[1-3] SONATA NO.2 IN A MAJOR FOR VIOLIN & PIANO OP.12 NO.2
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
The high spirits and youthful vigour of Beethoven’s second sonata for piano and
violin – note the order of instruments – signal an irresistible work filled with charm.
But its appealing warmth is in some ways deceptive, a genial front for a fleet of
groundbreaking and unmistakably Beethovenian dramas.
Despite its outward delights to the modern ear, for listeners of Beethoven’s day its
content could be positively startling. One critic wrote that the Op.12 sonatas were
“heavily laden with unusual difficulties” and that after exploring them he felt as if
he had “emerged tired and worn out after wandering through an alluring, thick
The piece dates from 1797–8 and is dedicated to the composer Antonio Salieri, who
was one of Beethoven’s teachers in Vienna (along with first Haydn, then
Beethoven studied with him on and off up to about 1802, mainly
for advice about writing for the voice, and maintained a friendly relationship with
him thereafter. Salieri’s reputation has never quite recovered from the damage done
to it by the spurious legend that he might have poisoned Mozart; in fact, the
imperial kapellmeister was much loved and respected, especially by his substantial
roster of pupils, who also included Mozart’s son Franz Xavier Mozart, Hummel,
Schubert, Meyerbeer and the youthful prodigy Franz Liszt.
Although the opening suggests that this sonata – like many of Mozart’s, and earlier
examples in the genre – was to be for piano with violin “obligato”, Beethoven treats
the two instruments as equal partners throughout. The pair frequently switch
material, swap roles and pursue one another through energetic figurations as if
playing musical games of chase.
The first movement is constructed – typically for Beethoven – out of short, terse
motifs rather than extended melody; the endless potential of a motif consisting of
just two notes a semitone apart powers most of the movement. Its genial atmosphere and effervescent energy is often punctuated by startling twists of harmony and
surprising gestures, whether a sudden pause or an unexpected phrase in soft unison,
and the movement closes with a playful coda batting the semitone back and forth
around different registers.
The Andante, in A minor, inhabits a more reflective and introverted sphere. It opens
with a song-like theme, the first paragraphs of which are expounded by piano alone,
then restated by both instruments. Major-key episodes soften and enhance the sense
of longing that hovers in the atmosphere.
The sonata ends with a graceful rondo that returns to the ingratiating mood of the
first movement, but again presents a parade of typically Beethovenian adventures:
restless modulations, off-beat accentuations, flashes of technical brilliance and
several brief yet heartfelt explosions of melody.
 VARIATIONS ON THE IRISH AIR, “THE LAST ROSE OF SUMMER”, ÉTUDE NO.6
HEINRICH WILHELM ERNST (1812–1865)
Born in Brno (now in the Czech Republic), Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst enjoyed a
substantial career over about 18 years as one of Europe’s leading violinists. The poet
Heinrich Heine called him “perhaps the greatest violinist of our time,” while the
great Joseph Joachim, Brahms’s close friend and the dedicatee of his violin
concerto, declared that Ernst “became my ideal of a performer, even surpassing in
many respects the ideal I had imagined for myself”. His lasting influence includes
such impressive credentials as having encouraged Schumann to become a musician,
and spreading the repute of Beethoven’s late string quartets, especially in the UK.
Although he left a fair number of compositions for his instrument, including a well-
known Violin Concerto in F sharp minor that was played by many leading virtuosi in
the early 20th century, Ernst’s presence in the violin repertoire today continues
chiefly via his set of five variations for solo violin on the Irish song The Last Rose of
The last of his Six Polyphonic Studies for violin – extraordinarily difficult pieces
sometimes compared to, or said to exceed in their demands, the Paganini Caprices –
this piece contains much to challenge the player’s grasp of sophisticated technical
effects. The simple, haunting folk melody becomes the base for a kaleidoscope of
transformations: among the techniques involved are triple-stopping, artificial
harmonics and ricochet arpeggio bowings, and in the fourth variation, the theme
appears in left-hand pizzicato, accompanied by bowed arpeggios.
THREE OLD VIENNESE DANCES
FRIEDRICH “FRITZ” KREISLER (1875–1962)
 Schön Rosmarin
Fritz Kreisler, regarded by many music-lovers and musicians alike as one of the
greatest violinists the world has known, was born in Vienna during the heyday of the
city’s dynasty of waltz kings, the Strauss family. The spirit of old Vienna lives and
breathes in his own waltzes for violin and piano, with their subtle, pliable rhythms,
their flirtatious charm and their unfailing flow of melodic inspiration. Strange to
think that Kreisler’s composition professor in his home city was not Johann Strauss
II, but Anton Bruckner.
Kreisler’s early career progressed to huge acclaim, taking him on much-lauded tours
across Europe and the US; in the UK he was awarded the Philharmonic Society’s gold
medal in 1904 and six years later gave the world premiere of Elgar’s Violin Concerto.
Critics nevertheless expressed disapproval upon finding him programming his own
compositions in his recitals. To get around this, he began to pass off many of his
pieces as works by others, telling the press that he had discovered a cache of
manuscripts in the possession of monks at one of the oldest monasteries in Europe...
Eventually he came clean about it in 1910: a critic in Berlin objected to him
including one of his pieces beside two fine waltzes supposedly by Lanner, until
Kreisler revealed that the latter – Liebesfreud and Liebesleid – were in fact also his
own. Once published, under his name, his solo pieces became enormously successful.
They remain favourite encores in the repertoire of countless recitalists today.
Liebesfreud (Love’s Joy) is an exultant dance featuring lively double-stopping and
lilting melody. Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow), its counterpart, is wistful and tender, with
the piano providing hints of countermelodies. Schön Rosmarin, their companion
piece, is more playful in spirit and features some beautifully delicate rubati. In 1915
it was choreographed by the great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova as a solo called
SONATA FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO IN E-FLAT, OP.18
RICHARD STRAUSS (1864–1949)
 i Allegro, ma non troppo
 ii “Improvisation”, Andante cantabile
 iii Andante-Allegro
Richard Strauss’s passion for the female voice was a vital driving force in his creative
life; it was probably no coincidence that his operas contain some of the 20th
century’s finest operatic roles for sopranos and mezzo-sopranos. If he had a strong
affinity for the violin as well, perhaps that is only natural.
At the time he wrote his only violin sonata, Strauss was 24 years old, had become
third conductor of the Munich Court Opera and had just met a strikingly gifted if
somewhat cantankerous soprano named Pauline de Ahna. Seven years later, he
married her. In the sonata, he makes the most of the violin’s expressive closeness to
the sound of operatic singing; and it overflows, too, with the distinctive musical
personality that soon blossomed in his tone poems, including Ein Heldenleben and
The sonata shows its youthful composer at something of a crossroads in terms of
musical direction – and it says much for his cleverness as well as his talent that he
could assimilate several different strands of influence, draw out the best in each and
weave them into a language entirely his own. Classicism is never far away: the
sonata’s meaty writing, strong outlines and defined structures connect young Strauss
strongly to the influence of Brahms and, behind him, Beethoven and Mozart.
Nevertheless, its outpouring of high spirits is equally close to the dramatic sound-
pictures of high romanticism, an idiom that derives from Liszt and Wagner, and
likewise its overt virtuosity, delivered with considerable relish. Strauss played both
instruments himself and here presents his performers with challenges that would not
disgrace a full-blown concerto, though perhaps the piano receives the lion’s share of
The Allegro ma non troppo’s heroic opening generates hot-blooded drama at once,
before giving way to a soaring second subject with a typically Straussian wide
wingspan. The sonata-form movement bursts its boundaries during its development,
travelling far afield in terms of tonality and sending the thematic material through a
succession of inspired transformations.
The Andante cantabile was the last movement that Strauss completed. Entitled
“Improvisation”, it is essentially an aria without words, offering an open-hearted,
straightforward expressiveness that makes it a soulmate to the composer’s many
fabulous solo songs. Its central section enters a turbulent world, again Lieder-like,
glancing in the direction of Schubert’s Erlkönig. Over time this movement has
acquired an independent existence and remains popular as a recital encore.
The finale opens with an introduction for piano alone that carries music and listeners
to darker places still; but this mood is soon dispelled by headlong violin flourishes
that usher in a main theme full of Don Juan-like glamour. A sensual second subject
follows, over ripples of ecstasy in the piano; the instruments then exchange material
and set off with all flags flying through a roller-coaster of dashing musical adventure
almost worthy of Don Juan himself.