Duet: And Two to Carry Your Soul Away Page 3
In choosing the works on this recording, I turned to a musical period I find ceaselessly fascinating—the years between the two World Wars. They were a fertile time for all the creative arts in Europe and the United States, and composers flourished with particular expressiveness, moved in part by the devastation in so many societies. In this selection, I have focused on two Eastern European countries: Czechoslovakia (as it was then) and Rumania. The three composers represented have distinct styles and musical languages, yet they communicate in common a heartfelt nationalistic sentiment.
All three works are close to my heart; Diane Walsh and I have loved and performed them for many years. We hope the listener will appreciate the creative range of these composers, all writing within a span of five years and in close physical proximity, yet each in his unique voice.
Leos Janácek (1854-1928) Sonata for Violin & Piano (1921): Leos Janácek completed his only sonata for violin and piano in 1921. The premiere took place in his hometown of Brno, Moravia, the following year. Janácek is an exception to the familiar example of the prodigy composer in that he wrote nearly all his major works in the last 15 years of his life. This was also when he achieved a degree of fame and some financial success. It is generally agreed that this burst of composition from an established organ-school director, music journalist, and Slavic folk historian was inspired by his love for a much younger, married woman named Kamila Stösslová. It seems unlikely that the relationship was ever consummated, or even reciprocated beyond friendship; still, Stösslová became Janácek's muse, the force behind all his major works.
Janácek was 67 when he wrote the violin sonata, and most conscious of his beloved country's precarious political situation. Any relief following the end of World War I was offset by concerns over an impending Russian invasion. In this sonata, Janácek expresses his fears for his people: the opening and close of the last movement represent artillery fire against a peaceful bucolic background; the moods of the first movement are of worry and apprehension; and in the third movement, a jaunty folk dance is marred by violent chromatic bursts.
It is only in the slow second movement, Ballada (originally published in 1915 as a separate piece), that Janácek's romantic soul comes forth, evoking lovemaking and his beloved Kamila. Janácek wrote in a unique musical way. Rather than mimic the human singing voice, he found inspiration in the sounds of daily life—people chatting, animal sounds, industrial noises, cafe clatter—which made for a pungent directness and unusual musical realism.
Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) Sonata for Violin (1926): In 1926, when Erwin Schulhoff composed his solo violin sonata, the 32-year-old Jewish Czech composer was a talented artist still establishing his career. He had studied with Reger and Debussy and was moving toward all contemporary idioms, from impressionism and folk music to jazz.
A devotee of modern music, in 1933 Schulhoff participated in the International Congress of Revolutionary Musicians in Moscow, and soon became a member of the Communist Party. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union granted him citizenship for protection; nonetheless, when the Nazis entered Russia in 1941 he was soon arrested. He died of typhus the following year in the Bavarian concentration camp at Wülzbourg, his promise unfulfilled.
Unlike his later works, which reflect the anguish that would torment his life, this early sonata is a sunny, rustic work. The influence of folk music and country fiddle technique is readily apparent throughout. The first movement is a perpetual-motion con fuoco, while the slow movement is lyrical and written in circular form around a recurrent, syncopated motive. The third movement is more fiddle than violin, with much use made of open strings, left-hand pizzicato, and other effects, all producing a lighthearted dance. A more powerful, rhythmically driven dance brings the work to a close.
Schulhoff's output was long forgotten and mislaid in the chaos of World War II, and was rediscovered only in the 1980s. This work is a much-needed and delightful addition to the slim repertoire of solo violin works.
George Enescu (1881-1955) Sonata No.3 for Violin & Piano, Op.25 (1926): Also in 1926, George Enescu was dividing his time between his native Rumania and Paris, and enjoying success as one of the great violinists of the 20th century. He was an accomplished composer, pianist, and conductor as well. At the age of 45 he set about writing his third and final sonata for violin and piano. The earlier sonatas are rather unsophisticated works, but in the third Enescu took an enormous leap, fusing improvisation on folk themes with advanced 20th-century composition, with captivating results. From the opening bars, in which the piano's meandering theme is juxtaposed with a free embellishment in the violin, the work emerges as a rhapsodic fantasy. Kinetic dance rhythms and seemingly spontaneous cadenzas converge, all within traditional sonata form.
The sonata's subtitle, "In the Popular Rumanian Style," reflects the composer's affection for his native ethnic music. As a supremely accomplished violinist, he made full use of the range of special effects possible on the instrument. Quarter tones, harmonics, and much portamento appear throughout. The first movement is a melancholic, gypsylike ramble with plangent tunes and dramatic climaxes that dissolve into thin air. The slow second movement, marked misterioso, opens and closes with an insistent quintuple rhythm in the piano, over which the violin plays a haunting melody in harmonics. In the middle, a playful triple-meter section gives way to a deeply passionate and forceful restatement of the strange melodies that open the movement. The last movement is a steady dance interrupted by gypsy cadenzas and cimbalom effects in the piano. (This hammer-dulcimer-like sound also appears in the first movement of the Janácek.) After an intense buildup, the piece extinguishes itself with a virtual shriek of excitement.
Diane Walsh and I once had the treat of hearing a record of Enescu himself playing this sonata with his godson, the young Dinu Lipatti. It was quite unforgettable and set in motion our own adventures with the piece, which we are delighted to record here.