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Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, op. 100

November 15, 2015 – Jeremy Denk, piano; Stefan Jackiw, violin

Brahms composed the A major Violin Sonata during the summer of 1886 in idyllic Hofstetten, Switzerland. That summer he eagerly anticipated the visit of Hermine Spies, the young contralto for whom he wrote many of his late songs. He noted that the Sonata’s second theme quotes one of the songs he wrote with her in mind, “Wie Melodien zieht es mir” (As if melodies were moving), op. 105, no. 1. Commentators have also linked “Komm bald” (Come soon), op. 97, no. 6, with this movement and found references in the finale to two other Opus 105 songs, “Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer” (My slumber grows more and more peaceful)—which climaxes with the words, “Komm’, O komme bald”—and “Auf dem Kirchhofe” (In the churchyard). Brahms’s friend Elisabet von Herzogenberg was moved to characterize the entire A major Sonata as “a caress.”

As was his custom, Brahms himself participated in the premiere of the Sonata on December 2, 1886, with violinist Joseph Hellmesberger, leader of the Hellmesberger Quartet and enthusiastic supporter of the composer. The performance occurred a little over a week after Brahms had accompanied Hermine in her Viennese debut recital.

The first movement breathes the kind of lyricism associated with Brahms’s songs whether or not one hears the specific allusions. It is the second theme in this sonata form that recalls his lovely “Wie Melodien,” borrowing the first phrase only, which Brahms varies rhythmically and gives a new continuation. The tune reappears in the recapitulation and furnishes the violin’s last utterance to close the coda.

The second movement combines a slow movement and scherzo in alternating sections, in a manner similar to the middle movement of the F major Quintet. Each returning section brings a subtle variation of its former appearance.

Brahms marked the finale “Allegretto grazioso quasi Andante” in order to achieve a non-hurried, graceful atmosphere. The climactic phrase “Come, o come soon” (from “Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer”) can be detected in the rondo theme. The first contrasting episode introduces a haze of arpeggiated chords rather than a “tune” before the rondo refrain returns, but the second episode sounds more traditionally songful. A variation of the first theme returns in the coda, extended by warm double stops in the home key.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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