11. Sonatensatz (Scherzo), Wo02, in C Minor c-moll ut mineur
About This CD
Brahms’ three published sonatas for violin and piano - there were undoubtedly earlier ones that Brahms destroyed - were written over a span of ten years, from 1878 to 1888. Thus, all date from his late period, to which the adjective “autumnal” has often applied. The calm, richly melodic yet slightly bittersweet character that permeates much of the writing in these works makes that description especially appropriate. Only in the third Sonata (D Major) does a stormier, more assertive element come to the fore, and then primarily in the final Presto agitato. Throughout all three sonatas Brahms holds the instrumental relationship in superb balance.
The G Major Sonata, Op. 78, was written in the immediate wake of Brahms’ Op. 77 Violin Concerto and was performed in November 1880 by its composer and Joseph Joachim. Two unusual features must be noted. One is the choice of E-flat Major as the key of the slow movement, placing its fervent lyricism in distinct contrast to the surrounding movements. Also, Brahms quotes a portion of his song Regenlied as the main subject of the finale. The song’s nostalgic text ("Awake my childhood dream again / O rain arouse my old songs again”) finds a perfect match in the composer’s treatment of his material; there is even a brief return of the main theme of the second movement.
During the summer of 1886, Brahms spent an idyllic period at the villa near lake of Thun in Switzerland. It was there that he composed the A Major Sonata, Op. 100. Like its predecessor, this work consists of three movements. Here, however, Brahms melds the separate functions of slow movement and scherzo into a single unit by altering the Andante Tranquillo and Vivace components of the second movement.
Two years later Brahms completed his final violin and piano Sonata (Op. 108); he and his faithful advocate Joachim them premiered the work in Vienna. Unlike its earlier counterparts, this D Minor sonata of almost symphonic scope-a work clearly intended for the open spaces of the concert hall and not the intimacy of the music room. Brahms dedicated the Sonata to Hans von Bulow, the eminent pianist and conductor who had earlier hailed Brahms as “the third B” alongside Bach and Beethoven.
Brahms' only other surviving work for violin and piano is his Sonatensatz or sonata movement in C Minor, dating from 1853 when the composer was 20. This energetic Scherzo-with-Trio was part of a joint effort by Brahms, Robert Schumann, and the latter’s pupil Albert Dietrich. The three men had assembled a “committee” sonata to serve as a tribute to Joachim upon his arrival in Dusseldorf in October of 1853. Dietrich composed the opening movement while Schumann contributed a slow movement (called “Intermezzo”) and finale. Since then, Brahms’ Sonatensatz has gone on to enjoy a healthy independent life of its own.
Donald Manildi Curator, International Piano Archives at University of Maryland