Movement 1: Tempo di ciaccona
Movement 2: Fuga: Risoluto, non troppo vivo
Movement 3: Melodia: Adagio
Movement 4: Presto
That and the third Piano Concerto were the last two works whose music Bartók completed; at his death in 1945 both works remained not fully edited for publication. Bartók had the consolation of hearing Menuhin give the solo Sonata’s premiere in ‘a wonderful performance’ in November 1944, just a few days before another magnificent premiere, that of his Concerto for Orchestra. In its four-movement span the solo Sonata is one of the largest musical risks Bartók ever took; in his own words after the premiere, ‘I was afraid it was too long; imagine … a single violin for twenty minutes. But it was quite all right, at least for me’. If the titles of its first two movements suggest Bach, those of the last two suggest folk tradition; in reality all four movements blend folk and Classical tradition with breathtaking virtuosity. In specifying ‘Tempo di ciaccona’ Bartók took the additional risk of making the first movement not literally a chaconne (it only follows chaconne tempo) but a full-scale sonata structure.
As in earlier years with Székely and Szigeti, Bartók left Menuhin some freedom in details of performance, offering a few alternative readings, particularly in the finale where a substantial passage can be played either with quarter-tone intervals or more conventionally in semitones. Menuhin chose the latter, and this reading was adopted in the work’s publication after Bartók’s death. More recently Bartók’s initial quarter-tone version has become available, and can be heard here.
from notes by Roy Howat © 1990