AND THE VIOLA
The choice of an instrumental timbre is more a question of chosen afrinity than efficiency. In his "Grand Traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration" (1843), Berlioz develops a complete semantic of tones and effects. He praises particularly the evocative power of medium-range instruments (viola, viola d'amore, cor anglais, part of the register of the clarinet). Of the viola, he praises "the timbre which attracts and holds the attention", ils "obvions expressive qualities", its .~moving overtones" at high pitch, and "ils general tone of deep melancholy". Emerging, at last, from its collective role, even if Bach, Mozart or Schubert were already using this irreplaceable median voice when they interpreted their own chamber works, the solo viola was beginning to acquire its signs of nobility.
Schumann, who wrote a long commnientary on the "Symphonie Fantastique" and who met Berlioz in Leipzig in 1843 - year of the completion of the "Traité"- had in common with the Frenchman the sensitive perception of the melancholy which is inherent in the veiled and intimate tone of the viola. Later, Brahms was to create the wonderful "Zwei Gesânge" for contralto, alto and piano. There is a paradox in that the three sonatas discussed here are not original works for the viola, but a barely modified borrowing from a piece for violin (Schumann) and an alternative of a version for the clarinet (Brahms). In these two cases there is no betrayal and no loss, but on the contrary, a bringing out in the open of the true colour of these magniricent sonatas.
Schumann: Sonata op.105
in A minor (1851)
Il bas often been said that the framework of Schumann's works for piano remained in the middle register of the instrument. When bc started producing orchestral and chamber music, one noticed that his violin pieces were often lowpitched, frequently using the 4th cord, and that many a theme, warm yet sombre, were reminiscent of the viola range. Besides, Schumann was secretly fond of the viola: is it not the "innere Stimme", the inner voice to like something, the very voice of his imagination in the legendary works of the "Mârchenbilder" for viola and piano and of the "Mârchenerzahlungen" for clarinet, viola and piano ?
In 1851, the year of the Mârchenbilder, now Music Master of Düsseldorf, Schumann composed several works for his first violin and Konzertmeister, Joseph von Wasielewski, among which are the two sonatas for violin. But it is the famous Ferdinand David, first violin and Konzertmeister of the Gewandhaus of Leipzig, who was to make possible, with Clara Schumann, the creation of the "Première Sonate" op. 105, on 21st March 1852 in Leipzig. As a reward, the "Deuxième Sonate" op. 121, was dedicated to him. Soon, Schumann was working with Ruppert Becker, the new Konzertmeister of Düsseldorf, and the wonderful Joseph Joachim for whom he was to compose a "Fantaisie" and a "Concerto", as the same time as he worked on piano arrangements for Bach's and Paganini's masterpieces for solo violin. This shows to what extent this pianist, married to one of the greatest pianist of the century, fell in love with the violin and the strings in his last creative years.
| In only three movements,
in these double nostalgic overtones of A minor - F major
- A minor (the very ones of the Concertos for piano and
cello), which became every day more essential to the
composer, the Sonata op. 105 possesses this eloquence, at
the same time reserved and passionate, coloured by the
moving Volkston (popular tone), which is also found in
the Pieces for Cello op.102, in the same tonal prism.
Harassed by illness, overwhelmed by work, Schumann found
more and more often in legendary works an escapism from
the harsh reality, as if it were a return to the dawn of
civilisation. Since his youth, and even more now that bc
had a large family, the "Mârchen" represented
for him a haven of peace, the regenerative spring of the
"holy German art". Therefore, it is not
surprising that the Sonata in A minor remains
deliberately in the style of this new legendary chamber
music, of which only Schumann held the secret. In spite
of the sonata terni of the external movements, the
composer plays tenderly with assymetric forms. with the
poetic force of memorv (recurrent themes in a particulac
mouvement, repeat of the initial tune in the finale,
anticipation-reminder of the central major in the two
extreme movements) and with a "passionate
expression" ("Mit Leidenschaftlichem
Ausdruck", or a more vigorous one
In all his chamber works related to the "Mârchen" or the "Phantasie", Schumann allows varions instrumental creations. It is not the case in his sonatas, but the transfer seems, nevertheless, easy and acceptable. Without any transposition, thus without altering the tonality so typical to Schumann, the change from the violon to the viola only needs te transfer a few sharp notes to the low octave. The main difference is that the musician plays on the third string (medium register for the viola) the sombre passages that Schumann intended to be played on the fourth string (low register) of the violin. This adaptation perhaps even contributes to increase the melancholy inherent in his work.
Brahms: Sonatas op. 120 no 1 in F minor and no 2 in E flat major(1894)
When it was time for young Brahms to take up the torch, Schumann advised him to immerse himself in classicism. And so lie did, producing a rich repertory of sonatas for piano, both for chamber and orchestral music. But eager reader of nordic sagas, germanic legends, with a passion for popular poetry, Brahms, as Schumann, does net limit himself to this apparent classicism. He lets the Volkston which run through many lieder and Klavierstucke burst from the depths of his imagination into his most vast and ambitions works.
As with Schumann's Opus 105, Brahms' two Sonatas op.120 belong te his last creative period, just before the "Quatre chants sérieux" op.121 and the posthumous "Préludes de choral" for organ op.122. They belong to the works which, since the 2nd String Quintet op.111, can be considered as codicils to the main work already achieved. In 1891, Brahms had written his will and put an end te his musical composition. However, as for Mozart and Weber before him, meeting with an exceptional clarinetist, Richard Muhlfeld in this case, gave him the desire te write for this instrument, and even sparked the irrepressible need te compose again (Trio op.114, Quintet op. 115). Hence the importance of this Opus 120, played in public for the rirst time in Vienna in January 1895, as one can guess that Brahms would net have broken his silence if lie had not have something exceptional to say.
However, at first glance, there was nothing new in these last works of chamber music, in three or four movements, according to classic Italian criteria. But it romains to be said that, in the most natural way, these two sonatas go bevond any previous achievement. Strudure, texture and poetic vein seent to blend into a bewitching harmonious whole, which in ils complex simplicity, ils quiet melancholy, ils endless melodious quality is perfectly suited te the viola. Those who may think that the clarinet is irreplaceable must know that Brahms himself proposed this alternative (with the addition of a few double strings). In his string quimets and sextets, the double lotte of the viola already played a prominent role.
Our romande bards were right to favour the viola, with ils sombre tones, ils power of elegiac or epic recollection, and to entrust it with their narration of tales, their perpetual song, even if il were under the pretence of a sonata. Te follow their direction te enlarge the repertoire, therefore, does net mean te betray them. On the contrary. Even more beautiful than is commonly accepted, as if they were drawn front an inner contemplation, Schumann's and Brahms' sonatas turn the listener into a friend, the confidant whose understanding is essential to give any German romantic creation ils authentic meaning: that of an artistic communion. The viola is the perfect instrument to do this.
(Translation: Sylvie Roberts)