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Violin Sonata No 1 in D minor


Only five years separate the Cavatina from the Violin Sonata No 1, yet there is a world of difference because the latter is a fully fledged expression of Ireland’s early maturity. Its composition arose through the advocacy of Walter Wilson Cobbett (1847–1937), an amateur violinist, patron of music and lexicographer who enlivened British musical life in the first decades of the century through his passion for chamber music. In a series of far-sighted competitions he encouraged new works for the medium; in 1908 the brief was for a piano trio and Ireland won second prize with his Phantasy Trio; the following year the competition was for a violin sonata. Ireland submitted the Sonata in D minor composed between the summer of 1908 and autumn of 1909; out of 134 entries, Ireland’s work came first. Despite this, and the Sonata’s publication in 1911, it nevertheless waited over three years for its first public performance when Marjorie Haywood played the work accompanied by the composer on 7 March 1913. Ireland dedicated it to Cobbett, subsequently revising it twice, in 1917 and 1944 respectively.

The ‘Allegro leggiadro’ commences with a murmuring, insistent rhythm on the piano, to which is added a striving, purposeful violin theme whose decorative grace notes are significant in the music’s development. A desolate falling chordal sequence played by both instruments acts as a link to the second group of themes: the main one, sentimental in mood and shaped from a rising arpeggio, is heard first on the piano. The violin takes up the opening piano rhythm, transforming it into a brief jig-like melody, and the exposition ends with a climax featuring octave leaps by the violin. These different ideas subsequently create a movement of rapidly shifting moods ending with a coda that leaves the questionings thrown up by the movement more unresolved than answered.

Prefaced by a piano introduction that recurs during the movement, the main theme of the ‘Romance’ is a lyrical, expansive violin melody. It has the character of a song without words, simple in nature initially, but becoming harmonically richer at its climax, and it is repeated to splendid effect on the darker hues of the violin’s G string. A lento middle section is created around a mysterious fanfare-like motif, played at first pianissimo, as if heard from afar or through the mists of time. That Ireland casts it in the remote key of B flat minor is no accident, since its other-worldly quality reflects the composer’s fascination in the ancient past, in the powerful presences which prehistoric places exude, and also his claim to have had supernatural experiences when he witnessed people from long-past aeons. The mystical writings of his friend Arthur Machen fuelled these interests and surely they manifest themselves as much in the music itself as (more overtly) in the titles of such orchestral works as The Forgotten Rite and Mai Dun.

This same passage is also a fascinating instance of two composers conceiving similar musical ideas independently of each other. It bears a strong resemblance to the opening of Vaughan Williams’s song ‘Is my team ploughing?’ from On Wenlock Edge. The two composers were working on sonata and song-cycle respectively during 1909, the coincidence coming to light when Ireland played his work to Vaughan Williams. However, after mulling over the problem they decided it was unnecessary for either to change their compositions since the ideas had been wholly their own.

The lento gives way to a con moto passage in which the passionate outpourings of the violin take the movement to its climax. The return of the ‘song’ follows, leading finally to the piano introduction and a tranquil conclusion embodying a brief recollection of the lento fanfare, now in B flat major.

The sense of resolution achieved in the final bars of the ‘Romance’ paves the way for a carefree ‘Rondo’ finale in D major; its rollicking, cheeky tune is simplicity itself and dances effortlessly through the movement set against a variety of imaginative piano textures. In between the appearances of the ‘Rondo’ come contrasting episodes marked by flowing melodies, romantic and triumphant by turn.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 1996


Ireland: The complete music for violin and piano
CDA66853Archive Service


Movement 1: Allegro leggiadro
Movement 2: Romance: In tempo sostenuto, quasi adagio
Movement 3: Rondo: Allegro sciolto assai

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