Sonata for Piano and Violin in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2
The Beethoven Sonata in A Major, Op.12, No.2, is playful and delicate with the dynamic between the two instruments that of an intertwined partnership. It is still under the obvious influence of Haydn and has a light touch and sound. The first movement, Allegro vivace, begins without complication; the harmonies are direct and simple, and a fun-loving character is maintained throughout. The two instruments take turns in stating the themes in a conversational manner. The key of A minor, rather than A Major, defines the lyrical middle movement. Cast in an A-B-A form, the movement returns to the beginning material and its variants, coming to a conclusion in a rather somber mood. Written in Rondo form, the third movement’s recognizable theme returns repeatedly throughout the movement. Beethoven does not use much variation on the theme, but the simple inherent beauty of the tune retains interest.
Moment Musicaux, Op. 16 No. 4 in E minor
Op. 16 is a set of solo piano pieces composed in 1896. Moment Musicaux comprises a group of six separate works which reproduce musical forms characteristic of previous musical eras. The individual pieces have been described as “true concert works, being best served on a stage and with a concert grand.” Although composed as part of a set, each piece stands on its own as a concert solo with individual themes and moods. The Moments Musicaux are both Rachmaninoff’s return to and revolution of solo piano composition. No. 4 is in the form of a virtuosic etude, and is a major exercise in endurance and accuracy. The introduction opens with a left hand figure requiring span of a tenth and bears resemblance to Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude in the taxing left hand figure that runs throughout. The ending, a coda in Prestissimo is a final, sweeping reiteration of the theme that closes in a heavy E minor chord which revisits Rachmaninoff’s preoccupation with bell sounds, prominent in his famous Piano Concerto No. 2 and Prelude in C-sharp minor.
Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959) was a Czech composer of modern classical music. His mature works are in the Neo-Classical style, as developed by Stravinsky. He was very prolific, writing nearly 400 works. The Madrigal Sonata was written in 1942, during Martinů’s first year in America. The opening Poco allegro is a lively combination of voices, marked by syncopations that contribute to the character of the music. The second movement marked Moderato provides a flute melody with thin accompaniment, provides the opening melodic interest, followed by vigorous interplay of flute, violin and piano. This leads to a conclusion of a gentler mood with the return of the flute melody, before the final idiosyncratic syncopation.
Trio in E-Flat Major, Op. 40
Brahms seldom attributed external inspiration to his works or their themes, but, with this trio, he cited an early-morning walk in the woods and a sudden ray of sunshine as the stimulus for the opening horn melody. The piece was conceived as a memorial to his recently deceased mother. Expressions of grief form a major element of Brahms’ Horn Trio. However, a notable feature of the trio is its many emotional contrasts – happy songlike themes, muffled elegies and exuberant hunting calls all coexist in the same work. The first movement is a rondo, a major-mode theme in Andante, contrasted with two sections marked “a little more animated,” which are in minor modes. The basically lyrical nature of the Andante is broken out by the intense and vigorous sound of the second movement Scherzo. There is a powerful emotional contrast among the three sections of this scherzo, foreshadowing the pathos of the work’s emotional center, the Adagio mesto that comes next. The third movement, in E-flat minor, remembers Brahms’ mother by quoting a German folksong, the kind of melody the composer greatly loved and re-used in many different contexts. This one is called “There Among the Willows Stands a House.” The Adagio culminates in a heartfelt climax for all three instruments. The main theme of the sonata-form finale, Allegro con brio, is related to folksong and also to a traditional German chorale, Wer nur den lieben Gott. The tempo is much faster and the mood much different, resulting in a very different type of theme. The horn emerges as the leader in a lively conclusion that recalls open fields and lively chases, perhaps hearkening back also to that sunrise stroll in the woods that inspired the work’s very first theme.