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Violin Sonata No 1 in D minor, Op 75

'Saint-Saëns: Music for violin and piano' (CDA67100)
Saint-Saëns: Music for violin and piano
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Movement 1: Allegro agitato
Movement 2: Adagio
Movement 3: Allegro moderato
Movement 4: Allegro molto

Violin Sonata No 1 in D minor, Op 75
In 1871, in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, Saint-Saëns was involved in founding the Société Nationale de Musique, dedicated to the promotion of French music. He was the Vice-President of the new society and its committee members included Franck, Fauré and Lalo. Concerts of chamber music formed an important part of the society’s activities and Saint-Saëns often appeared as a performer—at the premiere of the Franck Piano Quintet in 1879, for instance. On that occasion his partners were the Marsick Quartet, and it was to Martin Marsick that he dedicated his Sonata No 1 in D minor, for violin and piano, completed in 1885. (Marsick is chiefly remembered today as the editor of the popular Massenet Méditation, and the teacher, at the Paris Conservatoire, of Thibaud, Enescu and Carl Flesch.)

The Sonata is a broadly-conceived work, designed, like Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata, to create a brilliant effect in performance, especially in the finale, with its moto perpetuo motif. The four movements are arranged in two groups of two—as Saint-Saëns was to do again the following year in the famous ‘Organ’ Symphony—so that the only break comes after the Adagio. The dark, passionate opening theme has a remarkable rhythmic freedom, with its syncopations, cross-accents, and constant changes of time-signature. Its continual development contrasts strongly with the haunting second theme which, though it appears in different keys and contexts and with changes of texture, remains unaltered in outline. Marcel Proust confessed that this sonata provided the model for the fictional sonata by Vinteuil that plays such an important part in Swann’s Way. We can identify this second theme as the ‘little phrase’ that was, in Monsieur Swann’s mind, so intensely associated with his love for Odette. Though Proust’s detailed description of a performance of the ‘Vinteuil’ sonata doesn’t quite fit the Saint-Saëns, the ‘little phrase’ does return in the finale just as M. Swann expects. It also effects the transition to the sensuous Adagio, whose main theme is beautifully formed as a dialogue between the two instruments—a dialogue where the roles are later reversed and, towards the end of the movement, elaborately decorated.

The delicate minor-key scherzo that follows is, most unusually, formed almost entirely from five-bar phrases. Saint-Saëns clearly enjoys exploring the implications of this scheme. The subdued colours of this piece provide a perfect foil to the bright D major of the finale with its dramatic contrasts and virtuosic panache.

from notes by Duncan Druce © 1999

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Details for CDA67100 track 4
Allegro molto
Recording date
16 January 1999
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Saint-SaŽns: Music for violin and piano (CDA67100)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: October 1999
    Deletion date: July 2014
    Archive Service
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