Movement 1: Assez mouvemente
Movement 2: Tranquillo
Movement 3: Vif
Interviewed late in his life, Enescu described the genesis of this sonata as follows: ‘At the age of fourteen, when I was walking by myself in Prince Maurouzi’s garden, a theme came into my head. I carried it inside me for three years; then, at the age of seventeen, I wrote my Second Violin Sonata in the space of a fortnight.’ The work does have an extraordinary unity, mainly because of the way in which it is pervaded by the long, mysterious, harmonically suggestive and rhythmically disorientating theme which opens the first movement. Elements of this theme are developed throughout the work, in ways which not only vary the rhythmical pattern but also compress or expand the intervals between the notes, until one is left with a sense of a powerful but indeterminate musical shape behind the theme itself.
Two of Enescu’s most enduring characteristics as a composer can be noticed in this work. One is his development of an ‘organicist’ structure in which everything is related to everything else. Enescu had a deep-rooted preference for cyclical form, especially for that version of cyclical form which not only re-states the themes of earlier movements in the finale, but also piles them one on top of another, using the device of cumulative superimposition to reveal their hidden affinities. The other characteristic is his love of harmonically ambiguous modes which shift from major to minor: this technique derives ultimately from the chromatic modes of Romanian folk music, with their ‘mobile’ major-minor thirds, and it is put to use with touching simplicity in the slow movement of this sonata.
from notes by Noel Malcolm © 1991