Violin Sonata

Francis Poulenc

Violin Sonata


About this work

Francis Poulenc's Sonata for violin and piano was composed during 1942 and 1943 while his country was at war and its dedication is to the memory of a victim of a then-recent foreign conflict: Federico Garcia Lorca, the poet, who was slain during the Spanish Civil War. In these circumstances, even this most delightful of composers acquired a harder edge, as displayed immediately in the Allegro con fuoco first movement with a dark, jagged opening theme on the violin and percussive support on the piano. This theme, reminiscent of Poulenc's friend and model Igor Stravinsky, dominates the movement, providing the basis for both the quieter, melancholic passages, as well as further eruptions of rage. Emotions become more extreme as the movement goes on before it closes on an unexpected major chord. Tentative, repeated chords in the piano open the second movement, an "Intermezzo tres lent et calme"; the violin first enters with a pizzicato accompaniment reminiscent of guitar-plucking, then takes a short, pregnant lyrical phrase. Soon, these elements build up into a rapturous melodic interlude, with the violin's phrasing often recalling Spanish song in the work's only obvious reference to its dedicatee. After the lyrical rapture has risen and fallen, the piano enters with angular, unsettled chords that lead into an astringently harmonized violin melody; the movement ends on a weird, unresolved glissando, leading into a Presto tragico third movement that brings back the fire of the first. This soon yields to happier melodies, which the violin initially fights with furious fiddling but eventually joins. After the rush leads each instrument to an exposed solo, however, their energy seems spent, the tempo slows to Strictement le double plus lent, and the mood becomes funereal; an odd coda appears to end on an inappropriate smirk, but undercuts that with one last angry outburst.