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8.550417 - FRANCK / GRIEG: Violin Sonatas
César Franck (1822 -1890)
The career of Cesar Franck is a curious one. Destined by his father for the concert-platform as a virtuoso pianist, he achieved instead a position of influence among his own circle in Paris as a composer and organist, distrusted and never fully accepted by the wider musical establishment.
Franck was born in Belgium, but moved to Paris as a student, at the insistence of his father. He held various positions in churches in Paris and in 1872 became organist at the Conservatoire. The appointment was an unexpected one, since Franck was unskilled in musical politics, normally an essential ability. His openness led, in fact, to further unpopularity, as his organ students profited from his ability as a composer, to the resentment of the Conservatoire professors of composition.
Franck's single violin sonata was written in 1886, immediately before his Symphony and the String Quartet. It resembles the larger works of Franck in the thematic connection between its movements and in its highly original use of traditional forms. It was described by Franck's pupil Vincent d'Indy as "the first and purest model of the cyclic treatment of themes in the form of an instrumental sonata". The sonata was given to the Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe at the latter's wedding in September of the year of its composition and was first performed by him in Brussels.
The first movement of the sonata, with its characteristic opening theme, serves as little more than an introduction to the weightier second movement, itself one of impassioned intensity preceding a brief interruption of recitative and are turn to the earlier mood, the thematic material always suggesting the intervals used in the initial bars of the first movement.
The third movement, with the unusual title Recitativo - Fantasia, starts, after introductory piano chords recalling the opening of the sonata, with rhetorical statements from the violin. Of this there is an imaginative development, against a chromatically descending bass, before the appearance of the main theme of the movement.
A canon between piano and violin opens the finale in almost pastoral style. The theme appears in various tonalities, with consequent variations in intensity, in a movement that provides a fitting climax to a sonata that itself makes considerable demands on both violinist and pianist.
The Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg was the great-grandson of a Scottish lobster-exporter, an emigrant from Scotland after the battle of Culloden and the final defeat of the Stuart heirs to the thrones of England and Scotland. His father was British consul in Bergen and his mother an amateur pianist of some ability. Through her Grieg was able to make early progress on the same instrument, as well as to benefit from the cultural environment provided by his family.
It was through the encouragement of the violinist Ole Bull, a visitor to the Grieg Family estate, that Grieg was sent abroad to Leipzig to study music. In Germany he did not find everything immediately to his taste, with a piano teacher wedded to a repertoire of Czerny and Clementi and composition teachers of similar outlook. Later, however, he was able to study with Wenzel, a friend of Schumann, and this was to have a profound effect on his musical thought. After Leipzig Grieg spent some time in the Danish capital Copenhagen, surroundings familiar enough to one brought up in a prosperous Norwegian family of the period, dominated as middle-class Norwegian society was by Danish culture. It was not long, however, before he became fascinated with the peasant art of his native country, largely through the influence of Ole Bull and his younger friend Rikard Nordraak. It was with this essentially Norwegian culture that Grieg continued to be associated for the next forty years.
The third of Grieg's three violin sonatas, in C minor, was completed in 1867, when Grieg was at the height of his fame. The first movement, one of exciting intensity, is followed by a second in G major, introduced by the piano with all that wonderfully coloured harmony that characterizes the composer. The simple folk-melody serves as a frame-work for a more energetic middle section in E minor. The finale offers similar variety and excitement, with its delicate opening theme leading to episodes of contrasting key and mood and to a rapid final climax.
Grieg published some ten collections of Lyric Pieces for piano during his career, the first volume in 1867 and the last in 1901. These delicate miniatures offer a vignette of Grieg's particular abilities as a composer, his subtle handling of harmonic colour and winning gift of melody. The Arietta opens the first collection and is here followed by a transcription of Vöglein (Little Bird) from the third volume of Lyric pieces, published in 1886. The Berceuse is taken from the second book, published two years earlier, and the Cradle Song from the ninth, published in 1898. Remembrances aptly concludes the tenth set of pieces.
Takako Nishizaki is one of the most frequently recorded violinists in the world today. She has recorded ten volumes of her complete Fritz Kreisler Edition, many contemporary Chinese violin concertos, among them the Concerto by Du Ming-xin, dedicated to her, and a growing number of rare, previously unrecorded violin concertos, among them concertos by Spohr, Beriot, Cui, Respighi, Rubinstein and Joachim. For Naxos she has recorded Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Mozart’s Violin Concertos, Sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven and the Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bruch and Brahms Concertos.
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