This album includes Sonatas by Ÿsaye and Bartók for solo violin. In the twentieth century, Arthur Honegger, Paul Hindemith, Sergey Prokofev and Ernest Krenek contributed to the repertoire of this genre. In the nineteenth century, instead, the need for a piano accompaniment to the violin part was never disregarded by the great composers, with the only exception (an unavoidable one, to say the least) of Paganini’s output.
Along with Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, de Sarasate, and Kreisler, Eugène Ÿsaye (1858-1931) continued the tradition of those violinists who were great performers and composers at the same time. A pupil of both Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps, Ÿsaye went beyond their passionate Romanticism, and opened up his style to a more modern language, which still remained within tonality. His fame as a performer allowed him to pursue a prestigious international career, but, at the same time, he never quit teaching, creating a true school of disciples: among them, suffice it to cite Nathan Milstein, Aldo Ferraresi, and William Primrose.
The sketches for his Six Sonatas for solo violin were written in one go, in just one day, during the summer of 1923, when he was at his holiday home in Zoute, on the Belgian coast. One is led to think that these pieces had been already conceived in his mind. Still, days of reflection and fine-tuning followed, until the first publication, which happened, thanks to the composer’s brother, in 1924. Each Sonata bore a dedication to a violinist friend: Joseph Szigeti, Jacques Thibaud, George Enescu, Fritz Kreisler, Mathieu Crickboom (his favourite pupil), and Manuel Quiroga. Such a collection immediately suggests Bach’s model, even if Ÿsaye warns against what would be an impossible comparison. The intention shared by the Six Sonatas is to exalt the instrument’s polyphonic possibilities, through the “technique of the cord, of the arpeggio, of double, triple, and quadruple stopping, providing two, three, four, five, and sometimes six simultaneous, or rather quasi-simultaneous sounds. All of this is put to the service of a free musical thought which is presented in the manner of a fantasia or perhaps a better description, a rhapsody”.
The First Sonata in G minor is dedicated to the Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti, who was thirty-two at the time, and was highly admired by Ÿsaye. It begins with a Grave (Lento assai) where the writing in several parts is continuous, though briefly interrupted by a section characterized by leaps in demisemiquavers. It concludes with a tremolando al ponticello, in pianissimo; this indication, as we all know, would be almost overindulged to in the twentieth century, in the quest for the “glassy” sounds thus produced. There are also simultaneous pizzicatos on open strings. A Fugato (Molto moderato) follows. A short theme is treated polyphonically, with non-rigorous imitations alternating with arduous virtuoso passages. At the end a Coda of two bars (Lento) in super fortissimo follows. In the Allegretto poco scherzoso (Amabile) a sweet melody is treated canonically, albeit very freely. The Finale con brio (Allegro fermo), with its rhapsodic character, resembles a capriccio, ready to pass throughout all registers of the instrument.
The Third Sonata is dedicated to the violinist and composer George Enescu. Paying homage to his style, Ÿsaye composes the most lyrical and the shortest of the Six Sonatas. He admitted: “I allowed my imagination to roam at pleasure”. It consists of a single movement by the title of Ballade. It begins with a Lento molto sostenuto (In modo di recitativo) with an ascending pattern. It continues with a Molto moderato quasi lento in 5/4 which becomes an Animandosi poco a poco e accelerando until it reaches an Allegro in tempo giusto e con bravura in 3/8. Suddenly it unfolds in a murmured pattern of triplets which transform into quadruplets and later in groups of seven notes, until it assumes a passionate tone. The concluding section is constituted by a brilliant Tempo poco vivo e ben marcato, closing on an enthralling stretta.
The Sonata for solo violin Sz. 117 by Béla Bartók is a work written in his American years. At the end of the summer of 1940, he had arrived from Hungary to the States, making a “leap from uncertainty to an intolerable security”. The work was commissioned in 1943 by the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin, to whom it was dedicated. It was finished in March 1944 at Asheville, in North Carolina, and was premiered (by Menuhin, of course) on the following November 26th, in New York. It was published posthumously, in 1947, two years after the composer’s death. With his six Quartets, Bartók had already built a kind of “Bible” of the twentieth-century compositional style for strings. In this case, knowing that he was writing for a great soloist, he heightened the virtuoso aspect, by frequently employing left-hand pizzicato with notes sustained by the bow, double pizzicatos with both hands, and chords including harmonics. This comes on the top of the typically Bartókian rhythmical complexity. Quarter-tones which had been originally included in a first draft of the last movement were later expunged from the final version. The composer’s letters to Menuhin bear witness to his fear of having gone too far in his demands to the performer. For Massimo Mila, in this Sonata “the memory and consequences of [the composer’s] youthful enthusiasm for the virtuosos’ concerts he had listened to in Budapest seems to resurface”. Bach’s model looms clearly, as is revealed by the choice of a Chaconne as a first movement, and of a four-part Fugue as the second movement. The Chaconne is ruled by a constant and thick polyphony, but, in spite of its title, is not made of variations on a bass. What is more evident is rather the opposition, in the style of a Sonata form, between two ideas with a different character. With the Fugue, the indication Risoluto, non troppo vivo appears: the theme’s exposition in forte and its successive entries are marked by the prevailing use of the bow’s frog. An unassuming and bare Melodia (Adagio) follows, with feeble, at times pianissimo sounds. Once presented, it is adorned time and again by superimposed lines, by iridescent timbral effects, obtained also through harmonic sounds. When the melody is presented in the upper register, the sordino has to be employed; it must be removed, however, in the last four bars (Lento), which still should be played pianissimo. For Albert Lourié, this is “the voice which attempts to overcome the piling-up of dissonances and aggressive sounds with which Bartók was paying his tribute to modernity”. The Sonata closes with a Presto in 3/8, where the Rondo form is glimpsed. It begins with a kind of perpetuum mobile in flowing semiquavers, and then relaxes in a Tranquillo tempo with a rocking theme.
Also Stefano Zanchetta likes to juxtapose to his activity as a violinist those as a teacher and composer. This album is completed by the recording of an Improvviso he wrote in 2020. It is a short album leaf, of a mere 44 bars, and with a completely free form, as prescribed by the indication Improvvisando, ad libitum. It begins on the fourth string with a kind of a thematic fragment, seemingly repeated immediately, albeit non-identically. The piece has a lyrical character and reaches its emotional climax in the Molto espressivo portando which precedes the fading-out closing. The avantgardes’ corrosive techniques are avoided. Even with many dissonances, the instrument’s use aims at the exaltation of its singing character. It is elegantly marked also by natural and artificial harmonics.
He was born in Venice, Italy. He began studying the violin with Sirio Piovesan, at the state conservatory of music “Benedetto Marcello” in Venice, where he graduated summa cum laude in violin and viola, contemporarily studying piano and composition. In the following years, he continued to study violin with Sandor Vegh, at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, and chamber music with Antonio Janigro and Franco Rossi, cellist of the Quartetto Italiano. In 1978 he was the only violinist receiving a prize in the competition Auditorium, performing a live recital on the Italian national radio (RAI), broadcasted from the Auditorium concert hall in Turin. In the same period, he obtained several first prizes, for 5 years in a row, at the Rassegna of Vittorio Veneto, which was the foremost competition for young violinists in Italy. He also performed in trio with Mario Brunello and Massimo Somenzi, obtaining important prizes at the international chamber music competitions of Paris and Colmar. At a young age, he was appointed as a violin professor at the conservatory of music of Venice, at the same time continuing a very intense activity, performing in many countries: Japan, Australia, China, South America, USA, New Zealand, Europe and Middle East countries, in the most prestigious concert halls as the Carnegie Hall in New York, the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow, to name a few. He has performed as concertmaster in some of the major Italian orchestras, like the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, RAI orchestra in Rome, Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese in L’ Aquila, Orchestra Regionale di Udine, the Italian-Slovenian Youth Orchestra, and the Orchestra d’ Archi Italiana conducted by Mario Brunello, also performing as a soloist.
His interest in the music of the twentieth century led him to perform works by A. Berg, K. Weill, A. Schnittke, B. Bartok, Weinberg, and many others. Also noteworthy is his world-premiere recording of the Concerto Romantico by R. Zandonai. Numerous is also his contribute to the baroque music, which includes collaborations with many ensembles: I Virtuosi di Roma, I Solisti Veneti, I Sonatori della Gioiosa Marca, performing with Cecilia Bartoli at the Musikverein in Wien. He has recorded for the labels Erato, Decca, Cpo, Divox, Fonè, and Denon. Claudio Abbado invited him to play in the first stands of his Orchestra of Lucerne Festival for a series of concerts at the Musikverein in Wien, with Maurizio Pollini. For many years he has been a jury member of violin competitions as the Postacchini in Fermo, the Vittorio Veneto, and the Musica Goritiensis competitions.
Recently, he has published 12 etudes for the violin, 4 pieces for violin and piano inspired by the novel Le città invisibili by the Italian writer Italo Calvino, and a Paganiniana for solo violin. Since 1980 he is a violin professor at the state conservatory “Benedetto Marcello” of Venice.
Béla Bartok: (b Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary [now Sînnicolau Mare, Romania], 25 March 1881; d New York, 26 Sept 1945). Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist and pianist. Although he earned his living mainly from teaching and playing the piano and was a relentless collector and analyst of folk music, Bartók is recognized today principally as a composer. His mature works were, however, highly influenced by his ethnomusicological studies, particularly those of Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak peasant musics. Throughout his life he was also receptive to a wide variety of Western musical influences, both contemporary (notably Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg) and historic; he acknowledged a change from a more Beethovenian to a more Bachian aesthetic stance in his works from 1926 onwards. He is now considered, along with Liszt, to be his country’s greatest composer, and, with Kodály and Dohnányi, a founding figure of 20th-century Hungarian musical culture.
(b Liège, 16 July 1858; d Brussels, 12 May 1931). Belgian violinist, conductor and composer. His first music teacher was his father, a violinist (a pupil of François Prume) and conductor of amateur music societies. Ysaÿe began studying with Désiré Heynberg at the Liège Conservatory in 1865, but he was an unsettled child and his attendance irregular, so that the lessons with Heynberg were discontinued in 1869. However, he returned to the Conservatory in 1872 and joined Rodolphe Massart's class. He was unanimously adjudged co-winner with Guillaume Remy of the Conservatory's silver medal in 1874, and also won a bursary which enabled him to take lessons with Henryk Wieniawski in Brussels and then study with Henry Vieuxtemps in Paris. Four years spent attending lectures and concerts in the French capital helped him to make useful artistic contacts. In 1879 he became leader of the Bilse orchestra in Berlin and he stayed there until 1882.