Violin Sonata No.2

Camille Saint-Saëns

Violin Sonata No.2 in Eb major

Op. 102

About this work

This well-crafted, elegant, and optimistic sonata is an example of what might be called "other pieces." It is the "other" violin sonata by Charles Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921). The composer's Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75 (1885), is a major part of the standard violin repertory, but this work, while not showing a decline in imagination or skill, never engaged the public or the community of violinists to anywhere near the degree of its companion piece.

The reason probably has to do with the emotional qualities of the melodies of the two sonatas. The first sonata begins with touchingly melancholy themes, while in this one the composer sought a tone that set it apart from the First Sonata, and eschewed the heart-touching quality of the first sonata.

Perhaps it was the identity of the intended soloist, Pablo de Sarasate. The Spanish violinist was the major master of his instrument on the Paris stages at the time, and had an outgoing, muscular personality and a reputation for brilliance. Furthermore, Saint-Saëns wrote this sonata for an occasion that was predisposed to engender the sense of self-satisfaction that this writer finds in the work, for the 1892 concert where Sarasate and the composer debuted it in the prestigious Salle Pleyel a commemorative event honoring the fiftieth anniversary of his debut as a composer.

The sonata shows Saint-Saëns leaving behind some of the Wagnerian influences that were a mildly important part of his style earlier, and also a switch to a more neo-Classical orientation. The piano writing in the sonata is leaner and more melodically based than earlier.

The sonata is in four movements totaling a little over 21 minutes. The first movement is marked Poco allegretto più tosto moderato. It is in the established sonata-allegro form, with two main themes. Both of them are striding and energetic, but the second has a less "masculine" profile. Saint-Saëns initially directs that this theme be presented dolce (sweetly), but later on the roles of the two themes exchange: In the recapitulation the first theme is given to the piano, in octaves, while the second theme re-establishes the main tonality and is played on violin with the outgoing forcefulness that originally invested the first subject. By recapitulating both main themes simultaneously, Saint-Saëns makes the recapitulation more concise and less predictable to the audience.

The second movement is marked Scherzo-Vivace. The ebullient main section contrasts with a slower middle section. The whole movement is marked by adroit interchanges between the violin and the piano.

The Andante third movement is tranquil at the beginning, and contains the sonata's most expressive theme. Once again there is a contrasting central section, and here a scherzo-like mood reappears.

The finale, Allegro grazioso, non presto is in a bi-thematic rondo form. Its refrains and episodes amount to sections that alternate, each developing a separate theme until the very last section where, predictably, they sound simultaneously. The music is bright and classical in tone.