Movement 1: Allegretto – Presto
Movement 2: Adagio
Movement 3: Allegro
In this work, the violins represent two of the four basic psychological types which had dominated medical theory since the ancient Greeks. Melancholy has retained its original meaning; the sanguinary man has a predominance of blood in his make-up which makes him ruddy-faced, courageous, hopeful and amorous.
The narrative of the first movement can be outlined as follows: Melancholicus makes the first statement in duple time, Allegretto and muted. The dominant half-close means that Sanguineus is asked whether he agrees with Melancholicus. The former, unmuted, makes it clear by a change of time (to a triple Presto) and key (from C minor to E flat major) that his opinion is different. Sanguineus soon deliberately moderates his jollity in an attempt to persuade Melancholicus, also ending with a question indicated by a dominant close. A brief pause is intended to give him time to cheer up the other. But Melancholicus relapses into his former mood. Sanguineus impatiently replies, restating his case, and breaks off with an invitation to the other to complete the phrase. But instead he interpolates a continuation of his own argument. Sanguineus is not sure whether Melancholicus is acting from malice, ignorance or forgetfulness; so, with some bitterness, since he has resisted persuasion twice, he shows him how the phrase should have continued. Melancholicus begins to relent, and makes a correct answer. But this difficult though small step (of only six notes) forces him into another pause to recover; then he returns to his original theme again. Sanguineus mocks him by comically imitating his thoughts, converting them to his rhythm. Here Melancholicus takes off the mute and follows the other, and they play together an extended section based on the Sanguineus subject. There is a pause; Sanguineus expects the other to lead, but he puts on his mute and reverts to his original topic, again ending with a question. Sanguineus replies with a contrary answer, but Melancholicus answers his question with a snippet of his own hypothesis. Sanguineus angrily mimics it, expanding the compact phrase to span an octave. After a pause he starts again, and Melancholicus continues correctly for a few notes then slips again into his melancholy. Here Sanguineus, following the previous success of the method, plays on Melancholicus’ sense of honour to win him over and scoffs at his ideas. He invites him again and Melancholicus follows him, without mute. But the same thought which has already distracted him brings back his melancholy. Sanguineus quickly draws him out of it. There is a section in which the players move together. Sanguineus has lost some of his fervour. But his flattery of Melancholicus gives rise to renewed melancholy. Sanguineus laughs at this. They alternate until Melancholicus falls into a deep sleep. Sanguineus continues to make fun of him, but stops twice to listen whether there is a reply and hears nothing. The first movement ends here; despite its programme, it has a coherent form, ABABA (though tonally more complex than that). The dialogue is confined to the A sections, which are considerably shorter than the time taken to describe them might suggest.
The second movement follows without a break, Melancholicus again playing muted. He starts mumbling to himself; Sanguineus replies frivolously. They continue, playing contrasting themes until (at the end of the movement) Sanguineus asks the other to join him. Getting nowhere, he asks him strongly (one single note); meeting only silence, he asks again more politely. Melancholicus, having removed his mute, lets himself be moved, and indicates his change of mind by imitating a six-note phrase of Sanguineus. Sanguineus continues it, Melancholicus repeats it to show his steadfastness, then both conclude the Adagio in unanimity. This unanimity remains throughout the Allegro; since Sanguineus has won the argument, he politely lets Melancholicus begin, and the two instruments converse in a friendly manner.
from notes by Clifford Bartlett © 1988