Grand sonata

Niccolò Paganini

Grand sonata in A major

Op. 39, MS3, MS5625

About this work

While most of the works that Niccolò Paganini wrote for violin and guitar (including the 30 sonatas published during his lifetime as Op. 2, Op. 3, and the Centone di sonate) are brief, charming compositions in just two or perhaps three short movements, he did compose a pair of bulkier, more imposing vehicles for that instrumental duo. The Grand Sonata for guitar and violin in A major, MS 3 (posthumously printed as Op. 35) that Paganini penned around 1804 is one of those two weighty pieces (the Sonata Concertata, MS 2 is the other), and it pays to note that Paganini quite carefully and explicitly described these two works as being for "guitar and violin" rather than for "violin and guitar," as the rest of his sundry violin/guitar sonatas are marked (similarly, Beethoven and Brahms actually considered their substantial violin/piano sonatas to be works for "piano and violin"). Far from being a subordinate accompanist, the guitarist in the Grand Sonata is raised even past an equal level with the violin. To a large extent it is the sound of plucked strings and not bowed ones that drives and dominates the piece.

The Grand Sonata is in three movements (Allegro risoluto; Romance, Largo amorosamente; and Andantino variato) and fills about a quarter of an hour. Allegro risoluto is a real sonata-allegro opening movement, with two carefully balanced themes, a development, and a recapitulation, all in the positions one would anticipate. Paganini moves to the parallel minor for the following Romance; the traditional tables are truly turned on the violinist here, as he/she is asked to accompany the guitarist's sumptuously melancholic tune by plucking the strings of the violin! Although the movement is a slow one, the guitarist gets plenty of chances to provide impressive embellishments and indulge in some brief cadenzas. The scherzando third movement is intentionally cute; the light chromaticism at the start of the guitarist's melody and the slowly bouncing pizzicati of the violin are really quite disarming, and the subsequent variation-making is as playful as variation-making gets.