Columbia Music Performance Program – César Franck’s Violin Sonata

Columbia University Students Luca Sakon (violin) and William Tang (piano) perform the Violin Sonata by César Franck (1822-1890).

– Allegretto ben moderato
– Allegro
– Ben moderato: Recitativo-Fantasia
– Allegretto poco mosso

Notes on the programme:
Franck’s Violin Sonata was written in 1886 as a wedding gift for violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. Having received the sonata the morning of his wedding, Ysaÿe and his pianist, Bordes-Pene, promptly rehearsed and performed it at the wedding. After the first public performance, the sonata quickly became one of the pillars of chamber music.
The sonata begins with a piano introduction that establishes the overarching motif of the entire work. The first movement is idyllic, and works its way to two fiery climaxes. Throughout the movement, you will hear precursors to the French impressionist harmonic language. The turbulent second movement contains much of the emotional breadth and depth of the work. The impetuous theme is contrasted with snippets of extremely song-like melodies and interrupted with an ominous calm in the middle. Finally, the movement ends with an exhilaratingly virtuosic display.
The third movement is most unusual in form for its time. It begins with an altered version of the opening piano line, followed by an improvisatory cello solo. As the themes develop, this improvisatory format is maintained throughout. The fourth movement features a sweet melody introduced in canonic imitation. It quickly becomes tempestuous, modulating to wildly foreign keys in close succession before finally recapitulating and ending with a triumphant statement of the theme.
There are many thematic connections between the movements. The piano introduction in the first and third movements are similar in their construction, both featuring ascending thirds that serve as crucial building blocks of the piece. Be sure to listen for the interplay of the chromaticism in the second and third movements. The changes between minor and major seconds often mark the most striking inflections in harmony. In addition to these recurring melodic contours, the third and fourth movements explicitly share two melodies in common, which firmly solidifies the cyclical framework of the piece.
— Brian Kuo