BRaHMS: Violin SonaTa no. 2 in a MajoR, oPUS 100 Brahms spent the summer of 1886 at Lake Thun in Switzerland. At 53, he was at the zenith of his creative powers. The previous fall had seen the premiere of his Fourth Symphony, which he had conducted throughout Germany, and now he came to the sunny meadows of Switzerland to relax and compose. Working in a room with a view of glistening glaciers across the magnificent lake, Brahms turned to chamber music. From that summer came his Second Cello Sonata, the Piano Trio in C Minor, and the Second Violin Sonata; he returned to the same room for the next two summers, completing his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello and his Third Violin Sonata and grumbling the whole while that writing for stringed instruments should be left to “someone who understands fiddles better than I do.” The Sonata in A major is one of Brahms’ finest chamber works and one of the most good-natured pieces he ever wrote. Characterized by gracious melodies and an easy partnership between violin and piano, this genial music also offers some of Brahms’ most idiomatic writing for the violin. The score is littered with Brahms’ constant reminders to the performers: dolce, teneramente
(tenderly), espressivo, sempre dolce. Even the tempo indication for the first movement spells out clearly the mood Brahms wishes to project: Allegro amabile—“Fast, [but with] love.” The movement begins with a graceful, flowing melody for piano alone, its four-bar phrases always answered by the violin. The violin itself soon picks up this melody and later shares the equally-relaxed second subject with the piano. In the same year that he wrote this sonata, Brahms used this theme as the basis for his song Wie Melodien zieht es mir (“As Melodies a Feeling”), and it may be worth quoting the opening of the text of that song, for some of its spirit flavors this movement: “As melodies a feeling / steals softly through my mind, / as spring flowers it blooms / and as scent floats away.” The development is powerful, but the music remains amiable throughout, and an extended coda rises nobly to the dramatic close.
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this music in turn frames a haunting middle section that Schubert marks dolce. The introduction concludes with an almost timid two-note cadence: B rising to C-sharp. But this restrained figure promptly becomes the basis for the rondo itself, marked Allegro: both violin and piano hammer it out to launch the rondo, and this rising motif will figure as an important thematic element throughout. The rondo section itself combines equal parts virtuosity (busy passagework, high positions, surprising accidentals, and difficult string-crossing) with the most melting lyricism, as Schubert breaks into the bustle of this music with gentle interludes. Along the way, he brings back reminiscences of the slow introduction before a più mosso coda drives this music to its spirited close.
In the second movement, Brahms combines slow movement and scherzo. The opening Andante tranquillo soon gives way to a tautlysprung Vivace, and these sections alternate through the movement. Particularly impressive is the gentle opening theme, marked dolce on each appearance. With each repetition, it rises higher in the violin’s register until at last it soars high above the piano accompaniment. The music comes to a quiet close, and then Brahms ends with a quick joke: a seven-bar fragment of the scherzo section jumps up to bring the movement to its real close. The concluding Allegretto grazioso (Brahms’ marking is once again quite specific: “Moderately quick, [but] graceful”) is a rondo. The violin has the stirring main theme, which stays entirely on the G-string (and it remains a mystery how anyone who could write such glorious music for the violin could also complain that he felt incapable of writing for the instrument). Alternating episodes grow more impassioned as the movement proceeds, but the noble main idea dominates and carries the music to its close. 3