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Howard Series
Carla Trynchuk & Chi Yong Yun
January 28, 2012

Leclair: Violin Sonata in D Major, Op.9, No.3 | Saint Saëns: Sonata No.1 in D Minor, Op.7 |
Franck: Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major

Jean Marie Leclair (1697-1764)
Violin Sonata in D Major, Op.9, No.3

Un poco andante

A genre born in Italy, the violin sonata was first a vehicle for violin solo accompanied by keyboard with bass, then was developed throughout Europe into works for true partnership between violin and keyboard. It is celebrated tonight with a look at the French rendering of this fine multi-movement musical form for violin and piano.

Without question, Jean-Marie Leclair was the premiere French violinist of the first part of the 18th century. In fact, fellow French composer Charles Henri de Blaineville dubbed him “the Corelli of France.” Born in Lyons, in his youth he mastered dance, lacemaking (his father's profession) and the violin. A professional dancer in the Lyon opera, he traveled to Turin in 1722 to become ballet master, but more importantly for music, he studied the violin with Giovanni Battista Somis, a student of Corelli. The next year, moving to Paris under the patronage of Joseph Bonnier, Leclair published the first of five books of sonatas for violin and keyboard, all dedicated to wealthy or royal patrons. In Paris, he established himself as a leading violinist, performing his works frequently at the Concert Spirituel the 18 th century's most famous concert institution. He spent a time serving as ordinaire de la musique du roi in the court of Louis XV, and the king was thanked with the dedication of Leclair's third book of sonatas. The fourth book, now designated Opus 9, emanated from his association with the court of Netherlands and the princess, Anne of Orange, an accomplished harpsichordist, to whom he dedicated the set. In addition to the creation of over 50 beautiful violin sonatas, Leclair's contribution to the development of the violin sonata was in adapting the Italian form to accommodate a French ethos of grace, charm, and elegance with written-out ornamentation, virtuosity (including frequent and demanding double stops) and a strong dance element.

The Sonata in D Major, Op. 9, No. 3 falls in the conventional Baroque four movements (slow-fast-slow-fast). The first two follow the Italian style with titles indicating tempos while the final two are dance movements. While not designated as a particular dance forms, the first two movements are clearly written in the spirit of the dance. The final movement culminates the sonata with the lively stylized Tambourin, a folk dance of Provençal origin featuring the pipe and tabor (drum).

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Camille Saint-Saëns(1835-1921)
Sonata No.1 in D Minor, Op.7

Allegro agitato
Allegretto moderato
Allegro molto

“I live in music like a fish in water, I write music as an apple tree produces apples” wrote Camille Saint-Saëns. Brilliantly versatile, a fine craftsman, an extremely prolific composer, and a fine organist and pianist, Saint-Saëns wrote successfully in nearly every musical genre throughout his long life. In all he wrote at least ten sonatas for various instruments with five (only 2 completed and published) for Violin and Piano. Sonata in D Minor, Op. 75 was written in 1885 for the composer's collaborator Pierre Marsick following the pair's successful Swiss concert tour. This was also the period of his famous works, the “Organ” Symphony and Carnival of the Animals.

This sonata is technically crafted in two movements, a technique Saint-Saëns also utilized in the “ Organ” Symphony . On closer examination, however, one discovers that the composer doesn't totally escape the conventional format of 18th - 19th century symphonic form (four movements of 1. Sonata-allegro form 2. Slow, song form 3. Scherzo with trio 4. Finale), but rather employs elements not only of those structures, but contrapuntal techniques as well. The first movement introduces two contrasting themes with a development incorporating a fughetta. Fragments of the second theme guide us seamlessly to the Adagio, a three-part section of grace, at times seeming almost improvisatory. The main theme returns highly ornamented. The “second” movement Allegretto moderato presents a light-hearted scherzo theme gamely exchanged by violin and piano. The violin introduces a chorale-like theme in the “trio” section while the piano supports with the scherzo idea, now smoothed out. Following a return of the first theme a piano bridge of the chorale motive takes us to the brilliant, breathtaking finale.

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César Franck (1822-1890)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major

Allegretto moderato
Allegro poco mosso

César Franck spent much of his musical life as a relatively obscure piano teacher and church organist in Paris. It was only late in his life that he produced a handful of recognized works and his influence on French music began to receive acknowledgment, albeit largely posthumously. One of the pieces that helped to bring the self-effacing composer's accomplishments to the attention of the public was the Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major . While as early as 1859 such a work had been promised Cosima Wagner, it was for the occasion of celebrated violinist and fellow Belgian Eugène Ysaÿe's marriage in 1886 that Franck completed the sonata and had it presented to the violinist at his wedding breakfast. Ysaÿe lost no time in performing it during the nuptial festivities and subsequently promoted the work whenever and wherever he traveled. The public didn't require convincing–the piece was an immediate success and remains a favorite with performers and audiences alike. Indeed in a January 2012 NPR interview, violinist Joshua Bell proclaimed the piece a “great pillar of the violin/piano repertoire.” Franck's prowess as a keyboard virtuoso and master of improvisation, his command of classical forms, and his gift for harmonic innovation are evident in this sunny, immensely satisfying work. As with other of his mature compositions, he used what is known as cyclic form–interlocking movements by carrying themes, or transformations of themes, from one movement to another. The overall impression is that of a spontaneous unfolding of glorious melodies richly harmonized, tender and assertive in turn.

The piece falls into four distinct movements. Rather than the conventional strong first sonata movement, this one gently invites listeners into the conversation through a lovely lilting serenade. The full force of Franck's passion is kept back for the second movement–a fiery tempest of chromaticism unleashed by the piano. The expansive Recitativo-Fantasia brings in themes from the preceding movements. The final movement, framed in a kind of rondo structure, presents its recurring theme in a potentially austere form, a canon. However, this form of conversation between the piano and the violin is presented so beautifully that it brings the work to a most serene and glorious culmination.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2012.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts