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Violin Sonata in C sharp minor, Op 21
1912; Berlin

'Dohnányi & Janáček: Violin Sonatas' (CDA67699)
Dohnányi & Janáček: Violin Sonatas
Movement 1: Allegro appassionato
Movement 2: Allegro ma con tenerezza
Movement 3: Vivace assai

Violin Sonata in C sharp minor, Op 21
Dohnányi composed a number of significant pieces for the violin, including two violin concertos; his most important chamber work for violin and piano is the Violin Sonata in C sharp minor Op 21, composed in Berlin in 1912. Dohnányi was by then thirty-five years of age, and the Sonata is a fully mature work showing his individual development of stylistic traits of Brahms and Liszt combined with a structural economy which reflects the close study of Brahms’s sonatas. One of the most noticeable features of this passionate and lively music (there is no actual slow movement) is Dohnányi’s concern to establish thematic unity and interconnection across the three movements by means of variation and thematic reminiscence in order to bind the work into a unity.

The Allegro appassionato first movement opens with a somewhat anxious theme in C sharp minor which is then heard, in varied form, in the major. A sweeping second subject is fairly short-lived, most of the attention being given to the first group. This movement is sometimes described as a sonata form without development, but it would be truer to say that the exposition is followed by an elaborated counter-exposition which fulfils the roles of both development and recapitulation, with the second subject finally being allowed to expand in the coda, which replaces the restless, unsettled mood of most of the movement with a more serene, elegiac atmosphere, and ends softly. (The truncated form of this first movement will only find its completion in the finale.)

The ensuing Allegro ma con tenerezza, which begins with a simple, song-like theme distinguished by the octave leap of its first two notes, is part scherzo, part intermezzo in six clearly defined sections. Some of these could be regarded as dance-variations on the movement’s initial theme—section 2, for instance, is in a siciliano rhythm—though the fourth section, which hints at the rhythm of the csárdás, also reintroduces a form of the first movement’s first subject. The fifth section, with its strumming violin pizzicati, is more serenade-like, while the final section is a refined reworking of the movement’s initial theme.

The last movement, Vivace assai, opens dramatically with a call to attention from the violin (harking back to the initial cell of the first movement) and then pitches in to a lively, capering 3/8 music whose main theme is yet another, though cunningly disguised, variant of the first movement’s main subject. A lyrical contrasting section in A major introduces a gorgeous theme in the violin that is underpinned by a continuation of the rhythmic invention in the piano. The Vivace assai music returns, if anything more intense and driving to a climax. After this the motion subsides, and the coda turns out to be an abbreviated and somewhat sotto voce restatement of the first movement’s exposition, with the second subject having the quietly expressive last word.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010

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Details for CDA67699 track 3
Vivace assai
Recording date
6 January 2009
Recording venue
Jerusalem Music Centre, Israel
Recording producer
Eric Wen
Recording engineer
Zvi Hirshler
Hyperion usage
  1. Dohnányi & Janácek: Violin Sonatas (CDA67699)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: April 2010
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