Johannes Brahms: Complete Violin Sonatas


  • Artist(s): Alessandra Ammara, Yulia Berinskaya
  • Composer(s): Johannes Brahms
  • EAN Code: 7.46160915951
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Chamber
  • Instrumentation: Piano, Violin
  • Period: Romantic
  • Publication year: 2023
SKU: C00757 Category:

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The violin and piano duo is an elementary chamber music ensemble which frequently represents the musical equivalent of a couple of lovers, or at least of an intimate friendship among fellow souls. And it is precisely in this fashion that it was conceived by Johannes Brahms, the fabric of whose violin Sonatas is densely intertwined with human and artistic references.
Brahms wrote Sonatas for violin and piano only in his mature age, even though he did participate in a collectively composed Sonata, known as the F.A.E. Sonata, in his youth. That Sonata was written as a combined homage to Joseph Joachim, the great violinist, from a group of his friends, first and foremost Robert Schumann, Brahms’ mentor and friend. Schumann himself wrote two movements out of the four constituting the whole Sonata, while Brahms authored just one, but one whose popularity largely surpassed that of the other three movements combined. The “F.A.E.” Scherzo (“F.A.E.” stands for Joachim’s motto, Frei aber einsam, “free but alone”, employed also as a musical cipher, particularly by Schumann) has become a landmark of the violin repertoire, thanks to its powerful and energetic drive. This work, not included in the present recording, represents nonetheless the first significant approach of Johannes Brahms to the violin and piano duo: an approach which will find its ripeness and maturity in the three works recorded here, unified by their shared belonging to the musician’s adult years.
Another trait which unifies most of the works recorded here is their reliance on vocal models. The violin has frequently been seen as an instrumental parallel to the human voice, even though its range vastly exceeds that of the most skilled singers, and its cantabile is but one of the many techniques and sounds found in its palette: there is, of course, no vocal equivalent for the violin’s pizzicato or its double or multiple stops, to name but two.
However, and undeniably, when it focuses on a singing style, there are few instruments (except perhaps the cello) which can compete with the violin as an imitation of the human voice. And Brahms knew how to fully appreciate this capability. The G-major Sonata, in fact, is interspersed with quotations from two Lieder written by Brahms in 1873, setting to music some lyrics by Klaus Groth focusing on rain, and issued as Brahms’ op. 59 nos. 3 and 4. Five years later (1878-9), Brahms resumed those melodies, and also occasionally their specific accompaniment, evocative of raindrops, employing them as the thematic foundations for his first Violin Sonata. Brahms introduced this Sonata to Theodor Billroth (June 1879) mysteriously mentioning “soft rainy evening hours” which “supply the required mood”. Billroth cleverly picked up the reference and replied that the “whole sonata” sounded in his ears as “a reminiscence of the song and a fantasy upon it”.
Groth’s poem distils melancholy and nostalgia, two of the key feelings associated to Brahms’ mature and late style: “Flow, rain, flow down and reawaken in me the dreams I dreamed in my childhood”. And this reference becomes all the more touching if we consider a further biographical element which has only recently resurfaced.
An undated leaf, handwritten by Brahms, contains the first 24 bars of this Sonata’s Adagio, marked “espressivo” (an indication which was omitted from the later printed edition). It was sent to Clara Schumann with an affectionate dedication by Brahms. Clara, Robert’s widow, had always been a close friend of Johannes, who probably nourished something more than mere friendship for her, but who always scrupulously respected her fidelity to Schumann, even after her husband’s death.
Brahms wrote: “Dear Clara, if you play the material overleaf very slowly, it will say to you, more clearly than I otherwise could, how affectionately I think of you and [of your son] Felix – even of his violin, which I believe to be silent. I thank you from my heart for your letter; I did not, and do not, want to ask this, but I am so eager to hear about Felix”. What was this, that made Brahms so concerned with Felix? (The young Schumann’s first name is of course a homage to Mendelssohn by his parents, who were close friends with Mendelssohn). Felix Schumann, born in 1854, and therefore a child when Brahms was a fixed presence in the Schumann household (Brahms was even his godfather), was a gifted artist, both as a violinist and as a poet; Brahms had employed some of his poems as the lyrics for three of his Lieder, i.e. op. 63 nos. 5 and 6, and op. 86 no. 5.
Sadly, at the age of 25, this promising boy was dying; he would pass away on February 16th, 1879, just a few days after he and his mother had received Brahms’ letter and the opening bars of the Adagio. It was not Brahms’ common practice to send away fragments from his works, particularly if they were still in progress; he must have felt, however, that that homage could be the only adequate gesture with which he could accompany his godson in his final hours (Felix’ health was undermined by tuberculosis, so the prognosis was known). This touching episode casts a particular light on a letter written a few months later (in July 1879) by Clara to Johannes: she declared herself to be “deeply stirred” upon receiving the finished Sonata. “You can imagine my delight when, in the third movement, I discovered my melody, that I love so enthusiastically, with its charming eighth-note movement! I say ‘my’ because I cannot believe that anyone could find this melody so delightful and full of melancholy as I”. Delight and melancholy: this pair truly inspire the most exquisite compositions by Brahms, who was uniquely capable of joining tenderness with regret, nostalgia with a reconciled smile, while also keeping the full range of other emotions in his palette.
This first Sonata is also reminiscent of Beethoven’s op. 96, in the same key, and with a similar mood; allusions to chorales (found in the second subject of the first movement, and as the main theme of the above-cited Adagio) concur in lending to this Sonata a contemplative, almost prayerful mood. Even though Brahms’ religiosity was very unconventional, doubtlessly he was deeply drawn by the Infinite, he was a keen reader of the Bible, and did cultivate an attitude of reverence for the sacred in his heart, as emerges from many of his works. Faced with the perspective of losing his godson – for whom, in the absence of children of his own, Brahms must certainly have felt particular fondness – the composer wrote a Sonata for his instrument, though knowing that Felix could no longer play it. And he inserted chorale-like fragments here and there, suggesting a prayer for the boy he had accompanied to his baptism many years earlier.
Thus, the allusions to rain become a symbol for tears, and for those melancholy days when we perceive the fleetingness of human life. The Sonata, originally (and somewhat surprising) planned to end in the minor mode (possibly as an expression of grief for Felix’ fate), manages however to find some peace and serenity, as frequently happens with Brahms’ vocal works dealing with death seen in a Christian perspective.
Another poem by Groth is at the source of some crucial elements of Sonata op. 100, in A major. Hermine Spies, a contralto, wrote in these terms to the poet at the end of 1886: “Already last summer, when we visited him in Thun, I received two new Lieder from ‘Him’, of which one runs ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir leise durch den Sinn!’. Do you know it? And its melody is so delightful! If only I could sing it to you. Lucky me, I even own the manuscript”. The tune to which Brahms set this poem, and the overall mood of the Lied inspire the second subject of the Sonata’s first movement; interestingly, the usual conflict among the Sonata allegro themes is missing, as the entire first movement (and the last, together with most of the second) are suffused with a warm tinge of touching tenderness. Other Lieder, one on which on texts by Groth, find their way within this Sonata: there is Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer (lyrics by Hermann Linng), recalled by the shape of the last movement’s main theme; and there is Komm bald, on words by Groth, whose profile is recognizable in the Sonata’s opening movement.
Spies, who wrote the enthusiastic lines cite above, was the implicit dedicatee of all of these songs; thus, evidently, the entire Sonata can also be seen as a homage to the singer and longtime friend of the composer.
At the heart of this Sonata, the second movement is an enthralling combination of the movements traditionally found between opening and finale, i.e. the slow one and the scherzo; as if forming a kind of Rondo, sections from the two virtual movements intertwine and dovetail with each other, constituting a compositional equivalent to the dialogue of instruments built by violin and piano.
Finally, the great D minor Sonata seems to resume, at some points, the energetic power of the youthful F.A.E. Scherzo, while also remaining faithful to the wisdom acquired by the mature musician. Among its characterizing features is the uncertain, waving movement called bariolage, whereby the violin alternates different timbres on the same note, thus creating a beating heart in its rhythm. And, of course, the Finale is one of those movements one cannot forget, once it has been heard once. It is a whirlwind of sound, built on the rhythm of a powerfully energetic dance, bringing into relief the drama, passion and intensity of Brahms’ soul.
Together, these three Sonatas lead us through a magnificent itinerary on the full gamut of human emotions, feelings and thought; they build a splendid path where the beauty of music becomes an experience of intense spirituality, deep humanity, and profound relationships.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2023


Alessandra Ammara has drawn the attention of the musical world after being awarded in some of the most important piano competitions, such as "G. B. Viotti" in Vercelli, Italy, "Ester Honens”, in Calgary, Canada, and "Van Cliburn" in Fort Worth, USA.
She has played all over Europe (Grosse Philharmonie in Berlin, Musikverein in Vienna, Festspielhaus in Salzburg, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam), and in Israel, South Corea (Sejong Arts Center in Seoul), China, USA, Canada, South Africa, both as a soloist and with orchestra (Berliner Symphoniker, Wiener Symphoniker, Orchestra Sinfonica della Rai, Calgary Philharmonic, Cape Town Philharmonic), collaborating with great conductors like Bernard Labadie, Jan Willem De Vriendt, and Fabio Luisi.
Also very attracted to the chamber music repertoire, she has extensively played concerts with great musicians (The Sine Nomine Quartet, Cremona Quartet, Anton Kuerti, Jing Zhao). She regularly performs with her husband, pianist Roberto Prosseda, with whom she recorded Mendelssohn’s complete works for piano duet and the two concertos for two pianos and orchestra.
Her repertoire includes music from Domenico Scarlatti to contemporary piano music: she performs and has recorded music by Chopin, Schumann, Debussy and Ravel, but has also premiered piano rarities by Roffredo Caetani, Giacinto Scelsi, Mel Bonis, Cécile Chaminade, Nikolaj Mjaskowsky, Nikolaj Roslavets, and contemporary composers, like Luca Lombardi and Carla Rebora.
She has studied at the Conservatory “L. Cherubini” in Florence, and then with Maria Tipo, Paul Badura-Skoda, Leon Fleisher, Alexander Lonquich, William Naboré and Fou Ts'Ong.
She is professor of piano at the Conservatory of Music “Luigi Cherubini” in Florence.

Yulia Berinskaya: Yulia was born into an artistic and musical environment; her precocious talent was discovered at an early age by her father Sergey Berinsky, among the greatest composers of the 20th century in Moscow, and he encouraged her to study violin. Her training and her extraordinary musical potential were encouraged and cultivated by internationally renowned artists such as E. Tchugaeva and V. Tretiakov, the Borodin Quartet, the Moscow Trio, who guided Yulia to graduate with honours from the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. She then continued her studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Wien under the tuition of D. Schwarzberg. Afterwards, Yulia began to a brilliant career as a soloist, chamber musician and teacher, acclaimed in Italy and abroad: Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Germany, the former Yugoslavia, USA, Israel and Russia. Her recitals represent her quality as a versatile artist, and her virtuosity accompanies many diverse styles. She has had prestigious collaborations with several orchestras: Verdi Orchestra in Milan, Milan Conservatory Orchestra, Moscow Amadeus Orchestra, Sverdlovsk Philharmonic Orchestra and I Musici di Parma ensemble. Being a passionate chamber musician, she has been invited to some of the major Italian and European festivals, performing alongside artists including S. Krilov, Y. Bashmet, D. Cohen, V. Mendelssohn, F. Lips. Yulia regularly gives masterclasses in Mendrisio (Switzerland), Timisoara (Romania), Rhodes (Greece), Mulin de Andee (France), Portogruaro (Italy), Venice (Italy); also she has founded her own violin course at the Milano Music Masterschool academy and is regularly a jury member in international violin competition. Yulia has performed as a guest leader with the following orchestras: Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Orchestra of Trento and Bolzano, Orchestra Earl (Austria), Teatro La Fenice in Venice, The Philharmonic Orchestra of Liubljana. She records for the labels: Koch Records (Germany) and Gramsapis ArtClassic (Russia), Sonart Studio, Playing News, LimenMusic (Italy), Da Vinci (Japan). Her recordings are regularly broadcasted by Radio Vaticana, Radio Classica, Radio della Svizzera Italiana.


Johannes Brahms: (b Hamburg, 7 May 1833; d Vienna, 3 April 1897). German composer. The successor to Beethoven and Schubert in the larger forms of chamber and orchestral music, to Schubert and Schumann in the miniature forms of piano pieces and songs, and to the Renaissance and Baroque polyphonists in choral music, Brahms creatively synthesized the practices of three centuries with folk and dance idioms and with the language of mid- and late 19th-century art music. His works of controlled passion, deemed reactionary and epigonal by some, progressive by others, became well accepted in his lifetime.