About this work
In contrast to his first violin sonata, the Deuxième sonate pour violon et piano (Second Sonata for Violin and Piano), though also in four movements, is only about half as long. Harmonically it is much more advanced, with quintal harmony and some polytonality. Written in Rio de Janeiro during May 1917, it was his first sonata to show the influence of Latin-American music. It is dedicated to the important French writer André Gide. The first movement, "Pastoral," is in sonata-allegro form. It opens with a theme of folk-like character, befitting the title. Milhaud's practice of using a different accompaniment for every repetition of a melody line is easily observable in this movement. Marked "Vif" (Fast), the second movement opens in a toccata-like vein, with the violin playing another folk-like melody. The second part of the movement utilizes polymeter, with the principal theme in augmentation. Although triadic harmony prevails, there is some use of polytonality. In the formal tradition of the three-part song form, the third movement, "Très lent" (Very Slow), is relatively quite brief. Mostly subdued, it has a rather pensive character. Melodically, it is based on a two-bar motive, which is repeated continuously in the first 16 bars. Finally a bona fide Latin-American rhythm appears, in a somewhat lengthy section in the development of the sonata-allegro last movement, "Très vif" (Very Fast). This is a rather noisy, showy movement, a wonderful contrast to the previous one, and of course, a guaranteed "crowd-pleaser." During the recapitulation, bitonal harmony emerges out of some parallel pandiatonic triads.
Milhaud himself was the violin soloist for the first performance at the Lycée français in Rio de Janeiro in 1917. His partner at the piano was the young Nininha Velloso-Guerra, wife of the composer Oswald Guerra. Her father was a piano teacher who enjoyed and promoted contemporary music. She herself was an excellent sight-reader, especially of newer music. The family became a beloved part of the Milhaud circle of friends.