About this work
To hear the First and Second Violin Sonatas together is to comprehend how astoundingly far Fauré traveled, as man and artist, in the 40 years between them. Where the popular First is all lyric charm, the neglected Second is an extenuation -- subtle, elliptical, elusive -- as formally and emotionally complex as a late tale by Henry James. Tellingly, it was begun in the turbulent summer of 1916 and completed by year's end.
The first movement (Allegro non troppo) opens with a peremptorily syncopated motif, followed by an anxiously wavering melodic tendril above the staff; this settles into the anxious, contrapuntally involved second subject. The liberties taken with sonata form -- an exposition repeated four times with expanding enrichments -- is offset by a dramatic tautness in whose toils E minor is transmuted into a brilliantly agitated E major. In its restless compulsiveness, this movement may be seen as a statement on the nerve-wracking envelopement of France in the horrific grip of the Great War -- with Fauré's own younger son, Philippe, away at the front.
The great central Andante salvages a long-breathed, hesitant theme from the discarded Symphony in D minor of 1884, met by a consoling espressivo melody that mutes the anxiety of the modulations in the previous movement without wholly eliminating their feeling. Likewise, the Allegro non troppo rondo finale broaches an engagingly winsome refrain which comes all too soon to modulatory grief in its interleaving play; this is all deftly managed, but -- even with its brilliant major resolution -- like happiness mimicked, or a welcoming smile flickering into a disturbing grimace.
If the First Violin Sonata is entrancing, the Second is arresting, and in it Fauré's art is at its simplest and most masterful, recalling lines from the beginning of Rilke's Duino Elegies -- "Beauty's nothing / but beginning of Terror we're still just able to bear...."
The Sonata was first heard at a concert of the Société Nationale de Musique, November 10, 1917, with Lucien Capet on violin, accompanied by Alfred Cortot. It is dedicated to "Her Majesty Elisabeth, Queen of the Belgians," herself a fine violinist.