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Violin Sonata No 1 in G major, Op 78

'Brahms: The Complete Chamber Music' (CDS44331/42)
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Movement 1: Vivace ma non troppo
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Movement 2: Adagio – Più andante – Adagio come I
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Movement 3: Allegro molto moderato – Più moderato
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Track 7 on APR5528 [9'05] Download only

Violin Sonata No 1 in G major, Op 78
If much of Brahms’s mature instrumental music suggests songs, nowhere is the connection more explicit than in the G major sonata. Its third, and final, movement is based on Brahms’s song ‘Regenlied’ (‘Rain Song’), Op 59 No 3, to a text by his fellow North German, Klaus Groth. The poem recalls rich childhood memories, triggered by the patter of rain on the window-pane, and obviously evoked powerful memories in Brahms as well. Not only does the melody, which is in the minor key, possess a wistful, longing character, but it is used again in the following song of the opus, ‘Nachklang’ (‘Echo’), to another of Groth’s poems where the imagery is turned to bleaker ends, now directly addressing vanished youth. The possibilities of recollection are naturally taken much further in the sonata. Here the melody itself (now in G minor) is extended to serve as a complete subject, leading to a transition and second theme to complete the exposition of a rondo, with constant allusions to the dotted figure of the opening. But the allusions extend beyond this movement.

The very opening of the sonata has this rhythm, and Brahms extends it into a wholly distinctive, yet complementary theme, this time more expansive, as befits the first subject of a sonata form. The link to the finale is yet further strengthened when another variant of the dotted rhythm appears towards the end of the development, now stressing G minor before the reprise restores G major. But the composer is not content only to play with the wistful recall of the idea—as he is to do even more with the theme of the finale in its closing bars. G minor opens up the possibility of E flat as a closely related key, and this is where Brahms places his soulful ‘Adagio’, an almost funereal movement where the sense of loss is at its greatest. So what a surprise it is when this very theme reappears (in E flat major again) as the central idea of the Rondo, now at ‘allegro’ tempo, and given to the violin, its winging sequel seeming to sing of resolution, of joyful acceptance, a quality deeply endorsed in the closing bars where it merges with the dotted figure in a tranquil recollection, the happiest memories of the ‘Regenlied’ now seeming to pervade all.

from notes by Michael Musgrave © 1991

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