Hyperion Records

Violin Sonata, JW VII/7
possibly begun in 1913, completed by October 1915, but movement reordered and rewritten repeatedly until publication in 1922; first performed at the Museum of Applied Arts in Brno on 24 April 1922 by František Kudlácek and Jaroslav Kvapil

'Dohnányi & Janáček: Violin Sonatas' (CDA67699)
Dohnányi & Janáček: Violin Sonatas
Movement 1: Con moto
Movement 2: Ballada: Con moto
Movement 3: Allegretto
Movement 4: Adagio

Violin Sonata, JW VII/7
In the first days of World War I Hungary was invaded by the Russian army, which seemed for a time to herald the end of Austrian dominance in the region. This portentous event provided the creative spark for Leoš Janácek’s Violin Sonata (his only surviving violin sonata; two very early ones he composed in Dresden and Vienna in 1880 are lost), at least according to Janácek himself. In fact the work’s genesis was more complicated than that. Certainly some of it was being sketched at the beginning of August 1914. But there is evidence that the Ballada which is now the second movement already existed as an independent piece by May of that year (it may even have been written in 1913), and it was published on its own during 1915. (It is sometimes suggested that the Ballada was resuscitated from the second of the lost 1880 sonatas, but though in character the movement is somewhat ‘earlier’ than the rest of the sonata there is no independent evidence for this, and plenty of features that would have been impossible in Janácek’s music of so early a date.)

The whole Sonata must have been provisionally finished as a four-movement work by October 1915, when Janácek suggested to the violinist Jaroslav Kocián that he could premiere it in a concert in Prague; but Kocián was doubtful about the feasibility of playing it and the performance did not occur. At this point the Ballada was the third movement, the second movement was the Adagio and there was a fast fourth movement, Con moto. In Autumn 1916 Janácek began revising the Sonata by writing a new fourth movement, an Allegro; in turn, this was itself rejected and the original finale rewritten (as an Allegretto) in 1920; all the other movements were revised to varying extents about the same time. Even then, it was only when the work was published in 1922 that the order of the movements was finally determined. Only the first movement retained its position throughout all these changes, though it was heavily revised: the Ballada now became the second movement, the Adagio (the second movement of the 1915 version) became the finale, while the (discarded, then rewritten) 1915 finale became the Allegretto third movement. In this definitive form the premiere was given at the Museum of Applied Arts in Brno on 24 April 1922 by the violinist František Kudlácek, with Janácek’s pupil Jaroslav Kvapil, better known as a composer, at the piano.

The Sonata is typical of the mature Janácek in its general style, in the way melodic fragments are tersely repeated and juxtaposed, with some of the quality of direct speech, and combined with accompanimental patterns that also repeat short rhythmic gestures. The first movement, with its dramatic opening on solo violin and agitated piano accompaniment, seems nearest to the ‘response to war’ that the composer identified as the primary impulse behind the work. The Ballada, with its long, lyrical main theme and songful, almost lullaby-like secondary melody, is among Janácvek’s most romantic inspirations, and is also remarkable for the range and delicacy of the piano textures that underpin the violin’s cantabile writing. The ensuing Allegretto, which probably functions more effectively as a scherzo than the finale it originally was, has echoes of folk music in its gypsy-like violin slides and Russian-sounding opening theme—very similar to the ‘troika’ music in Janácek’s almost contemporary opera Kát’a Kabanová. Its continuation is a pathetically broken melody, the opening theme then returning in quiet pizzicato before the reprise of the opening section. The slow finale attempts more sustained, elegiac melodic writing, at first on the piano but continually interrupted by short, urgent figures on muted violin; eventually the violin takes up the theme and carries it from its lowest to highest register.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010

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