Beethoven, Mendelssohn & Schumann: Music for viola and piano
Movement 1: Adagio – Allegro
Movement 2: Menuetto: Allegro molto
Movement 3a: Andante con variazioni
Movement 3b: Variation 1
Movement 3c: Variation 2
Movement 3d: Variation 3
Movement 3e: Variation 4
Movement 3f: Variation 5
Movement 3g: Variation 6
Movement 3h: Variation 7
Movement 3i: Variation 8
Movement 3j: Allegro molto
The overall scheme of the work bears extended discussion. Taken by itself, the sequence of movement titles seems to suggest an orthodox four-movement sonata, notwithstanding the (common) reversal of the customary order of the inner pair. But this is deceptive, since the closing Allegro molto is not an independent piece but a virtuosic coda to the series of variations that forms the third movement. Nor is that movement itself without sign of an original approach to a form that can lead easily to inconsequential, repetitive and static structures. The theme already moves beyond the commonplace in its 8 + 10 bar structure, and the individual variations are prevented from being isolated one from the next by Mendelssohn’s linkage technique, which ensures a seamless continuity from beginning to end. The harmonic structure of the theme begins to be modified as early as Variation 4, until with Variation 8 (Adagio in contrast to the preceding Andante) it is set completely aside in favour of a free rhapsodic section, in C major rather than minor, scored largely for piano solo: the effect is as of a Lied ohne Worte being suddenly intruded upon the scene. This section provides the perfect foil for the closing minor-key coda, to which it is connected by a recitative passage given over largely to the viola.
These events at the end of the third and final movement of the Sonata may be conceived as a kind of magnification of the scheme of the first movement. This is a relatively straightforward sonata design with the main Allegro being preceded by a slow introduction. In the recapitulation, the second-group material is brought back in the tonic major (C major). Rather than closing in that key, however, a short coda using material that had not been recapitulated reintroduces C minor, just as at the end of the work. This first-movement coda, though, is pianissimo; the music simply fades away. And the quiet ending at this stage throws additional weight on to the third-movement coda: it responds not only to the third movement but to the first also. In organizing the Sonata along these lines Mendelssohn was both demonstrating his understanding of the end-weighted dynamic structures so powerfully exploited by Beethoven and also foreshadowing the importance as a closural device of the virtuosic coda in the mature works of some of his contemporaries, such as the first and fourth of Chopin’s Ballades.
from notes by Nicholas Marston © 1997