The violin and piano duo is one of the most beloved chamber music ensembles, and with reason. The violin possesses the capability to sustain the sound like the most proficient singer – though with a range far exceeding that of the most gifted soprano – but also of varying the articulation and sound in a large, almost infinite variety of styles. It encompasses an impressive dynamic scope, from the sweetest pianissimo to a very powerful fortissimo; it can perform chords and polyphony of astonishing complexity, and is very agile in the bravura passages. In spite of all this, however, the violin is frequently considered as the melodic instrument par excellence; by way of contrast, the piano is indisputably the instrument best suited for polyphony and for the chordal writing. In turn, it possesses an extreme variety of sounds, also thanks to the use of the pedals, a technical palette encompassing the most powerful octaves and the lightest staccatos, and an expressive quality of its own.
The combination of the two represents an extraordinary resource in the hands of a skilled composer, who may opt for an alliance of the two (in which they enter into a friendly dialogue in an exquisitely chamber-music style), or for a struggle between the violin’s singing quality and an orchestra-like concept of the piano, mirroring the idea of a Violin Concerto; many of the greatest Sonatas for piano and violin, of course, can be interpreted as a combination of these two approaches, seen in their complementary interaction.
The Sonata form, especially in its Romantic versions, is one of the contexts where this dialogue finds its perfect expression. Indeed, the very concept of Sonata is grounded on the principle of a dialogue of opposites, whose initial irreconcilability is gradually overcome, reaching a final unification. Just as the two main themes increasingly demonstrate their potential for integration, so these two very different instruments may progressively get nearer to each other, thus enriching the Sonata form with their unique and individual qualities.
Edvard Grieg clearly understood that the dialogue between violin and piano may be superbly expressed in the form of a Violin Sonata: indeed, this genre is the only large-scale one to which he returned regularly throughout the various stages of his life, composing three Sonatas, each with its own personality and each embodying the particular moment he was living. That the Violin Sonata came to represent such a significant means of expression for the composer may seem surprising: being an acclaimed pianist, one might have expected Grieg to favour Piano Sonatas rather than those for the violin. However, given Grieg’s penchant for the lyrical outpouring of touching melodies, and, at the same time, his interest in the brilliant rhythms of folk music, his choice to devote such a large part of his compositional energies to the violin becomes much more understandable.
Indeed, in the Norwegian musical culture which Grieg was so keen to reinterpret, absorb and disseminate through his works, the violin occupied a unique place: the Hardanger fiddle was the favourite locus of expression of the Norwegian musical language. This had been affirmed in unambiguous terms by the legendary violinist Ole Bull (1810-1880), an internationally famous performer and composer, who intuited the potential of Norwegian folk music to transcend the boundaries of traditional culture and to excite the enthusiasm of audiences worldwide.
As in the case of other nineteenth-century composers, Grieg found a way of his own for drawing from the seemingly inexhaustible well of folk tunes and rhythms without either simplistically citing them in his works or renouncing the idioms of the “cultivated” classical music tradition. Here too, then, a seemingly impossible dialogue took place: the sound, style, musical gestures, rhythms and modes of folk music penetrated the codified forms and genres of the classical repertoire, without losing their freshness but also without becoming a curio or an exotic oddity.
It needed a genius to achieve this nearly impossible balance; and Grieg undoubtedly was one.
Gazing back to his three Sonatas, in 1900, Grieg succinctly described their most evident traits to a friend of his, the poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson:
“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 Sonata’s “naivety” is not to be intended as a negative aspect: rather, it expresses the full elan of a composer in his prime, as well as his enthusiasm and his joye de vivre. A later Norwegian composer, Gerhard Schjelderup, summed up his impression of the piece describing it as “the work of a youth who has seen only the sunny side of life”; however, this Sonata possesses a remarkable maturity of concept, and its positive mood is regarded as a defect only by those incapable of remembering with tenderness the excitement of the springtime of life.
Written in the summer of 1865, during a period spent by the composer in Copenhagen, it was immediately published by one of the most important European companies, Peters of Leipzig; in the same city, it was premiered at the Gewandhaus by the composer himself, joined by another Scandinavian musician, the Swede Anders Petterson.
A copy of the score later came into the hands of Franz Liszt, who, by then, was one of the fathers of the European music scene; the Hungarian composer, who had largely contributed to the admission of “folk” tunes and rhythm within the realm of “cultivated” music, quickly understood the value of this work and the genius of its composer. Writing in 1868 to Grieg, Liszt told him of the “sincere pleasure” he had derived from the Violin Sonata. In Liszt’s words, “it bears witness to a talent for composition – vigorous, reflective, inventive, and of excellent material – which has only to follow its own way to rise to the heights”. Generous and supportive as he always was, Liszt also offered to his younger colleague his encouragement and help, inviting him to Weimar and hoping that the occasion might arise for their personal encounter.
By that time, however, Grieg had already composed his second Violin Sonata, whose festive and serene tone mirrors the composer’s feelings at the time of its composition. In 1867 he had married a cousin of his, Nina Hagerup, and – perhaps to the chagrin of his bride – had spent the honeymoon writing this Sonata. The composer did not even dedicate his Sonata to Nina: it was offered to Johan Svendsen and would be premiered a few months later by violinist Gudbrand Böhn. Even though no overt homage was paid to the bride, however, the composer’s love and tenderness for Nina are transparently revealed by the piece, whose mood clearly tells of Grieg’s feelings for his bride. Possibly, the founding of a new family kindled in the composer’s spirit an even more intense consciousness of his Norwegian heritage, of his origins; therefore, this Sonatas is markedly interspersed with allusions and references to the music of his homeland. The piece sounded even “too Norwegian” in the ears of Niels Wilhelm Gade, a great composer who advised Grieg to downplay the folk influences in his next Sonata. “On the contrary”, was Grieg’s reply, “the next one will be even more Norwegian”.
It is disputable whether Grieg maintained his promise or not. In his own words, cited above, the Third Sonata has a “wider outlook”. Here, the Norwegian imprint is offered as a given, as a presupposition; the elements excerpted from the local folklore are so deeply inscribed in the composer’s style that they are indiscernible from his personality. This Sonata dates from a much later period than the two preceding ones, and the twenty years separating them had not passed in vain. The tone here is more serious and sombre; its expressive summit is found in the combination of lyrical melodies and of refined harmonization, revealing his masterly treatment of all compositional elements.
Just as had happened to the First Sonata, also this last was publicly premiered by the composer himself at that temple of music which is the Gewandhaus of Leipzig; in this case, the violinist was Adolf Brodsky, one of the greatest musicians of the era. Unsurprisingly, this Sonata immediately became a favourite of the violin repertoire, and has unceasingly fascinated audiences and performers alike.
Together, these three Sonatas trace the fascinating itinerary of a composer’s life, of his stylistic evolution, but also of the permanence and development of his artistic and human personality. They recount of his deep love for his homeland, of his passionate outlook on life, of his poetic soul; they truly represent an opportunity for entering the mystery of musical creativity, expressing in notes the most intense aspects of human life.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Bernardo Santos is one of the most sought-after Portuguese pianists of his generation. With performances ranging over four continents, Bernardo has played in venues such as the Casa da Música, Convento de São Francisco, Teatro Rivoli in Portugal, Sala Cecília Meireles, Amazon Theatre and Palácio das Artes in Brazil, Fairfield Halls, Royal Albert Hall and St. James Piccadilly Church in London, National Concert Hall and the Tonhalle Düsseldorf, among many others. Santos has been invited to several piano and chamber music festivals all over Europe, South America and Asia.
As an invited soloist with orchestra, Bernardo had the opportunity to play with the Minas Gerais Symphony Orchestra, Amazon Chamber Orchestra, Vidin State Philarmonic Orchestra, Orquestra Classica do Centro, Orquestra Filarmonia das Beiras, among others. He has played under the baton of conductors such as Antonio Vassalo Lourenco, Bruno Martins, Charles Gambetta, Hilo Carriel, Kira Omelchenko, Marcelo de Jesus, and Silvio Viegas. Bernardo complements his artistic career with research on famed Portuguese composers Berta Alves de Sousa and Frederico de Freitas, being responsible for the critical edition and publishing of works by both composers. His main object of research now incides on the music for piano by Portuguese composer Ruy Coelho. Bernardo gave masterclasses in several universities and music schools in Portugal, Brazil and Colombia. Bernardo Santos is an avid chamber musician, having studied with Antonio Chagas Rosa, Eugene Asti and Martino Tirimo. Bernardo collaborated with artists such as André Lacerda, David Wyn Lloyd, Diana Rodriguez Vivas, Diego Caetano, Liana Branscome, Olga Argo, Svetlana Rudenko and Belem Quartet from Brazil. Bernardo has also participated in the project “Curtas” of the composer and guitarist Israel Costa Pereira, having recorded a CD for this project.
Bernardo Santos is currently taking part of the Doctoral Programme in Music Performance (PhD) at the University of Aveiro. Bernardo graduated from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, Conservatori del Liceu in Barcelona and from the University of Aveiro (Aveiro City Prize), having studied with Deniz Gelenbe, Josep Colom, Álvaro Teixeira Lopes and Klara Dolynay. During his studies, Bernardo Santos was a Trinity College London Scholar and recipient of scholarships from Fundação GDA and Fundação Dionísio Pinheiro e Alice Cardoso Pinheiro.
David Wyn Lloyd: David Wyn Lloyd graduated with a PhD degree from the University of Sheffield, in England, having started studying at Royal College of Music in 1981, where he was awarded several solo and chamber music prizes. A student of Peter Schidlof, co-founder of the Amadeus Quartet, David Lloyd also took part in the International Musicians Seminar masterclasses in Cornwall. He then developed an intense professional career, playing in major London orchestras, collaborating in film and television, and making numerous recordings. David Lloyd was member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra for four years, having played in all the major concert halls in the world under the baton of conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Colin Davis, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Gennady Rozhdesvtvensky, among many others. In Portugal, David Lloyd took part of the Oporto Orchestra, while starting his pedagogical activity in several professional schools. Since 1996 he has been part of the faculty at the University of Aveiro, where he teaches violin, viola and chamber music. He conducted the orchestra of the university between 1998 and 2008 and the ORI (Iberian Roots Orchestra) in concerts in England and the United States. David Lloyd was a member of Camoes Quartet, Lyra Quartet and Oporto Quartet. From April 2012 to 2016 David Lloyd was the artistic director and principal conductor of Orquestra Classica do Centro, based in Coimbra. In 2014, the Minister of Culture of Cape Verde granted him the title “Lifetime Honorary Conductor of Cape Verde”. Since 2018, David Lloyd has been teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students at ESART Castelo Branco. As a composer, David Lloyd conducted the premiere of his work “TangoFado Suite” in October 2019, commissioned by Orquestra Classica do Centro. For 2021, there are two more commissions from this orchestra on the songs of King Denis and one cantata on Queen Saint Elizabeth of Portugal.
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.