In the nineteenth century, the figure of Beethoven loomed large in the world of instrumental music. His Symphonies, piano Sonatas, string Quartets and his other chamber music works had pushed to the extreme the potential of the Sonata form and demonstrated virtually all of its possibilities. All of the younger composers needed time and efforts in order to find their own voice after the cult of Beethoven had become the paradigm of music, or rather of art itself in the view of the Idealists and Romantics. In spite of the difficulties experienced by virtually all the major artists of the Romantic generation in their exploration of the Sonata form, undeniably some of the most successful composers in this genre belonged in the geographical and cultural area of Beethoven’s Germany and Austria; thus, unavoidably, form and content started to identify with each other, and the “German” instrumental idiom established itself as the language of Romantic instrumental music.
The Latin, Scandinavian and Eastern countries found themselves at the periphery of the extraordinary flowering of German and Austrian chamber music; and this in spite of an exceptional blossoming of local talents, and of an overflowing heritage of popular tunes, idiomatic harmonies, ornamentation styles and idiosyncratic rhythms. Of course, many countries managed to develop a genuinely local musical culture, especially in the field of vocal music and opera; but those who wished to write works in the Sonata forms had inevitably to take a stance with respect to the German model.
The Sonata form was, of course, no straitjacket; it became increasingly flexible, and demonstrated its ductility and its capability to bend itself to new harmonic solutions and new compositional challenges. It was, however, a highly successful formula, whose solid and robust structure could be personalized through the choice of the actual musical material: and on this plane the possibility of intervening with local features was wide open for a generation of non-German composers.
Doubtlessly, one of the emblematic characters of the “nationalist” musical movement was the Norwegian Edvard Grieg, who claimed pride of place for the musical heritage of his country and disseminated the characterising features of its music while using actual citations rather sparsely. Grieg embodied the struggles of his generation in an unmistakable fashion: he had studied in Leipzig, the very centre of the German musical school, and had purposefully sought to learn the masterly knowledge of form which was being handed down from one generation to another. Later he would be critical of the academic teaching he had received there; however, his teachers actively encouraged him to experiment creatively and to find his own musical language.
Notwithstanding this classical education, Grieg did not feel entirely at ease when handling the Sonata form; even though some of his undisputed masterpieces demonstrate his perfect mastery of this genre, his works employing it are scanty, and he rarely tried his hand more than on one occasion in any given subgenre. It is therefore striking that he wrote no less than three Violin Sonatas, which constitute the most abundant harvest in the field of his chamber music; and all three are masterpieces, in spite of their very different characters.
Writing in 1900 to another great Norwegian artist, the poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Grieg affirmed: “Last week I had the pleasure of performing my three violin sonatas with Lady Neruda-Hallé before a very discerning Danish audience and receiving a very warm response. I can assure you that we did very well and it had special significance for me, because these three works are among my very best and represent different stages in my development: the first, naïve and rich in ideals; the second, nationalistic; and the third with a wider outlook”. The first two violin Sonatas had been written just two years apart from each other, but the third had to wait twenty years: it is understandable, then, that the overall affective climate is very different. After hearing the palpably Scandinavian style of the Second Sonata, the great Danish composer Niels Gade advised Grieg to write a “less-Norwegian” Sonata next time; somewhat piqued, Grieg replied that he intended to write an even more Norwegian piece in the future. He did not keep his promise in full, however; as noted by the composer himself, the Third Sonata is less localistic and, ironically, more personal and universal at the same time.
Grieg was a pianist by education, and a virtuoso one, at that; however, he felt surprisingly at ease when composing for the violin, and it is no wonder that his Sonatas – and in particular the Third, recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album – quickly became part of the standard concert repertoire worldwide. Among the reasons for this success are the deep link between Norwegian popular music and the hardingfele, the Hardanger fiddle which is the protagonist of so many folk songs and dances, as well as the influence of the great violinist Ole Bull whose friendship with Grieg was particularly important both for his musical development and for his career. The premiere of this Sonata was given at one of the temples of “classical” music, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, with Grieg at the piano and Adolph Brodsky at the violin: the legendary soloist had also premiered Tchaikovsky’s violin Concerto a few years earlier and was therefore particularly well-suited for bringing out both the virtuoso and the touching style of the piece. However, it is possible to an Italian violinist, Teresina Tua, that Grieg owed the ultimate inspiration for this extremely successful work: upon hearing her playing, Grieg claimed: “If ever I again compose anything for the violin, she will be to blame”. And this had happened just one year before the composition of the Third Sonata.
Another great female violinist was the protagonist of the premiere of the other Sonata recorded here, the First Violin Sonata by Gabriel Fauré. Marie Tayau played first violin in one of the first-ever all-female string quartets, and it was she who performed the violin part of Fauré’s First violin Sonata, with the composer at the piano. The premiere was a revelation: in the words of the composer himself, “The sonata had more of a success this evening than I could ever have hoped for”. This success represented also an initiation for the young composer, who had always been supported actively by his teacher, Camille Saint-Saëns, and who now felt a newly-found musical adulthood: “Saint-Saëns said that he felt that sadness that mothers feel when they see their children are too grown up to need them any more!… Mlle. Tayau’s performance was impeccable”. Saint-Saëns’ enthusiasm was palpable, and was reported not only by his possibly biased former student: the revered master stated that the Sonata could offer “everything to tempt a gourmet: new forms, excellent modulations, unusual tone colors, and the use of unexpected rhythms. And a magic floats above everything, encompassing the whole work, causing the crowd of usual listeners to accept the unimagined audacity as something quite normal. With this work Monsieur Fauré takes his place among the masters”.
Notwithstanding the deep differences in style and character among the two composers represented here and the two Sonatas recorded here, there is thus a substantial and fundamental continuity: both Fauré and Grieg demonstrated their ability to give a new shape to the “German” Sonata form, and to infuse it with new musical inflections which were already not entirely and thoroughly “tonal”. In Grieg’s case, the audacious modulations and chordal juxtapositions derive from his appreciation for and knowledge of his nation’s unique musical heritage; by using these musical idioms within the framework of a classical Sonata, he was able to tinge with a new, enchanting and mysterious colour the seemingly stiff structure of the genre. In this Sonata, perhaps the darkest among Grieg’s three, there is room for pathos and tragedy, for fairytale atmospheres, for the touching and moving tenderness of the second movement, as well as for enthralling dance-rhythms.
By way of contrast, Fauré inserted noteworthy innovations within the Sonata’s structure and language thanks to his expertise in modal and liturgical music, which he had thoroughly studied also in his capacity as an organist. His First Violin Sonata is a surprisingly ripe and forward-looking work, whose audacious use of harmony and whose unusual features demonstrated the composer’s innovative inspiration. Here Fauré successfully blends virtuosity (also in the piano part) with long, timeless tunes, whose flavour is reminiscent of that of liturgical chant; we find gentle and rocking tranquility combined with daring chromaticism which occasionally reveals the influence of Wagner; and (in this case similar to Grieg) we find occasionally a predilection for the pure sonorous enchantment, leading the listener into a supernatural musical world.
Both works, each for its own part, and particularly in their combination with each other, are therefore magnificent examples of how an august form which could boast many glorious decades full of masterpieces could still offer wide space to a composer’s fantasy; and both reveal the fecundity of the creative encounter between classical tradition and modern inspiration.
Liner Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Bruno Canino: He was born in Naples and studied piano and composition at the Conservatory of Milan where for a period of 24 years he subsequently taught music. For ten years he also taught Chamber Music at the Conservatory of Berne. As soloist and chamber music pianist, he has performed in all the major concert halls and at the major festivals in Europe, America Australia, Japan and China. For fifty years he has played in duet formation with Antonio Ballista and for thirty years has been a member of the Trio di Milano. He has collaborated with many well-known musicians such as Salvatore Accardo, Uto Ughi, Pierre Amoyal, Itzahk Perlman and Viktoria Mullova. From 1999 until 2002 he was the Director of Music at the Venice Festival. He is also much involved with the performance of contemporary music, working with among others, Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Greorgy Ligeti, Bruno Maderna, Luigi Nono and Silvano Bussotti and with whom he has often been involved in the first performance of many works. He has performed under the direction of Abbado, Muti, Chailly, Sawallisch, Berio and Boulez and with orchestras such as the La Scala Philharmonic, Santa Cecilia of Rome, the Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the National Orchestra of France. He has made many recordings, among the most recent being Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the complete piano works of A. Casella and those of Claude Debussey, which have just been issued on cd (Stradivarius). He has held many ‘Master Class’ sessions for piano soloists and for musicians of chamber music in countries such as Italy, Germany, Japan and Spain and for more than twenty-five years has participated in the Marlboro Festival in the United States. His book “Vademecum del Pianista da Camera” was edited by Passigli. Pianist Bruno Canino received the prestigious "Premio del Presidente della Repubblica Italiana" to commemorate his international carrier.
Paolo Ardinghi: Born in Soest (Germany), he received his diploma magna cum laude at the Istituto Boccherini of Lucca under the guidance of Antonio Ardinghi. Thereafter he studied principally with Franco Gulli, and frequented masterclasses with Mirco Pezzini, Angelo Stefanato, Pierre Amoyal, Regis Paquier, Maya Jokanovich, Tibor Varga , Piero Toso, and at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena with Uto Ughi. In his career, he has interpreted concerti for violin and orchestra, collaborating with orchestras throughout Europe…under the direction of conductors such as: Wolfart Schuster, Walery Soroko, GianPaolo Mazzoli, Marco Severi ,Fabio Pacciani and others. His repertoire spans from the baroque- Tartini, Nardini, Vivaldi and Bach, to classics such as Mozart, Haydn, Chevalier de Saint George, to the romantics- Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms. He has collaborated with pianists such as Hector Moreno, Leonardo Bartelloni, Federico Rovini, Federico Nicoletta, covering the complete Sonatas of Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann and Grieg. Since 2006 he has initiated an intense duo collaboration with famed Italian pianist Bruno Canino, with whom he has played among other places at the International Chamber Music Festival of Copenhagen. He has played as soloist with several illustrious musicians such as: Bach Double Concerto with Alessandro Cappone (Berlin Philharmonic), Beethoven Triple Concerto with Bruno Canino and Andrea Nannoni. As first violinist in several Italian orchestras, he has played throughout Italy, France, England, Germany, Holland etc…(Paris, London, Munich, Antwerp). Paolo Ardinghi teaches String Quartet performance at the Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali “Luigi Boccherini” in Lucca, Italy.
Edward Grieg (b Bergen, 15 June 1843; d Bergen, 4 Sept 1907). Norwegian composer, pianist and conductor. He was the foremost Scandinavian composer of his generation and the principal promoter of Norwegian music. His genius was for lyric pieces – songs and piano miniatures – in which he drew on both folktunes and the Romantic tradition, but his Piano Concerto found a place in the central repertory, and his String Quartet foreshadows Debussy.
Gabriel Fauré: (b Pamiers, Ariège, 12 May 1845; d Paris, 4 Nov 1924). French composer, teacher, pianist and organist. The most advanced composer of his generation in France, he developed a personal style that had considerable influence on many early 20th-century composers. His harmonic and melodic innovations also affected the teaching of harmony for later generations.