The Violin Sonata, written for the great Belgian virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe, declares its programme of sentiment from the opening phrase—a bold downward octave followed by an upward scale. If there are echoes of Beethoven, Wagner and, of course, Franck, this is only to be expected of an impressionable twenty-two-year-old. Like Franck, Lekeu in the two outer movements proceeds by continual modulation, binding the music together with cyclic repetitions of material and especially of rhythms: phrases often have their longest note in the middle and end with a triplet. The finale also repeats sixteen bars almost note for note from the first movement during the build-up to the final section.
But perhaps Lekeu’s greatest achievement is to be found in the opening theme of the central slow movement. Not only does he manage the 7/8 (4+3) time signature with consummate flexibility, he keeps our interest through all forty bars and three minutes of the melody with only two brief excursions away from the tonic E flat major. The central section is introduced by a tune on the piano played ‘very simply and with the feeling of a popular song’. In this, Lekeu was following not so much Franck himself, as members of the bande such as d’Indy, for whom folksong was the epitome of nobility and purity.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2011