About this Recording
8.572533 - Viola Recital: Bradley, Sarah-Jane - MARTINU, B. / KODALY, Z. / DOHNANYI, E. / JOACHIM, J. / ENESCU, G. (Music for Viola and Piano)

Martinů • Kodály • Dohnányi • Joachim • Enescu
Music for Viola and Piano


Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890–1959): Sonata for viola and piano (1955), H. 355

The Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů was born to the accompaniment of festive bells in the tower of St James’s Church in Polička (Bohemia), where his father was the church bell-ringer and watchman. He began to play the violin and compose at an early age, performing his first concert as a violinist in 1905. His ejection from the Prague Academy in 1910 for “incorrigible negligence” suggests that his interests were diverse, preferring reading and theatre to the intense and systematic routine of conservatoire existence. Eventually, in 1923, he sold his violin to pay for his travel to Paris, where he would study with Roussel. He declared later that the move was an attempt to escape the “cult of Smetana” and the “full metaphysical apparatus” of German musical influence in Prague. His music had a mixed reception, however, in his homeland and, in spite of claims that his musical language was French, he was adamant that he maintained a strong spiritual connection with the country. This is perhaps evidenced by an increasing absorption of Czech and Moravian folk-song in his music through the 1930s.

Having been blacklisted by the Gestapo in 1940, Martinů emigrated to America, where an intense period of composition saw the emergence of many fine chamber works, including the Sonata for viola and piano. By this time his music was infused with a great variety of styles, including jazz, tango, impressionism, and neo-classicism in the frequent use of seventeenth-century toccata figures. In two movements, the Viola Sonata was composed in 1955 during one of Martinů’s sojourns in the United States. Like many of his other works at this time, the sonata is rhapsodic, intensely lyrical and infused with folk idioms—a nod to his homeland about which he was deeply nostalgic at this time. The first movement, Poco andante, begins with a syncopated fanfare in the piano introducing a bold, declamatory theme on the viola. By comparison, the second theme (marked Moderato) is more gentle, evoking the folk sounds of his homeland.

The second movement, Allegro non troppo, begins with a dramatic outburst of furious toccata-like semiquavers from which emerges a Cantabile theme. The apotheotic climax of the movement includes cadenzas on both instruments. A short impressionistic transition using whole-tone scales and striking pizzicato gives a brief respite before launching back into the toccata. The work concludes with a wistful reminder of plaintive folk-song—perhaps an indication of the extent of his homesickness.

Zoltán KODÁLY (1882–1967): Adagio for viola and piano (1905)

Kodály’s contributions to the musical life of his native Hungary as composer, nationalist, ethnomusicologist and teacher were immense. Following graduation from the Budapest Academy in 1904 Kodály was steeped in the influence of the romantic German style in vogue. He spent the next few years, however, rediscovering his musical roots and in 1905 took the first of many field trips to collect folk-songs with Béla Bartók. This interest would culminate in the publication of over 100,000 of these traditional songs in 1913.

An early romantic work (also played on the violin and cello), the Adagio was written just after Kodály had completed his studies. The opening theme of the work brims with a quiet intensity, and the expressive intervallic leaps within the melodic line evoke a sense of yearning. This phrase is followed by a lilting melody with a gently syncopated accompaniment and quirky embellishments reminiscent of songs from the gypsy tradition. The movement builds to an impassioned climax before drawing to a melancholic close.

Ernő DOHNÁNYI (1877–1960): Sonata in C sharp minor, Op. 21 (1912) (arr. Sarah-Jane Bradley)

The Hungarian Ernő Dohnányi was born in Bratislava and studied at the Budapest Academy with the same teacher as Kodály. A highly talented pianist, Dohnányi chose to follow in the tradition of Brahms as a composer rather than the nationalistic idioms adopted by his compatriots Kodály and Bartók. He was greatly influenced by his friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim, who would later invite Dohnányi to teach at the Berlin Hochschule (1905–1915). It was during this time that he wrote the Sonata in C sharp minor. Interestingly, the violist Lionel Tertis played the work (at pitch) with Dohnányi himself during a visit to London in 1924, and subsequently Tertis would take the work on tour with the pianist Myra Hess.

The sonata is cleverly constructed, though by no means lacking in romantic flavour. The first three notes of the opening theme of the first movement Allegro appassionato are recycled to form a new theme in the final movement. The second movement, Allegro ma con tenerezza, takes the structure of a theme with variations. The fiery third, Vivace assai, is essentially a wild scherzo with a gentler Meno mosso section preceding the quasi-fugal reprise of the opening material. The piece is through-composed; Dohnányi indicates that the movements follow on from each other attacca subito. The opening theme of the first movement reappears at the end of the work, though now nostalgically transformed, to fulfil a cyclic structure.

Joseph JOACHIM (1831–1907): Hebrew Melodies ‘Impressions of Byron’s poems’, Op. 9

Joachim was born in Kittsee near Bratislava and grew up in the Kittsee Kehilla, one of Hungary’s Siebengemeinden (Seven Jewish Communities) which was under the protectorate of the Esterházy estate. A child prodigy on the violin, Joachim was also a conductor, composer and teacher and is considered one of the most influential violinists of all time. His pupils included such distinguished violinists as Leopold Auer, Jenő Hubay, Bronisław Huberman and Franz von Vecsey. His towering influence as a virtuoso violinist meant that many works were composed with him in mind, including concertos by Brahms, Schumann, Bruch and Dvořák. Joachim was a protégé of Mendelssohn, and later became a disciple of the more avant-garde Liszt in Weimar. By 1852, however, he had decided to break away from the progressive ideals of the New German School, associating himself instead with Robert and Clara Schumann, and with Brahms.

Joachim’s Hebrew Melodies were written sometime between 1855 and 1860, during the period in which he also wrote his Variations for viola and piano, Op. 10. The style of the Hebrew Melodies reflects the influence of Liszt and the language of the tone-poem—not unsurprisingly, given the attached subtitle: Impressions of Byron’s poems. The poems are based on the Hebrew Exile and various biblical stories such as the Vision of Belshazzar, Jephtha’s Daughter, Herod’s lament for Mariamne, the Song of Saul and the text “by the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept”. Although there are 23 poems, there are only three movements to this work, with no indication of the corresponding poems. Nevertheless the work seems still loosely programmatic, adopting stylistically Jewish themes, expressing deep lamentation. The first two movements, Sostenuto and Grave are both in minor keys depicting scenes of melancholic pathos. The third movement, Andante cantabile, is more pastoral in character, interrupted by a stirring Poco più mosso before a return to the opening material, which gradually dissipates to a restful close.

George ENESCU (1881–1955): Concertstück (1906)

Another violin prodigy, the Romanian composer George Enescu was sent at an early age to study at the Vienna Conservatory. In 1894 he met Brahms, and in 1895, when he was fourteen, moved to Paris to study composition with Massenet and later Fauré.

Composed as a competition test-piece, the Concertstück is unashamedly lyrical with great virtuosity demanded of the violist. The work combines the spirit of rhapsody (an abundance of sweeping melodies, infused with impressionistic textures) with the rhythmic folk idioms of Enescu’s homeland. The central section, Animé, begins with startling diminished seventh chords leading into an agitated passage in G minor which gradually reverts to the thematic material of the work’s opening. The virtuosity of the piece is augmented yet more by furious cascades of semiquavers mounting towards the exhilarating conclusion.

Sarah-Jane Bradley

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