Movement 1: Moderato malinconio
Movement 2: Andante sostenuto e misterioso
Movement 3: Allegro con brio ma non troppo mosso
All these techniques are present in the Third Violin Sonata. The one thing which is not present is the direct quotation of folk themes. Instead, Enescu has invented an entire folk language of his own, in which the atmosphere and melodic colouring is deeply Romanian, but the themes (his creations) are incorporated from the start into his own individual processes of melodic and harmonic development. Enescu has here distilled, in a highly personal way, a sort of quintessence of Romanian folk music, with its modes, its rhythms (either the parlando rubato rhythm of the first movement, or the spiky dance rhythms of the last) and its opulent treasury of ornamentation. The subtitle of the work, ‘In the character of Romanian folk music’, deliberately uses the word ‘character’ rather than ‘style’: in an interview in 1928 Enescu said ‘I don’t use the word ‘style’ because that implies something made or artificial, whereas ‘character’ implies something given, existing from the beginning. […] In this way Romanian composers will be able to write valuable compositions whose character will be similar to that of folk music, but which will be achieved through different, absolutely personal means.’
In his attempt to capture the spirit of Romanian folk music, Enescu developed for this sonata what is virtually a new language of violin writing. The music is full of extremely detailed instructions such as ‘flautato sulla tastiera colla punta del arco’ (‘flute-like, with the point of the bow, on the fingerboard’); the ornamentation is elaborately notated, and different degrees of vibrato are also specified. When this is combined with the frequent fluctations of rhythm, tempo, dynamic and mood, the result is a score brimming with expressivity. Menuhin has written: ‘I know of no other work more painstakingly edited or planned. It is correct to say that it is quite sufficient to follow the score for one to interpret the work’. When Enescu has done with this extraordinary degree of specification is, paradoxical though this sounds, to convey a spirit of improvisation.
Much of the violin technique used here is, of course, an imitation of the playing of Romanian folk-fiddlers—though the term ‘imitation’ here covers a whole spectrum, from the direct reproduction of techniques (such as using a slight upwards portamento to lean into the beginning of a note) to the much more elusive evocation of mood and spirit. The piano part is imitative too: most obviously, of cymbalom-playing, though there are other sorts of imitative effect as well. The strange repeated notes at the start of the slow movement were, according to one pianist who played this work with Enescu (Céliny Chailley-Richez) an imitation of the squeaking of toads on a summer evening. Alfred Cortot, who also discussed and played this work with the composer, described the slow movement as ‘an evocation in sound of the mysterious feeling of summer nights in Romania: below, the silent, endless, deserted plain; above, constellations leading off into infinity …’. But whether the listener thinks of toads or galaxies is secondary. The music is primary.
from notes by Noel Malcolm © 1991