Violin Sonata

Amy Beach

Violin Sonata in A minor

B157, Op. 34

About this work

A very fine concert pianist, Amy Marcy Cheney Beach's (or Mrs. H.H.A. Beach as she was also known) compositions are well within the traditional European vein, despite the fact that she was one of the first Americans fully trained in the United States. Unlike some of her contemporaries (Arthur Foote) and the next generation of composers (Arthur Farwell and Charles Ives) who started to incorporate folk songs and elements of African-American and Native American music, Beach was not interested in creating a nationalistic American style. Her work is close to Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, and Frédéric Chopin.

Along with her Gaelic Symphony, Quintet, and Mass in E flat, the Sonata for Piano and Violin is considered one of Beach's most important works. It was first performed in 1897 with the composer at the piano and violinist Franz Kniesel, concertmaster of the Boston Symphony. Comparisons with Brahms are inevitable: the music is autumnal, serious, and conceived within the "classical" four-movement sonata form with no descriptive titles or programmatic references (I. Allegro moderato, II. Scherzo: molto vivace, III. Largo con dolore, IV. Allegro con fuoco). This is pure music for music's sake. The two instruments are true partners, sharing the material in equal measure. Richly lyrical and emotional, Beach's sonata at times contains the same rhythmic ambiguity prevalent in Brahms.

The first movement starts with an ominous passage in octaves on the piano, setting a dark, somber tone. A second movement, light in mood, is a playful scherzo with a lovely contrasting middle section. An extended piano solo begins the highly emotional third movement. The final movement's momentum surges forward dramatically, with brief interludes of repose and one little "token" contrapuntal passage. This is music that impresses with its musicality and lyricism rather than with technical display. Anyone familiar with the violin sonatas of Brahms, Cesar Franck, and Schumann will find the neglect of this work inexplicable.