Movement 1: Poco allegro
Movement 2: Scherzo
Movement 3: Andante
Movement 4: Allegro grazioso
With its regular formal outlines, the clear diatonic harmony of its opening bars and its Beethovenian motivic play, the sonata could be seen as a conscious attempt to recreate classical ideals, but Saint-Saëns avoids any sense of imitation or pastiche. In the first movement there are continual modulations, often quite unexpected and unconventional, and a remarkably free use of non-harmonic notes—notes that are foreign to the underlying chords. Together, these create a richly varied musical tapestry, the texture clearing every now and then to reveal a simple diatonic phrase.
The energetic Scherzo shows a classic regularity of form, with both scherzo and trio sections cast in the time-honoured binary pattern. The trio is one of several passages to show Saint-Saëns’s growing preoccupation with counterpoint; it’s in the form of a three-part canon, at the unusual interval of a 7th. The Andante encloses another miniature scherzo, or ‘Allegretto scherzando’, as its middle section. Here, as well as in the episodes of the Rondo finale, one feels that Saint-Saëns is adapting his beloved Rameau’s idea of the short character piece to a more modern idiom. In the Andante’s outer sections, the violin sings a long, dreamy melody above a piano accompaniment whose continual rising scales blur the harmony in an impressionistic way. Saint-Saëns disliked his younger contemporary Debussy’s music intensely, yet here he comes quite close to a Debussian fascination with sonority for its own sake. The final movement echoes the wide-ranging modulations of the opening Poco allegro, but in a lighter, less closely-worked style.
from notes by Duncan Druce © 1999