Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Romance: Andante
Movement 3: Allegro non troppo
Elgar also wrote to German-born friend and musical hostess Marie Joshua. She had been especially supportive during his recent illness and was asked to accept dedication of the newly completed work. ‘It is full of golden sounds and I like it’, he commented, ‘but you must not expect anything violently chromatic or cubist.’ Mrs Joshua’s obvious delight was short-lived. She died suddenly on 10 September, five weeks before Op 82 was heard in full.
On 28 September Elgar informed Colvin that the Sonata was complete. Adrian Boult, a pupil of Nikisch, had just made his conducting debut and with typical enterprise he sought permission to present Elgar’s newest work before a gathering of the infant British Music Society. Instead, its first performance came at the composer’s London home, Severn House, Hampstead, on 15 October. Reed and pianist Anthony Bernard were the performers. The Reed/Bernard duo finally introduced the sonata at a BMS meeting on 13 March 1919 and the first ‘open’ presentation came a week later, on 21 March, this time with Reed and Sir Landon Ronald in the Aeolian Hall.
Perhaps the most succinct summation of Elgar’s Violin Sonata is in his own words, part of a letter to confidant and sometime companion Alice Stuart-Wortley. He tells her: ‘The first movement is bold and vigorous, then a fantastic, curious movement with a very expressive middle section; a melody for the violin … they say it is as good or better than anything I have done in the expressive way … the last movement is very broad and soothing, like the last movement of the second symphony.’
At the outset Elgar surprises us, adopting a foreign key, A minor, rather than E minor, a stratagem he upholds to within a bar of the movement’s end. His tempo marking is Allegro and the movement begins with a vaulting risoluto theme leading to a descending phrase in characteristic tripping (trochaic) rhythm at the ninth bar. Young detects a distant parallel between the second subjects of both this movement and the Romance (Op 1). In any event Elgar reaches his poetic subject via a section derived from inverting the opening statement. Thereupon the movement follows customary sonata lines (comparisons with Brahms readily spring to mind) before its stormy conclusion.
The second, more inward movement is titled Romance and prompted Young to conclude: ‘This is a personal utterance, owing to no one and, for that matter, influencing no one.’ It proceeds in 3/4 time and begins without sharps or flats, borrowing and reshaping Elgar’s descending motif from the Allegro. There now follows a freer, more gentle B flat major theme heard first on the violin and reiterated by the piano.
Close to Brinkwells stood a skeletal clump of trees at one time struck by lightning and resultingly gaunt, twisted and foreboding. Elgar was fascinated by the legend that these were the arrested forms of Spanish monks stricken for wanton and unspecified acts of a capricious nature. As a consequence much is made of the trees as a programmatic component in the chamber music, notably in this Romance. After an expressive climax the Romance subsides with a reference to its opening, concluding in A major.
The solemn finale begins in E major and its broad opening theme shows Elgar’s inclination towards unaccented sequence. Again there is a more animated motif and as the two contrasted themes are counterbalanced a final nod in the direction of the Romance is heard. Final impetus comes in the short-lived coda bringing the Sonata to an emphatic conclusion.
from notes by Howard Smith © 1993