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Andrew Sords

Mozart, Grieg, and Franck Program notes

May 1, 2007 at 9:42 PM

Today, there are nineteen standard sonatas for "piano and violin" left by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Eighteen of them are straightforward, classical in nature, and each in a major key. The lone sonata written in minor, his e minor K. 304, was composed under somber circumstances.
During the concert season of 1777-1778, Mozart was engaged to play a tour of Paris with his sister, premiering many of his earlier violin sonatas, and certainly playing at least one of his concerti (composed about three years prior). His K. 301-306 sonatas are now referred to as his Paris-Mannheim sonatas, and commence a new chapter in his maturity. During this tour, Mozart's mother, Anna Maria Pertl, actually was reported to have accompanied her children, even though she was not recognized for her abilities. In July of 1778, Frau Mozart died of fever, and Mozart immediately set to work composing this sonata for he and sister Maria Anna "Nannerl" to play, and thus this sonata is very significant in Mozart's maturing from adolescence to adulthood. Though the two movements (Allegro and Tempo di Menuetto) are quite clearly classical in form, the somberness and melancholic feelings pervading the work had rarely been heard from by the talented composer, and certainly would not appear in his violin catalogue until the second movement of his Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola a year later.

This sonata has special significance for me as well. The first weekend in April 2005, I was to play two recitals, each opening with the Mozart e minor. The day of the first recital, I learned of my grandfather's passing. Each recital, I dedicated this sonata to his memory, and since then I have had a personal connection with this work.

The c minor sonata by Edvard Grieg, Op. 45 (1843-1907) remains the most popular of his three sonatas, and was completed while Grieg was residing in Troldhaugen, Norway. Occupying a standard place in the violin repertoire, this sonata has memorable themes, a sense of drama throughout, and shows off the instrument well. Written in c minor, a key well remembered for heroicism (Beethoven Sonata Op. 30 No. 2, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, the second movement of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony), there is a sense of virility and conquest in the opening movement. There is a feeling of uneasiness and nervousness, as portrayed by the consistent syncopations. The second movement, opening eerily like a contemporary pop ballad, has a gorgeous theme in E major, and a rustic secondary theme that hints at the playful. The Finale opens with a Nordic theme, emphasizing the interval of the fifth throughout, and is demanding of both instruments. I became quickly enamored with the piece after hearing the energetic Leila Josefowicz perform it, and programmatically, the sonata usually fits very well.

Last summer, I was asked to play the Franck A major sonata on very short notice. Never having played this work before, as I held a great deal of reverence and awe for its emotional range and reputation as a pinnacle of the repertoire, I approached it with trepidation. After a couple days of stalling and avoiding the work at all costs, I turned to an invaluable aid: Anita Pontremoli. I had already worked on many concerti and sonatas with Anita, and learned so much each time. Patiently, she worked through the sonata with me over the course of a week, and we have since performed it a couple of times. It is with a great deal of gratitude that I culminate my senior recital by collaborating with Anita on the Cesar Franck Sonata.

Cesar Franck (1822-1890) was born in Liege, Belgium (not France, as so many will state), to German parents who coerced him into a piano career. Befriending the Olympian-talented (and sized) violinist Eugene Ysaye, this sonata was written for his wedding. Like Ysaye’s six Op. 27 unaccompanied violin sonatas, the Franck sonata has a feeling of rhythmic flexibility, and is clearly written with the violinist in mind. A autobiographical sense surrounds this work, with the leisurely, innocent opening movement representing youth; a hormonal, highly-charged second movement as young adulthood; the Recitativo-Fantasia movement representing older age and reflection; and the final Allegro (in a canon between the two instruments) looking back on a life well-lived. I never tire of this sonata, and though it is rather emotionally draining, I am honored to share the stage with Anita Pontremoli for its duration.

A special thanks to Pi-Ju Chiang for her willingness to rehearse and collaborate; to Linda Cerone and David Russell for reining me in and helping this recital come together; to Charlie Tyler for relentlessly (albeit sometimes reluctantly) lending a pair of ears to this learning process; to Virginia Weckstrom, for listening to so much collaborative rep over the years; to Anita Pontremoli, for an exorbitant amount of hours of help and collaboration; and to my family, for always coming to this soirees.

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