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Violin Sonata No 3 in C minor, Op 45

'Grieg: Violin Sonatas' (CDA67504)
Grieg: Violin Sonatas
Movement 1: Allegro molto ed appassionato
Movement 2: Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza
Movement 3: Allegro animato – Prestissimo

Violin Sonata No 3 in C minor, Op 45
Although there were only two years between the first two violin sonatas, the Violin Sonata No 3 in C minor, Op 45, was not to follow for almost two decades: the last piece of chamber music Grieg completed, it was composed—at Grieg’s home, Troldhaugen, outside Bergen—in the second half of 1886, just spilling into the first days of 1887.

The dark tone of No 3 sets it a considerable distance away from the lyrical enthusiasms of its two predecessors. Its formal subtlety is striking; and the explicit nationalism, intermittent in the First, thoroughgoing in the Second, has given way to the ‘wider horizon’ of which Grieg wrote to Bjørnson. Here too, though, Grieg works his material with considerable subtlety: the first two subjects, which sound so different, are carved from the same shape, rooted in the ‘Grieg motif’; the development likewise sets off with a varied version of the first motif of the first subject. The music seems to stall briefly, as if in the eye of the hurricane, before the opening motif insists on its space, leading to an extended discussion of the different incarnations of its genetic material. The coda initially suggests the triumph of lyricism, over the arpeggiated chords heard early in the development, but the mood again darkens and the movement ends bleakly.

That grim, dissonant close contrasts all the more effectively with the light-filled melody in E major which opens the slow movement (as with the earlier two sonatas, it is also in ABA form)—one of Grieg’s happiest inspirations, and he was not a man short of happy inspirations. The brooding atmosphere of the central section, in the tonic minor, so starkly contrasts with its outer panels that once again the thematic interconnections are effectively disguised.

The finale shows Grieg once more rewriting form to his own ends: he builds it from two expository sections which are then repeated—the development is dispensed with entirely. It opens with the violin stomping out a march-rhythm over the piano’s broken chords (open fifths) before the instruments begin an increasingly furious exchange of ideas. It is quite some time—112 bars—before the pace slackens enough for the secondary theme to inch forward, a broad, yearning tune that begins low in the violin and gradually climbs upwards, falling back to allow the opening march-rhythms to resume. The Prestissimo coda transforms the angry opening theme into an exultant C major affirmation, swirling breathlessly to the close.

Grieg played the piano part in the premiere, in the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 10 December 1887; the violinist was the eminent Adolph Brodsky, who had given the first performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto six years earlier (and was later head of the Royal Manchester School of Music). The Third Sonata was immediately popular among domestic as well as professional music-makers: within months of its appearance it had sold 1,500 copies, and it has been a recital favourite of the world’s major violinists ever since.

from notes by Martin Anderson © 2006

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