Thursday, September 19, 2019

Midori Opens the Season with Fauré and Brahms: Part 2

(You can read the first part of this post about Midori's recital Friday night, September 20th, 2019, at 8:00 here. It includes video/audio links to classic performances of both the Brahms Sonatensatz and Fauré's Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major.)

So what might have prompted a 30-year-old musician trained for the life of a church organist and choir director to compose his first violin sonata?

With Brahms and his sonata-movement contributed to the “F.A.E. Sonata,” you've already read about his meeting Robert Schumann and how Schumann essentially launched the young composer's career. (Another game of “What If...?” would be to consider how that might have gone had Schumann not been dealing with health issues that would completely incapacitate his creativity at the end of his career.) This initial contact and support cannot be underestimated in Brahms' subsequent development.

Student Fauré, aged 19
As for Gabriel Fauré, one of the most significant influences in his life was Camille Saint-Saëns. Attending Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris (officially, the School for Classical and Religious Music) since he was nine years old, Fauré studied piano, plainsong (that is, Gregorian Chant), and composition with its founder, Louis Niedermeyer, who died in 1861. It was then that Saint-Saëns joined the faculty, introducing his students to contemporary music like Schumann, Wagner and Liszt.

(We may smile thinking Schumann was considered “contemporary music” as we normally imagine the term, but at the time he'd only been dead five years; Wagner's Tannhäuser and Lohengrin would have been included but three newer operas, already composed by 1861, would not be premiered until years later; Liszt would have been known by any number of his famous tone poems, the Faust and Dante Symphonies, and numerous piano pieces from the Hungarian Rhapsodies to the B Major Sonata. Why not Brahms? In 1861, Brahms was not yet the acclaimed composer he would soon become: 1861 was the year he completed the first two piano quartets which you might have heard at the first of Market Square Concerts' Summermusic 2019).

To Fauré, then in his mid-teens, it was all a tantalizing discovery, this music that could be written outside the rules and regulations they were being taught in their classes.

When he graduated, Fauré became an organist in Brittany where after four years he was asked to leave, having sneaked out during the sermons for a smoke a few too many times and once showing up for mass still dressed in evening clothes having danced all night at a local ball. During this time, Saint-Saëns had urged him to continue composing – he had, after all, completed the Cantique de Jean Racine before graduation – but nothing survives, most likely pieces suitable for church services.

Eventually, after returning to Paris and seeing action during the Franco-Prussian War (during which the Emperor, Napoleon III, was overthrown). Later, he became choirmaster under the organist Charles-Marie Widor at Saint-Sulpice, one of Paris' major churches. Again, he wrote mostly utilitarian pieces for the services there, but few of these survive as well. Even during the war, when Saint-Saëns and Franck were writing elegies and patriotic odes, Fauré composed mostly songs with a more somber tone, but otherwise seemed not to be touched by the events of daily life.

Fauré attended the salon gathered around Saint-Saëns and there met other composers. He became involved in the founding of the “National Music Society” (it sounds so much better in French but then everything does), intent on rejuvenating a sense of national pride and identity following the disastrous war with Prussia. And then, in 1874, he became Saint-Saëns' assistant at the Madeleine Church, musically the most significant of Paris' cathedrals (many people went there because of the music), and later became the choir director there under Saint-Saëns' eventual successor in 1877.

Gabriel Fauré in 1875
Meanwhile, around 1873, Saint-Saëns introduced him to another salon, that of the singer and composer Pauline Viardot where he met not only other musicians but also writers like Flaubert and the Russian ex-patriot Turgenyev. Another significant acquaintance he made there was Marianne Viardot, one of the hostess' daughters, and soon Fauré was in love.

Now, when I'd discuss something like “what influenced Fauré to write his first violin sonata” (ah, what heady conversations we musicians have!), someone would probably say, “well, obviously he was modeling it on Saint-Saëns' sonata” or maybe Cesar Franck's (“I'll take French Violin Sonatas of the Late-19th Century for $100, Alex”). Unfortunately, when you point out Fauré completed his sonata in 1876 and Saint-Saëns wrote his in 1885, and Franck wrote his in 1886, their argument falls apart. (If you're curious, Brahms' first violin sonata to survive and be published didn't appear until 1879.)

On the other hand, in 1874 Pauline Viardot composed a Sonatine for Violin and Piano, the year before Fauré began his. I would imagine, as happened with so many musicians' salons, it would have been performed as part of the expected musical entertainment.

Without knowing what Mme Viardot's Sonatine was like – this should give you an idea – it's doubtful it would've had any stylistic influence on the young Fauré. But certainly someone – perhaps Marianne? – might have said to him after its performance, “you're a composer, you should write one of your own.”

And the joyous, light-hearted mood of Fauré's sonata might indeed have been inspired by the circumstances of being a part of the Viardot salon. Sometimes a composer needs little else to boost his self-confidence to find the necessary inspiration for his own abilities than a sense of acceptance, belonging. And of course, if he was in love with the hostess' daughter...? Composers have done less to gain a girl's attention (and then there was Berlioz and his Symphonie fantastique, but I digress...)

By the way, it wasn't until 1877 – after the sonata's successful premiere in January and officially becoming the choirmaster at the Madeleine Cathedral in March – that Fauré got up the nerve to ask permission to marry Marianne and received the family's blessing (perhaps the new-found creative success helped boost his self-esteem in other ways?). They became engaged in July, but unfortunately, without giving him any reason, Marianne broke off the engagement in October, leaving Fauré devastated.

You might think – as many listeners have – that the slow movement of the work he was composing at the time, the Piano Quartet No. 1, is a reflection of his mental state after, well, as he saw it, being dumped; that he wrote into this music all the heartache he had just experienced. While some composers certainly might have done something like that, this was not Fauré's style, wallowing in sorrow and self-pity: after all, in a short time he was composing the piano quartet's delightful scherzo and lively finale, so...?

Let's look at another degree of separation, here: in 1870, Pauline Viardot had sung the world premiere of the Alto Rhapsody of Johannes Brahms. He dedicated it as a wedding gift to Julie Schumann, Robert and Clara's daughter, with whom Brahms was working up the courage to declare his love when her mother announced the “good news” Julie was now engaged to an Italian count! It's a dark and desolate work inspired by unrequited love ending with the hope of consolation for the weary traveler – hardly a “bridal song,” as Brahms described it to Clara – but that's a long story and, as a direct consequent of the happy world of the Liebeslieder Waltzes, I'll save that for our May performance. Regardless, given Brahms' experiences in the spring of 1869, there's an irony, here, in what happened to Fauré regarding his engagement to Viardot's daughter eight years later.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

And now, to open the second half of the program, a short work that's a transcription of one of Fauré's songs, Les berceaux (“The Cradles”) which is a wonderful example of the composer's effortless simplicity and perfection.

First of all, listen to this recording by English tenor Ian Bostridge:

Le long du quai les grands vaisseaux, / Que la houle incline en silence, / Ne prennent pas garde aux berceaux / Que la main des femmes balance.
Mais viendra le jour des adieux, / Car il faut que les femmes pleurent, / Et que les hommes curieux / Tentent les horizons qui leurrent.
Et ce jour-là les grands vaisseaux, / Fuyant le port qui diminue, / Sentent leur masse retenue / Par l’âme des lointains berceaux.

(René-François Sully-Prudhomme, from Stances et poèmes: 1865)

Along the quay the great ships, / Listing silently with the surge, / Pay no heed to the cradles / Rocked by women’s hands.
But the day of parting will come, / For it is decreed that women shall weep, / And that men with questing spirits / Shall seek enticing horizons.
And on that day the great ships, / Leaving the dwindling harbour behind, / Shall feel their hulls held back / By the soul of the distant cradles.
(trans: Richard Stokes, A French Song Companion Oxford, 2000)

The simplicity and subtlety is typical of Fauré: he sets up an accompaniment in the piano, the rocking rhythms of ships in the harbor (without reading the poem, you sense quite literally cradle-like rocking) but against this and despite the poet Prudhomme's verbal rhythms, Fauré spins out a melody with subtle contradictions. Though published in 1882, the year you often see associated with it, it was actually composed in 1879, about two years after the premiere of the violin sonata and not too long after the end of his engagement.

There are various arrangements of the song available for different instruments. Here is violinist Artur Grumieux:

At less than three minutes, it's hardly a substantial offering on a “sonata program,” of sorts, but the effect of it, like those “palate cleansers” between the main courses of a fine meal, will be magical.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

And so we come to the final work on the program, the third (and final) of Brahms' violin sonatas, not counting however many of them he might have composed or sketched, discarded then destroyed since the days before he'd met Schumann 33 years earlier.

While I'd written a good deal about Brahms and his friends over the summer – and of course I would highly recommend them to you – I'd mention a little anecdote from Jan Swafford's excellent and frequently quoted biography:
= = = = =
Among friends, Brahms in his fifties was jolly and joking as always, if still capable of galling insults inadvertent and otherwise. Strangers and hangers-on he held at bay, skillfully keeping the trials of fame from becoming a nuisance. Widmann noted the cunning with which he prevented lady pianists from gaining the bench to play for him. He was equally adept at evading autograph hounds, including the ones who asked him to sign for phony packages.
= = = = =

In 1886, having finished his 4th Symphony the year before, Brahms was spending his summer composing holiday in Thun, Switzerland, where he worked on the 2nd Cello Sonata, both the 2nd and 3rd Violin Sonatas, the 3rd Piano Trio, and several songs which became the collections of Op.104 and 105, including one of his most ingratiating, “Wie Melodien zieht es mir.”

The songs were primarily intended for his friend Hermine Spies whose alto voice (if nothing else) Brahms found captivating (he wrote to his friend Kalbeck that summer, “I am now getting to the years where a man easily does something stupid, so I have to doubly watch myself” and he once more trotted out his tattered old joke about two things he'd vowed never to try: opera and marriage).

The mood of these lyrical, leisurely songs pervade the 2nd Violin Sonata whose opening theme bears a slight if uncanny resemblance to the opening notes of the “Prize Song” from Wagner's Meistersinger but while motives from at least three of his own songs figure prominently in the course of this tuneful sonata, it's hardly likely Wagner would have won a claim of plagiarism if he'd thought about it (there are, after all, only so many notes to go around).

Fast forward to the summer of 1888, by which time Brahms had completed no less than 31 songs as well as the Double Concerto, managing to patch up the painful break in his friendship with Joachim. But in the course of the year he had also alienated two of his closest friends, Pastor Widmann from his 1886 summer holiday, and Dr. Theodor Billroth. The 4th Symphony and the Double Concerto had failed to please even his closest musical friends – as for the ebullient 2nd Cello Sonata, a teenaged Arnold Schoenberg was not the only one in Vienna who found the opening “indigestible” – and Brahms was beginning to fear in his mid-50s he had written himself out.

Fortunately, when he sent his beloved Clara Schumann the newly completed D Minor Violin Sonata, she responded with her usual warmth and approval: on occasions when she was critical, it was quite possible that piece of music would never see the light of day again.

“I marveled at the way everything is interwoven, like fragrant tendrils of the vine. I loved very much indeed... the third movement which is like a beautiful girl sweetly frolicking with her lover – then suddenly in the middle of it all, a flash of deep passion, only to make way for sweet dalliance once more.”

It would be impossible not to read too much into these passages: Clara, the widow of a true Romantic, was always one to see music in picturesque images befitting her husband's penchant for writing “character pieces” which always bore evocative titles implying a story or a character behind the music. Brahms – and for that matter, Fauré as well – wrote short piano pieces, true, but they were always given abstract names with no programmatic implications. Whether this music was inspired by such thoughts or memories or ways of, perhaps, capturing a mood, we'll never know.

However, time is running out to post this before the recital, so between my incapacitating cold (you might want to back away from the screen) and infuriating computer issues, there's not enough time to get into some of the biographical details I wanted to explore – specifically the idea of "Fate" as an element in so many of his works, including this sonata, especially in the middle-section of the first movement with its ominous ostinato in the bass; and also the observation that D Minor was, for Brahms, his Tragic Key – but then no one really reads these, anyway.

So here are not one but two videos of the Brahms sonata:

Peter Sirotin suggested two historic recordings, one with Jascha Heifetz and William Kappell from 1950 – monaural and perhaps not the best balanced miking; the other with the 1960 stereo recording with violinist Henryk Szeryng and pianist Artur Rubinstein. But since it was difficult to choose, I decided to leave the decision up to you (or, if you have the time, listen to both of them).

Let's begin with Szerynbg and Rubinstein (1960 stereo).

And here is Jascha Heifetz and William Kappell (1950 monaural):

I will point out, for those interested in historical connections and anyone who enjoys playing “Six Degrees of Separation,” Rubinstein, born ten years before Brahms died, had played for Josef Joachim when he was a child, and Joachim was the violinist for whom Brahms composed his Violin Concerto and the Double Concerto, as well as the early “F-A-E” Sonata. When Joachim heard the boy play, he told his parents, "This boy may become a very great musician—he certainly has the talent for it... When the time comes for serious study, bring him to me, and I shall be glad to supervise his artistic education." Rubinstein was 4 at the time. When he was 10, Joachim arranged for him to study with Karl Heinrich Barth who was a student of Franz Liszt who'd studied as a child with Carl Czerny who was a piano student of Ludwig van Beethoven's.

(I should point out that one of Rubinstein's pupils was Ann Schein who played Chopin and Rachmaninoff concertos with the Harrisburg Symphony in recent seasons and who has been a teacher, mentor and friend to both Ya-Ting Chang and Peter Sirotin, the directors of Market Square Concerts.)

- Dick Strawser

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Midori Opens the Season with Brahms and Fauré: Part 1

Midori (photo credit: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)
One of the great violinists of the day comes to Harrisburg to open Market Square Concerts' new season with a program featuring works by Johannes Brahms and Gabriel Fauré on Friday, September 20 at 8 pm.

Midori made her debut at 11 playing Paganini with the New York Philharmonic and, as Heifetz described it, "survived prodigism" to become one of the leading stars of today's musical firmament. Not only a major artist recognized around the world, she is also a teacher, arts advocate and a champion of education. A persuasive advocate of cultural diplomacy, Midori was honored for her international activism in 2007 when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named Midori a Messenger of Peace, and again in 2012 when she received the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum in Davos.

In the current state of the arts, major artists these days rarely need to appear in "smaller venues" around the country, limiting their concerts to major cities and orchestras. But Midori's foundation, “Partners in Performance,” supports not only her performances in smaller communities around the country but also creates performing and educational opportunities for emerging artists like Francisco Fullana who appeared here last season. Market Square Concerts is proud and grateful to be among the few recipients of this grant.

She and Lithuanian pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute will perform two sonatas and two shorter works by Brahms and Fauré: on the first half, there's Brahms' early work, the Scherzo from the collaborative "F.A.E. Sonata," written when he was 20, and Fauré's 1st Sonata, generally considered his first major work written when he was 30 but by no means a late-bloomer. On the second half, there's a transcription of a short song by Fauré and then, to conclude, Brahms' last violin sonata, the D Minor Sonata, Op.108, one of his last works.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

“For me, art, and especially music, exist to elevate us as far as possible above everyday existence.” – Gabriel Fauré
= = = = =

While I've never found any source for that quote, it is beautiful, isn't it? And it certainly reflects his own often delicate style and what we, as musicians and music-lovers, hope to attain through music, that sense of “elevation” beyond the reality of our lives, not merely escapism but a fulfillment that completes us, not just a form of entertainment but something that sustains us once we return to the everyday.

Of course, a brief inspirational quote, other than being useful to serve as a pre-technological tweet-from-the-past on your Facebook feed, may not summarize the creative world of a great composer. In looking around for something comparable from Brahms, we might consider this exchange between the composer and the scientist who specialized in the study of acoustics, Hermann von Helmholtz, who attacked the dogmas of Western Musical Theory by arguing that “the system of Scales, Modes and Harmonic Tissues does not rest solely upon inalterable natural laws” as most music teachers will assert, at least initially, “but is at least partly also the result of esthetical principles which have already changed” as music had done from Bach to Mozart to Beethoven to Wagner, for instance, “and will still further change with the progressive development of humanity,” a scientific approach to music reflecting the going Darwinian attitude toward, well... almost anything.

The “fact” music could evolve with “taste and culture” implying “unheard-of things are possible” would have horrified the staunchly conservative Brahms who at the end of his life, examining new works by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, was convinced that, after him, music was destined for the cesspool. Naturally, an arranged meeting between Brahms and Helmholtz did not go well.

The composer talked of counterpoint and form, the scientist about “sine waves and spectra.” The scientist complained the artist gave him only “artistic musical answers to questions about scientific acoustical problems” and Brahms saw Helmholtz's constructs as “what music was about,” his “progressive development” of style the decline of art and humanity.

To this, Gabriel Fauré would have shrugged his shoulders, most likely. It is, in one sense, the stereotypical difference between German and French culture, the one being precise and well-defined, the other being vague with a certain je ne sais quoi (literally “I don't know what”). The one approach we might consider “rational, intellectual, Classical, Apollonian, Left-Brained,” while the other would be “intuitive, emotional, Romantic, Dionysian, Right-Brained.”

Brahms' ill-fated meeting with Helmholtz took place in 1885 around the time he was finishing work on his 4th Symphony. Curiously, most of Brahms' closest friends found the new symphony dry, academic, a convincing sign that their “old friend” – Brahms had recently turned 62 – was writing himself out. To us, there may be a whole world between the boiling Romanticism of his 1st Symphony and the lofty Classicism of his 4th, but his latest (and last) symphony came only nine years after he completed his first.

And only a year before be began work on his last violin sonata which concludes Midori's program.

I often prefer to talk about the works on a program in chronological order rather than how you'll hear them because in the continuum of a composer's development that context can explain a great deal (or maybe not), allowing you to listen to them within the context of the performance. But in this case, Midoi has chosen to perform them in chronological order, so let's begin with the earliest work, the “Sonatensatz” of Johannes Brahms, from the “F.A.E. Sonata.”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

First of all, what is all that Sonatensatz and F.A.E. stuff about?

It only means that it's a “Sonata Movement,” a fragment of a larger work, in this case the intended third movement of a work written “by committee.” Robert Schumann had the idea of writing a violin sonata as a belated birthday present for the young, up-coming virtuoso (already hailed as one of the great violinists of the day), Joseph Joachim. And, as the resident Master, he assigned the first movement to his student and assistant of the past two years, Albert Dietrich, while he would write the intermezzo of a slow movement and the finale himself. To his new friend and latest discovery, a young man named Johannes Brahms, he assigned the scherzo because one of the many pieces Brahms had shown him was his Scherzo in E-flat Minor, a demonic whirlwind that proved to be his first true success (everybody seemed to love it, even Franz Liszt, whom he'd just met before arriving at the Schumanns').

Collectively, they called it the “F.A.E.” Sonata. Schumann frequently used “musical cryptograms” in his music, spelling out a name in musical pitches to create a thematic motive he would then imbed in his melody. In this case, the pitches F, A, and E represented the “life motif” of Joachim himself who, having just broken up his latest girlfriend, decided he would remain “Free but Lonely.” In German, that's Frei aber Einsam. Therefore, F-A-E.

Now, how each of the composers used that as a melodic building block is not important: the reference on the title page was enough for the occasion.

And it was only just for The Occasion. Written for a musical evening at the Schumanns' home on October 28th, 1853, it was never intended for publication or professional performance.

When Joachim arrived, a day after his concert with Schumann in Dusseldorf playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto, he was looking forward to a “house-performance” with the great Clara Schumann at the piano. He was handed a basket of flowers by one of the guests, Gisela von Arnim, dressed in peasant costume. Her mother, Bettina von Arnim, a friend of Beethoven's and Goethe's and husband of the collector of fairy tales known as Des Knaben Wunderhorn, was also one of the guests.

But beneath the flowers, Joachim found a manuscript – a four-movement violin sonata he and Clara were now supposed to perform and, in the process, he was to identify the composer of each movement who were inscribed on the title page (in no particular order) by their initials only. Not surprisingly, he had no trouble doing so. Also not surprisingly, he sight-read the piece flawlessly.

It's worth pointing out that Gisela von Arnim was, at the time, Joachim's ex-girlfriend, hence his decision to remain “Free but lonely” (can you spell “awkward” as a musical motif?).

By the way, Schumann was then 43 – he would attempt suicide four months later – and Dietrich was 24. Joachim's 22nd birthday had been the previous June, and Brahms was all of 20.

Here is a recording of violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy performing the Scherzo (the “Sonata Movement”) by Johannes Brahms written for the “F.A.E. Sonata.”

(I have to laugh at the unsuspecting producer who, perhaps thinking "since scherzo means joke and it's usually a light-hearted, dance-like piece," decided to include this Scherzo on a collection called Chill With Brahms. Ah, marketing...

= = = = =

Brahms arrived on the Schumanns' doorstep on Sept. 30th but the composer was not at home, so he returned the next day. Under his arm were several piano sonatas (which Schumann described as “veiled symphonies”) as well as violin sonatas and string quartets (both in the plural). The rest, as they say, is history.

But in this month of October, 1853, consider the chronology:
= = = = =
October 1st: The Schumanns hear Johannes Brahms playing his music for the first time. During the next few weeks, Brahms is a constant visitor at the Schumanns.
October 3rd: Robert Schumann finishes his new Violin Concerto for Joseph Joachim. It's the same day Joachim performed his recent “Violin Concerto in One Movement in G Minor” at the Karlsruhe festival with Franz Liszt conducting.
early-October: Joachim makes a brief visit to the Schumanns, passing through Düsseldorf, apparently in need of a post-Liszt antidote (he was beginning to drift more toward the Schumanns and away from his previous mentor, the avant-garde Liszt, two great poles of German music at the time). Shortly after this visit, Schumann comes up with the idea of the “F.A.E. Sonata” to be written by Dietrich-Schumann-Brahms to be presented to Joachim when he'd be playing in Düsseldorf later in the month.
October 13th: writing to Joachim, Schumann said he was formulating his thoughts on Brahms whom he called “the young eagle,” and began writing an article for his magazine, Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the next day
October 27th: Schumann conducted a concert (badly) with Joachim as soloist in the Beethoven concerto and Schumann's Fantasy for Violin & Orchestra, along with Joachim's “Hamlet” Overture (we tend to forget, these days, that Joachim was also a composer). Rehearsals the previous days had gone badly: Schumann was already exhibiting signs of the illness that would destroy his final years.
October 28th: The magazine appears with its lead article, Neue Bahnen (“New Paths”) in which Schumann hails the arrival of the young Brahms, essentially anointing him “Beethoven's Heir.” 

That evening, friends gathered to present Joachim his new sonata. (You can listen to the entire “F.A.E. Sonata” in this continuous audio clip with Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov.)
= = = = =

Brahms, Oct. 1853 (at 20)
During this same month, another visitor at the Schumanns was the French painter, Jean-Joseph Laurens, who drew portraits of both Schumann and Brahms. His Brahms sketch includes a musical fragment from the E-flat Minor Scherzo. It is a rare opportunity to look at a portrait of a composer drawn quite possibly while he was working on the piece of music you're listening to!

Brahms never published his contribution. Joachim kept the manuscript and only published the scherzo in 1906, nine years after his friend's death. The whole sonata was not published until 1935 and it is rarely performed or recorded.

In the month after the Sonata's unveiling, Schumann decided to add two movements as a preface to his own Intermezzo and Finale to create his Violin Sonata No. 3 in A Minor. Joachim expressed his approval: “The concentrated, energetic addition fits perfectly with the other movements. This is now without a doubt a new whole by itself!”

But this third sonata, which Joachim and Clara performed several times privately, was never published in the remaining years of Schumann's life. Whether it was consciously suppressed like the Violin Concerto completed in October, I can't say – that is a story in itself and involves a ouija board – but even though it existed and was finally published and premiered in 1956, the Centennial of his death, it still is rarely included even in recordings purporting to be “the complete works for violin and piano” by Robert Schumann. One could argue it was not Schumann at his best – many of his final works show signs of decline in his talents as well as his health – but it's still an important part of his story.

(If you're curious, you can listen to the whole of Schumann's 3rd Sonata which includes the original manuscript for the first movement, here.  (If you're wondering about the painting in this video, it's a view of Düsseldorf with the bridge from which Schumann threw himself into the Rhine on February 27th, 1854.)

Given Brahms penchant for destroying works that failed to satisfy him – what happened to those “violin sonatas and string quartets” Schumann mentioned in 1853? – we're lucky Joachim kept the manuscript for the “F.A.E. Sonata.” Since he never published it, it's very likely Brahms would have destroyed it, too. Perhaps these last works of Schumann's may have been a lesson to the young Brahms not to leave his failures lying around for other people to publish after his own death. Still, with a composer who destroyed a 5th Symphony and a 2nd Violin Concerto because friends of his didn't think as highly as he'd hoped of his 4th Symphony and the Double Concerto, we can only wonder what we've lost.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

This dramatic and rhythmically turbulent work, brief as it is, is followed by the Violin Sonata Gabriel Fauré composed when he was 30. The whole mood here is entirely different – compare Brahms' scherzo with the third movement of Fauré's sunlit dance, for example – but part of that is also the difference in the personalities of the two composers.

As his mentor Camille Saint-Saëns told him, while Fauré possessed every quality, he lacked one fault indispensable to every artist: ambition.

The Sonata No. 1 in A Major, Op.13, was composed between 1875 and 1876, the same years Brahms was (finally) completing his 1st Symphony and Richard Wagner was (finally) completing his operatic cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung. And though he was already 30, Fauré had only just begun composing pieces that were not songs or short choral works, twenty-four in all. Still, anyone who could write the Cantique de Jean Racine as a 20-year-old student at a school primarily designed to teach future church musicians, was no late-bloomer.

Realizing he would be unlikely to make a living from being a composer, he focused primarily on being a church organist and choir director, teaching piano on the side and composing his songs for his own and his friends' enjoyment.

Then, in 1875, something changed, there's a choral and orchestra cantata based on Victor Hugo's Les Djinns and an orchestral suite, his first non-vocal work. The same year, he began, for no apparent reason, this violin sonata. It is hardly a youthful effort.

In this 1960 recording, we'll hear violinist Berl Senofsky and pianist Gary Graffman in Fauré's Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major, Op.13.

1st Mvmt Allegro molto

2nd Mvmt Andante

3rd Mvmt Scherzo

4th Mvmt Allegro quasi presto

Its premiere the following January was one of the highlights of Fauré's career, his first great success.

But I said "for no apparent reason." Well, that may not be quite the whole truth...

to be continued... (you can read Part 2 of this post, here)

Dick Strawser