The repertoire for violin and piano is among the richest in the panorama of classical chamber music. History of this repertoire dates back to the origins of the piano in the eighteenth century with its features evolving in parallel with instrumental modifications and aesthetic taste.
Early examples of this repertoire were conceived “for piano with violin accompaniment”: the violin part being clearly subordinated to the piano. In many cases, these early Sonatas could also be played without violin. While there exists Sonatas by Mozart conditioned by this approach, his mature works in this genre are among the first masterpieces for the violin and piano repertoire. Since then, virtually no major composer has failed to dedicate at least one work to this ensemble.
The twentieth century experienced a crisis of the Sonata form, as it was considered too strictly bound to tonal rules, too often employed by Romantic composers, and too rigid and predetermined. Still, despite these critical opinions, important composers of the twentieth century accepted the challenge of such an august genre and contributed their share to its magnificent repertoire.
Among the gems of the Violin Sonata repertoire were two masterpieces by composers from the French-speaking area, Gabriel Fauré and César Franck. Their Sonatas explored new itineraries, in particular the timbral aspects of the violin and piano duo which paved the way for twentieth-century innovations. If the Classical-Romantic tradition of the German-speaking countries had established the genre and contributed a harvest of masterpieces, the Franco-Belgian composers were able to lead this genre into the twentieth century.
The four Sonatas recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album represent interesting fruits of the modern repertoire of violin and piano Sonatas. The pieces beautifully intertwine and illuminate new possibilities for this ensemble and musical form. Moreover, three of them revolve around French culture and reveal the influences of the early French school.
Only one of the composers represented in this album was a Frenchman. However, both the Brazilian musician Heitor Villa-Lobos and the Spaniard Joaquín Turina viewed Paris as their source of inspiration. Paradoxically, the “French” Sonata by Claude Debussy is interspersed with reference to the folkloric musical traditions of other countries (despite the Sonata’s explicit connection to French country and culture), while the Brazilian and the Spanish composers had to struggle with their fascination with France before weaving the traditions of their country into the fabric of their classical compositions.
Among the composers recorded here, Claude Debussy was the eldest. Most of his life took place in the nineteenth century. Interestingly, he neglected the violin and piano duo until the very last years of his life. As recalled by his publisher, Jacques Durand, “After his famous String Quartet, Debussy had not written any more chamber music. Then, at the Concerts Durand, he heard again the Septet with trumpet by Saint-Saëns and his sympathy for this means of musical expression was reawakened. He admitted the fact to me, and I warmly encouraged him to follow his inclination. And that is how the idea of the six sonatas for various instruments came about.”
It was then, Debussy sketched the project for a group of six Sonatas for various chamber music ensembles. He was interested in exploring both usual and unusual timbral combinations, intending for his last Sonata to gather all the instruments employed in the preceding five.
Troubled by the violence of World War I plaguing France and ill with cancer, Debussy completed only three of the projected six Sonatas. Debussy’s illness was painful, and the war had destroyed the beautiful and nonchalant world of the previous decades. The first of the sonatas was the Cello and Piano Sonata; the second was scored for a very unusual ensemble, flute, viola and harp (or piano). The third, and last, was the Sonata for Violin and Piano.
All three Sonatas are brief and compact. The extreme distillation of the musical language, which Debussy had always practiced, became a true need for the ailing composer. Written in 1917, the Sonata recorded here can be considered as Debussy’s swan song. It was the last work he performed in public, when he premiered it with violinist Gaston Poulet on May 5th, 1917.
Shortly before the premiere, Debussy voiced his satisfaction with his composition. Yet, one month after the concert, dismissed the work in self-deprecatory terms, “You should know, my too trusting friend, that I only wrote this Sonata to get rid of the thing, spurred on as I was by my dear publisher. You, who are able to read between the staves, will see traces of [Poe’s] The Imp of the Perverse, who encourages one to choose the very subject which should be ignored. This Sonata will be interesting from a documentary viewpoint and as an example of what may be produced by a sick man in time of war”.
This piece can be considered as Debussy’s last masterwork, despite his characterization as interesting from a “documentary viewpoint.” The first movement is quintessential Debussy, with its refined quest for infinitesimal sound nuances, and with its intimate intensity. Without indulging in sentimentality, a trait Debussy abhorred, his movement touches the listener deeply precisely due to its seeming restraint and expressive power.
The second movement, Intermède, gives the impression of a spontaneous improvisation, and its overall mood is of a dreamy dialogue, at times interrupted by outbursts of energetic rhythms.
Similar to Franck’s use in the majestic Violin Sonata, a suggestion of a cyclic form resurfaces in the connection between first and last movement. Here, the overall mood is serene, even joyful, with dance rhythms and sensuous passages. It is as if music had brought a smile on the composer’s countenance, despite his personal pain and that of his country. In fact, the projected cycle of six Sonatas had an explicit “French” connotation, affirmed in the homage to the great French composers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and highlighted by Debussy’s choice to appear on the title page as “French composer”. During the difficult times of a World War, Debussy understood that beauty and culture were the strongest weapons, and the only ones which could bring healing and hope. Yet, his love for his country was not “nationalistic” in a narrow sense, as is revealed by his use of Iberian and “gipsy” suggestions throughout the composition.
In the previous years, Debussy had been among the role models of a young Joaquín Turina. Like many other musicians, Turina had been attracted to the sparkling musical life of the French capital city. Born in Seville, Andalusia, Turina arrived in Paris in 1905 where he studied at the Schola Cantorum. The influence of Vincent d’Indy provided him with compositional wisdom dating back to d’Indy’s own teacher, César Franck. If the Schola Cantorum represented the bulwark of classical tradition, Turina was equally fascinated by the linguistic experiments of a “progressive” composer, as was Claude Debussy.
However, upon hearing the premiere of Turina’s Piano Quintet op. 1 in Paris, the Spanish composers Manuel de Falla and Isaac Albéniz advised him to abandon the French style he adopted, and to look with interest and participation to the musical heritage of his homeland. That advice proved fundamental for the young composer, who would later become one of the main representatives of a Spanish style in classical music. The Second Violin Sonata op. 82, recorded here, is named Sonata Española. Written in 1934, it mirrors the inquietudes of the years immediately preceding the Spanish Civil War. The first movement references the Spanish tradition of musical variations, a practice typical of Spanish music already in the sixteenth century. One of the Variations evokes the musical heritage of the Basque region, characterized by rhythms in quintuple metre, a zortziko.
Similar to Turina, Villa-Lobos would become among the most successful “classical” composers who expressed the heritage of Brazil in music. However, virtually no trace of Brazilian folklore is found in his First Violin Sonata, which has indeed a distinctly French flavor. Villa-Lobos crossed the ocean to undertake musical studies in France, but only after the composition of this Sonata. Still, its melancholy mood (corresponding to its title “Despair”) is clearly allusive to fin-de-siècle French music.
Another fin-de-siècle (in this case, the end of the twentieth century) is represented by the most recent work of this CD, the Sonata para violino e piano. Written in 1995, by Brazilian composer Guilherme Bernstein in his late twenties, opens on an incisive motto, presented at the unison by the violin and piano. The first movement sees the dialectics between a lyrical Cantabile espressivo in tempo rubato and contrasting sections with a powerful rhythmical drive. Leitmotifs are disseminated throughout the score, which appears as tightly knitted. The second movement expands the initial motivic cells, embracing very small intervals, and broadens them to reach expressive climaxes enhanced by rhythmical tensions. The third movement is a virtuosic, galloping perpetuum mobile built on a ceaseless and breathtaking succession of semiquavers.
Together, these four works portray the inexhaustible potential of the Violin and Piano Sonata and underpin the inspiration it has created — and continues to create — on the greatest composers of all times.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
Brazilian pianist Diego Caetano was considered by the Italian newspaper La Stampa "a gifted pianist with a brilliant technique and musicality." He has been performing widely as soloist and chamber musician throughout the USA, Brazil, Chile, Europe, Asia, and Africa, including performances at New York's Carnegie Hall, Yokohama's Philia Hall, Lisbon's Palácio da Foz, Rio de Janeiro's Sala Cecília Meireles, and London's Royal Albert Hall.
He has worked with conductors such as Michael Palmer, Paul Hostetter, Neil Thomson, Rodrigo de Carvalho, Guilherme Bernstein, Joaquim Jayme, Daniel Guedes, and others. He has been featured in recitals and concerto appearances at the Grand Teton Music Festival, Louisiana International Piano Series, Durango's Conservatory Music of the Mountains, Bangkok's Asia Pacific Saxophone Academy, and Brasília's International Music Festival. An advocate for contemporary music, he has premiered works by composers Robert Spillman, Anne Guzzo, Marlos Nobre, Roger Goeb, and Guilherme Bernstein.
Caetano has frequently served as a masterclass clinician and competition adjudicator in various universities and conservatories around the globe and has presented at various national and international conferences about pedagogical works by Brazilian composers, effective practicing techniques, and performance anxiety. His students have received prizes at national and international piano competitions. He is a member of Duo Lispector with Russian violinist Evgeny Zvonnikov and a member of Resch - Caetano Duo with German tenor Richard Resch.
Dr. Caetano received the top prizes in more than fifty national and international piano competitions, including Concorso Internazionale per Giovani Musicisti “Città di Massa” (2021), Bonn Prize International Music Competition (2020), Bucharest Pro Piano International Piano Competition (2018), London's Grand Prix Virtuoso (2016), Carnegie Hall Debut International Concerto Competition (2014), MTNA Young Artist - Steinway & Sons (2011), "Arnaldo Estrella" Piano Competition (2008), and many more. He has also won special awards including Best Interpreter of Brazilian Composers, Best Interpreter of Spanish Composers, and Prix d'Excellence in Performance.
Dr. Caetano graduated with a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, a Master of Music degree from the University of Wyoming, and a Bachelor of Music degree from Universidade Federal de Goiás (Brazil). Caetano has studied under the guidance of Dr. David Korevaar, Bob Spillman, Dr. Theresa Bogard, Dr. Maria Helena Jayme, and Lílian Carneiro de Mendonça. Dr. Caetano also studied with Dr. Nadezhda Eysmont at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, in Russia.
Diego Caetano maintains an active schedule as an educator. He was the founder and the Artistic Director of Amarillo College Piano Series from 2016 -2020. He is the co-founder and the Director of Keyboard Studies at Ávila International Music Festival in Ávila (Spain) and is the President of the World Piano Teachers Association - Texas Chapter. He has held previous faculty positions at Casper College and Amarillo College.
Dr. Caetano is a Professor of Piano at Sam Houston State University, and a Shigeru Kawai Artist.
Russian violinist Evgeny Zvonnikov joined the music faculty of West Texas A & M University and Harrington String Quartet in Canyon, Texas in 2017. Before he taught violin at Wichita State University. He served for several years as Associate Concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and Concertmaster of the Wichita Grand Opera Orchestra. Mr. Zvonnikov has taught master classes in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore, Dallas, Eureka Springs, the San Francisco Conservatory, and Manaus Conservatory, and has served as a jury member of chamber music competitions. He has collaborated with many famous musicians, including pianists Anton Nel, Misha Dichter, Leon Fleisher, Gilbert Kalish, and Peter Donohoe. He was second violinist in the St. Petersburg String Quartet for four years, 2010 to 2014.
Mr. Zvonnikov studied at Rimsky-Korsakov Specialized Music School and in 2005 he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory in the class of professor I. V. Ioff. In the same year he performed a concerto in the Great Hall of the Philharmonic with the State Academic Symphony Orchestra. He took part in master classes by the Takacs Quartet, and received high praise from its founder, Gabor Takacs. In the United States, he earned a Master of Music degree with Chamber Music emphasis at Wichita State University.
Mr. Zvonnikov has extensive experience performing as soloist as well as in ensembles, in both classical and contemporary repertoire. Frequently invited as a solo and ensemble performer and by various orchestras, he has taken part in many concerts in the main concert halls of St. Petersburg, such as the Music Hall, the Great Hall and Small Hall of the Philharmonic, the Chapel, and Smolny Cathedral. He has toured with ensembles in Japan, Finland, France, Switzerland, Mexico, Spain, Thailand, Italy, etc.
Evgeny has taken part in many competitions as a solo performer and ensemble member. As a member of the Grammy nominated St. Petersburg String Quartet, Mr. Zvonnikov performed in the greatest halls and participated in many summer music festivals and concert series in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia. In 2011, the St. Petersburg String Quartet played a concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall with the Wichita State University Symphony Orchestra. In November of 2012, Evgeny performed at the St. Petersburg Conservatory International Music Festival commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Conservatory.
He won second prize in the Maria Udina Chamber Music Competition. In 2012 Evgeny won the Hays (Kansas) Symphony Orchestra Young Artists Competition and performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Ft. Hays State
University Symphony. Evgeny won Second Place of American Protégé International Concerto Competition, where he performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2016. In 2020 Evgeny together with the pianist Diego Caetano won first prize at Bonn “Grand Prize Virtuoso” International Music Competition.
Claude Debussy: (b St Germain-en-Laye, 22 Aug 1862; d Paris, 25 March 1918). French composer. One of the most important musicians of his time, his harmonic innovations had a profound influence on generations of composers. He made a decisive move away from Wagnerism in his only complete opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and in his works for piano and for orchestra he created new genres and revealed a range of timbre and colour which indicated a highly original musical aesthetic.
Heitor Villa-Lobos (b Rio de Janeiro, 5 March 1887; d Rio de Janeiro, 17 Nov 1959). Brazilian composer. Heitor Villa-Lobos stands as the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music. This significance stems not only from his international recognition, but from his achievement in creating unique compositional styles in which contemporary European techniques and reinterpreted elements of national music are combined. His highly successful career stood as a model for subsequent generations of Brazilian composers.
Joaquín Turina (b Seville, 9 Dec 1882; d Madrid, 14 Jan 1949). Spanish composer.
He was the son of a painter of Italian descent. Music played a large part in his life from his early childhood, and although in deference to his family's wishes he began to study medicine, he soon abandoned everything that interfered with music, for which he showed a strong aptitude. His serious study began with piano lessons from Enrique Rodríguez and composition lessons from Evaristo García Torres, choirmaster of Seville Cathedral.
He soon became well known in Seville as a composer and, from 1897, as a pianist. His early successes prompted him to go to Madrid with the intention of arranging to have his opera La sulamita, which treats a biblical subject in a very traditional style, performed at the Teatro Real. This was an impossible ambition for an unknown provincial composer; but Turina gradually became well known in artistic circles and his friendship with Falla influenced his ideas on the proper character of Spanish music. In 1902 he began to study the piano at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música wih José Tragó. He was more affected by orchestral and chamber music than by the opera performances at the Teatro Real. Almost the only way for a composer to earn a living in Madrid, however, was as a composer of zarzuelas of the género chico type. But the failure of a short zarzuela, Fea y con gracia, discouraged him, and the première in Seville of La copla was no more successful.