Jan??ek Violin Sonata

  1. Con moto
  2. Ballada: Con moto
  3. Allegretto
  4. Adagio

Like many of his countrymen composers, Jan??ek was fascinated by the raw and immediate emotional intensity of traditional folk music. He became an avid ethnomusicologist and was particularly interested in the speech patterns of native dialects around Moravia. His music shares this raw, blunt and brutal intensity, suddenly shifting from one emotion to the extreme opposite without warning or preparation. The Violin Sonata was started around the outbreak of war in 1914 but it did not appear in print, nor was it completed in its final incarnation until 1922. It was a period of interest in chamber music for Jan??ek, he started a (now lost) piano trio in 1908 which would later morph into the basis of his first quartet (Kreutzer Sonata) in 1922, Fairy tale for cello and piano was completed in 1910 and In the mists for piano solo appeared in 1912.

Jan??ek observed “…in the 1914 Sonata for violin and piano I could just about hear sound of the steel clashing in my troubled head?” and indeed much of the piece seems to be a struggle between violent outbursts and beautiful, folk-inspired themes. After an impassioned opening figure in the solo violin, the theme that follows is largely disturbed by the aggressive, clanging, fortissimo tremolo in the piano chords. Curiously the dynamic in the piano part is marked above that of the violin, perhaps reflecting the inescapable intrusion of the violence of war on rural life. Although themes do return in the first movement, the piece is very free in terms of structure with a sense of almost continual development. Perhaps in deference to his beloved folk music no figure is repeated without variation of expression, giving the music a realism that enhances the unease. The violence does recede for moments of calm, particularly in the second movement where the music is left in a reflective, mournful, almost ethereal state. The darkness is never far away though, and the tension builds to excruciating outpourings of anguish and grief. It is in the third movement where it is easiest to understand Jan??ek’s observation about clashing steel: Again using a folk-inspired melody the extreme of dynamic, hurtling descending scales and frantic trills vividly capture the chaos and violence of war and particularly the consequences for the innocent. Only during the last movement does the mood settle for any length of time. There remains an unease in the juxtaposion violent figures and calm sorrowful harmonies but there is a sense that the characters slowly unify, building the intensity of grief and sorrow. The piece is relentless in its sombre mood only truly releasing the tension with four muffled sobs in the violin at the very end.

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