debussy promised the violinist to compose for him, in return, a Poème for violin and orchestra. His life ended before he could accomplish his promise.
Most of his life, Debussy stayed away from traditional forms like the symphony, the concerto or sonatas. He would write music with evocative titles such as Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune. For his violin sonata, he adapted sonata concepts to his uniquely personal expressive needs. He wrote, “I am more and more convinced that music, by its very nature, is something that cannot be cast into a traditional and fixed form. It is made up of colors and rhythms. The rest is a lot of humbug invented by frigid imbeciles riding on the backs of the Masters.” Although the piece was written while he was dying, it is animated, whimsical and flamboyant.
An Evening with Ravel | Boston
MAURICE RAVEL (1875-1937)
Often put in the same category as his elder Claude Debussy, the French composer Maurice Ravel claimed to have “always personally followed a direction opposed to that of the symbolism of Debussy.” Although he had an interest in following fashion, dressing with “showy ties and frilly shirts,” he was an innovative precursor when composing music. He was a perfectionist, always expending his palette of styles using traditional forms and folk tunes, shying away from the new Schoenberg trend of atonality. He was known for his melodies, instrumental textures, and effects always attentive to form and craftsmanship.
“Sonate pour violon et piano,” (1923-27)
In 1917, Ravel attended a chamber-music concert featuring in his piano trio (1914) performed by violinist Hélène Jourdan-Morhange (1888-1961). She was an advocate of the music of her time. The first impression she had of Ravel was of a shy, nervous, stammering fox. Ironically, Ravel always compared Morhange’s manner to a cat. The fox named his prey, “Moune,” after his favorite Siamese cat. Although no information was found on an existent love relationship in Ravel’s life, Manuel Rosenthal (1904-2003), a disciple of Ravel, explained that Ravel once asked Moune to marry him. Embarrassed, she had to say “no” and explained though she loved him very much, they were not compatible for marriage. She remained one of his closest friend, his confident and his technical consultant when composing for violin.
In a 1920 letter to Moune, Ravel expressed the desire to compose a violin concerto for her, but instead he dedicated the sonata for cello and violin (1922) to her, and he composed the sonata for violin and piano for her in 1927, even though he always considered the violin and piano acoustically incompatible. Ravel explained that while writing the sonata, he imposed on himself the independence of the two instruments showing and emphasizing their incompatibility rather than balancing their contrast. When listening to the first movement, a sonata form, imagine a cat’s journey with the elegance of the violin’s lyricism and the short and curious interruption of the piano. The second movement, a blues, demonstrates Ravel’s taste for American jazz. The violin’s melody slides with one finger from note to note to imitate a saxophone while the piano simulates strummed guitar chords. The final movement, a perpetuum mobile, starts with hesitating figures to launch a high-speed, perpetual motion showing off the violin’s virtuosic capabilities.
When starting to compose this piece in 1923, Ravel had Hélène Jourdan- Morhange’s playing in mind, hoping that she would première the sonata. By the time the work was finished in 1927, her severe arthritis prevented her from performing it. It was the Romanian composer and violinist Georges Enescu (1881-1955) with Ravel himself at the piano, who premiered the sonata in Paris on May 30, 1927.
“Tzigane, Rapsodie de concert,” (1924)
Maurice Ravel first heard the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi (1893-1966), the grandniece of the famous violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), at a private musical salon in England in 1922. Both d’Aranyi and Bela Bartók (1881-1945) were performing Bartók’s own sonata for violin and piano No. 1. Ravel was amazed by d’Aranyi’s musicality and flawless technical ability. He asked d’Aranyi to play Gypsy melodies from Hungary for an encore, which she did well into the early morning, mesmerizing Ravel. He explained to his friend Bartók that they inspired him to write a short piece of diabolical difficulty, conjuring up the “Hungary of his dreams.” Despite his initial enthusiasm to write a Gypsy flavored virtuoso showpiece, it was not until two years later that Ravel began working on Tzigane. It took him only a few days to finish the piece for violin and piano, just in time for its scheduled première in London on April 26, 1924. Even though the dedicatee received the score only a couple of days before the performance, the piece was wildly successful with the audience. D’Aranyi made such a hit with Tzigane that Ravel later provided a version for solo violin and orchestra.
Many European composers have been fascinated by the influence of gypsy music, as it contributes to the overall fabric of European culture. Ravel once said that if he would ever write something Arabian, it would be more Arabian than the real thing. The combination of Ravel’s rhythmical precision and his mischievous sense of humor, which can be found in his previous masterpiece La Valse, made reviewers perceive the piece at its première, as a parody of the “Liszt-Hubay- Brahms-Joachim school of Hungarian violin music.” Ravel described Tzigane as a virtuoso piece in the taste of a Hungarian Rhapsody.
Ravel, who considered the violin and piano acoustically incompatible, gives the entrance to the violin alone, specifying the dark, rich sound of the G-string for the first twenty-seven measures. This makes the piece unique, beginning with a cadenza. The sweeping piano enters as a safety net under the whispering violin double-stops tremolo, providing a dramatic entrance. The soloist is propelled through a series of virtuoso passages to a fiendishly difficult dénouement. Although its leaping double- stops, harmonics at blinding speed, and combination of left and right hand pizzicato passages have kept many violinists up late, its difficulties go beyond the technical. Freewheeling rubato and sudden tempo changes diabolically pull the performer apart between sentimentality and blurry speed, much in keeping with the greatest gypsy folk tradition.
French Salon Music | Washington DC
La belle époque, which began during the late 19th century and lasted until World War I, was marked by Franco-Belgian composers Fauré, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Ravel and also a Spanish influence in Paris. During this period, musical salons were the favorite meeting places for musicians. These salons represented places where upper class individuals hosted important public figures, artists, writers and musicians. The music in this program included works that were commissioned by, dedicated to, or premiered in, a salon.
Women essentially ran the salons. One can appreciate the important role that they played in promoting musicians and circulating their music. Major debates focus around the relationship between the French salons and the public sphere as well as the role of women within the salons. At a time when society was defined and regulated almost completely by men, the musical salon provided a place for women to exercise a powerful influence. Women were the center of life in the salon, and they carried a very important role as regulators. These women were usually clever and brilliant, but at that time their cleverness and brilliance were primarily geared toward introducing their friends to new ideas and ways of life through happenings at the salons. Their particular gift was to inspire others. Much of the fascination that gave them such power in their day still clings to their memories.
CLAUDE DEBUSSY | ARTHUR HARTMANN
French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) is one of the most important figures of French impressionistic style even though he never liked to be called an impressionist composer. In letters, Debussy shared that he is “trying to do ‘something different’–an effect of reality…what the imbeciles call ‘impressionism’, a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by the critics, since they do not hesitate to apply it to Turner, the finest creator of mysterious effects in all the world of art”. Specific works of literature inspired most of Debussy’s compositions. For him, “music and poetry are the only two arts that move in space.” He explains, “musicians who do not understand poetry should not set it to music. They can only spoil it.”
Although Debussy did more to expand the possibilities of form, harmony, voice leading, and timbre than any other composer of his era, ten years before his death, he had yet to compose any music for violin. Arthur Hartmann (1881-1956), a brilliant Hungarian-born American violinist, helped solve this matter. In 1908, he attended a performance of Debussy’s opera Pélléas et mélisande (1902). Hartmann fell in love with Debussy’s music and sought out the publisher to acquire any violin music that Debussy might have written. Unfortunately, the publisher’s response was not one Hartmann wanted to hear. Hartmann then contacted Debussy directly and commissioned a work for his tour in United States. Since Debussy had little time to compose any violin music before the violinist’s next recital, Hartmann asked the composer for permission to transcribe some of his songs to the violin. The request was well received and started a friendship between the two musicians. In 1914, Debussy accompanied Hartmann in a recital that included the three transcriptions Hartmann had created from Debussy’s music.
“Il Pleure Dans Mon Cœur” (1885–1887) | Arranged for Violin and Piano by Arthur Hartmann (1908)
Il PLeure Dans Mon Coeur is a movement from Claude Debussy’s song cycle Ariettes Oubliées for voice and piano written between 1885 and 1887. These settings of some of the best-known poems of Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) mark Debussy’s transition from a traditional composer in the style of Charles Gounod (1818-1893) to a more individual artist. Debussy’s music of Il Pleure Dans Mon Coeur”expresses the melancholy of Paul Verlaine’s (1844-1896) poem, this soft and light melancholy of the hearts who don’t know why they are sad.
“La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin,” (1910) | Arranged for Violin and Piano by Arthur Hartmann (1910)
La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin, meaning The Girl With Flaxen Hair, is the eighth number of Claude Debussy’s Préludes, Book I (1909-1010). The piece originally written for piano solo was inspired by Charles-Marie Leconte de Lisle’s (1818-1894) poem La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin (1852) in the book of poetry Chanson Ecossaises, meaning Scottish Songs.
“Beau Soir” (1880) | Arranged for Violin and Piano by Arthur Hartmann (1910)
Claude Debussy’s Beau soir (Beautiful Evening), one of his youthful works, represents a stage of orthodox romanticism, which later lessened with musical mastery. With poetic texts taken from a collection entitled Les aveux (Confessions) by Paul Bourget (1852-1935), a personal friend, Debussy depicts the poet’s desire to be happy and enjoy life on a gorgeous evening, even though death is inevitable.
GERMAINE TAILLEFERRE (1892-1983)
The French composer, Germaine Tailleferre, was the only female member of the famous Les Six, a group of French composers who met at the Conservatoire de Paris around 1912 and became very close friends. The group included Georges Auric (1899- 1983), Louis Durey (1888-1979), Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), Darius Milhaud (1892- 1974), Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) and Tailleferre. Their music is often seen as a reaction against the musical style of Richard Wagner and impressionist music.
Tailleferre started composing short works at a very young age. Despite the opposition of her father, she auditioned for the Conservatoire de Paris in piano and solfège. In 1913, she won the first prize in counterpoint and harmony at the Conservatoire de Paris. During that successful year, she wrote Berceuse, which she dedicated to her professor Monsieur H. Dallier. Berceuse, meaning “lullaby” in English, is very well written for violin. The flow of the melody without constraint and ease seems as if inspired by Gabriel Fauré.
LILI BOULANGER (1893-1918)
“Deux Morceaux pour violon et piano,” Nocturne (1911) – Cortège (1914)
Lili Boulanger, the younger sister of the famous French composer Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979), was the first woman composer to win the Prix de Rome in 1913. French composers Hector Berlioz and Claude Debussy had previously won the prestigious award. In 1914, while studying at the French Academy in Rome and recovering from a severe illness, Lili Boulanger composed the tone poem, Cortège, here a lively and festive piece. The term “cortège” is used to describe either a slow procession or a victorious march. Boulanger appears to have written the piece in the “happy mood” showing her strong and positive character to overcome her illness.
Lili Boulanger dedicated Cortège to violinist Yvonne Astruc (1889-1980), a violinist and friend of the family who had often come to play at the Boulanger household. According to Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), Astruc’s “manner of playing is both purposeful and expressive.” In 1937, a French journal, “Le Petit Radio,” described her as the “Ambassadress of the French Musical Art” due to her noble style of playing, the beauty of her sound, and her impeccable technique. The French government awarded her the prestigious French Légion d’honneur. She premiered works dedicated to her like Darius Milhaud’s Concertino de printemps (1934) and Germaine Tailleferre’s violin concerto (1936).
After Lili’s death in 1918 at the age of twenty-four, Yvonne Astruc and Nadia Boulanger recorded Cortège in 1930, pairing it with Nocturne, also written for violin or flute and piano dedicated to Marie Danielle Parenteau. This little piece that Lili composed in 1911 was written in the impressionist style. It starts with a long pedal C in the piano, over which a hauntingly beautiful violin melody moves. The two voices push each other to a central powerful climax, which then fades back to its earlier, gentle atmosphere. Concert attendees were encouraged to listen for Lili’s musical quotation of Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1892-94) and Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (1857-59).
GABRIEL FAURE (1845-1924)
“Sonate pour violon et piano,” No. 1. (1876)
One of the leading salonnières of the Parisian musical scene, Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) born Garcia, is one of the little-known heroines of French music. The New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers describes her as an accomplished woman. She was a mezzo-soprano and composer, taught at the Paris Conservatory, and presided over a music salon in the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Through her salon, she helped launch the careers of many composers, including Camille Saint-Säens and Gabriel Fauré. For the young Fauré, Pauline Viardot “was by far the most glamorous female musical personality that [he] had ever encountered.” When composing his first sonata for violin and piano, in A Major, at the age of thirty, Fauré was courting Marianne Viardot, Pauline’s daughter. It was for Marianne’s brother, violinist Paul Viardot (1857-1941), considered a great salon player by the brilliant violin pedagogue, Carl Flesh (1873-1944), that the sonata is dedicated.
Ardent, elegant and refined are some of the adjectives that describe the music of Gabriel Fauré. His teacher, Camille Saint-Saëns, hailed this sonata for its “formal novelty, quest, refinement of modulation, curious sonorities, [and] use of the most unexpected rhythms.” The Sonata No. 1 for violin and piano was Fauré’s first chamber- music work and is considered a milestone in the history of that genre, not only in France but throughout Europe. It came ten years before the famous César Franck (1822-1890) sonata for violin and piano (1886), and three years before the violin sonatas of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). The work displays both exuberance and its own style of intimacy, mirroring the image of the composer. According to violinist Jacques Thibaud (1880- 1953), although “not especially difficult to play,” Fauré’s sonata in A Major for violin and piano can be “hard to interpret. It’s largely a matter of physical and mental touch.”
In the first movement the melodies unfold one after another, creating a propelling momentum. The elegance is complemented by youthfulness, and hopeful, refreshing qualities. The music flows on without constraint and with ease. The second movement is both tender and melancholic. The third movement, although written in 2/4, is like a “Scherzo;” and it is considered to be a masterpiece of French musical wit and brilliance. It displays a lightness and fast tempo in the outer parts with a rich middle section. This style became a prototype for later scherzo movements by both Ravel and Debussy. The final movement concludes brilliantly, lending boldness to a splendid work filled with beautiful, impassioned melodies.