Iskender Savasir wrote:
>I am trying to explore the solo string literature pre- and post- dating
>the Bach solo sonatas- ...
Without quoting an endless series of fine works, here are some pieces
which I would certainly mention in the repertoire for my instrument (the
Peter Lundin made me discover Claude Loyola Allgen's solo violin sonata.
This is not for the faint-hearted. Its duration exceeds 100 minutes.
Allgen was a mystical artist but one should not expect Feldman's temporality
here. It is strong-willed counterpoint. Doubtless no mere eccentricity,
rather a significant achievement. Joar Skorpen is Allgen's main violin
performer. Grazyna Bacewicz, a virtuoso violinist *and* pianist, served
the violin in a most idiomatic way. Of her superbly crafted miniatures,
the Polish Caprice has become a repertoire item. The solo violin sonata
[No. 2, 1958] is likewise very straightforward, brilliant and effective.
Many Polish violonists have performed it.
Eduardas Balsys who, along with Julius Juzeliunas, played a vital role
when Lithuanian music was trying to escape realist-socialist stylistic
rules, composed three violin concerti but only had time to complete the
solo violin version of the Third. The result is a kind of neo-Baroque
partita with much dramatic intensity. Dante-Lys released an interesting
CD of Lithuanian music for solo violin performed by M. Svegzda von
Another eminent Lithuanian composer of the next generation, Vytautas
Barkauskas, is the author of an almost famous, terse Partita for solo
violin. Gidon Kremer has recorded it, as did Philippe Graffin recently
for Avie Records.
I have much fondness for Paul Ben-Haim's solo violin sonata (1960). The
outer movements are harsh and motoric, the slow movement very Oriental,
poetic, fragile, luminous. Look for Yehudi Menuhin's historic performance.
Ernest Bloch has already been mentioned. His late Suites Nos. 1 and 2
for solo violin are very moving and endearing.
Matija Bravnicar's violin sonata is a somewhat drier work than his violin
concerto, rather traditional in its structure, reminiscent of Bartok's
sonata but more linear, less monumental. It is nonetheless worthy of
interest and has probably been recorded by the composer's son, Dejan
Bravnicar, a former student of David F. Oistrakh.
Bjarne Brustad's Eventyr suite is wonderfully evocative. Terje Tonnesen
is a very persuasive performer. By the way, Brustad has also composed
some excellent pieces for solo viola.
Conductor Pavle Despalj, better known as a long-time advocate of Croatian
symphonic music, is a neo-Classical composer whose two Caprices for
violin, used as a compulsory piece at the Zagreb international violin
competition, are masterfully crafted and idiomatically written and
rewarding for the instrument.
I have yet to come to terms with Joseph Dorfman's Enchanted Klezmer, a
much more exacting piece than the title might lead to believe. It is
certainly worth investigating.
Sophie Eckhardt-Gramatte was a colourful and sympathetic figure. One
can listen to excerpts of her violin caprices on the website dedicated
to her achievements. Those are fanciful, whimsical, sometimes highly
Among the starker but powerful contemporary violin pieces, one should
mention Karolina Eiriksdottir's In vultu solis. A recording by the
dedicatee, Gudny Gudmundsdottir, is available on two CDs.
For Ferneyhough devotees, the Interludio alla Ciaccona (the score
is quite frightful to behold) is a must. I seem to recall that Irvine
Arditti recorded it.
Arditti definitely recorded Envoutements for solo violin by Suzanne
Giraud, undoubtedly one of France's most captivating contemporary
composers. The piece is built in circles. The fiddler has to malignly
bewitch an imaginary foe, or is it the listener.
I left out Walther Geiser's Metamorphoses, a late work which can remind
one of Hindemith but has meanwhile gained a greater fluidity and freedom
Alois Haba's pioneering work with microintervals hardly survived him.
His music will invariably make some cringe while others find its suppleness
and melismas fascinating. His solo violin sonata is no exception.
Cristobal Halffter's atonal sonata of 1959 is a landmark in his oeuvre
and possibly the best-known Spanish work for solo violin written after
1945. It has been published by Schott.
Arthur Honegger's solo violin sonata is almost forgotten, which is unfair.
The heritage of Bach is obvious, the style rather austere, linear but
quite endearing in its interiority. The finale is not so difficult but
Likewise, Andre Jolivet's very typical Suite rhapsodique has been
little performed by others than Devy Erlih, a former professor at
the Paris Conservatory and the composer's son-in-law. Fortunately the
recent Jolivet revival around the centenary of his birth led to further
performances. As usual, there is a ritualistic, mesmerizing quality in
Completely different stands the Prelude and Double Fugue by Thorarinn
Jonsson, a thoroughly neo-Baroque, even Baroque work, impressive in its
utter rigour and nobility.
Monologhi by Jurgis Juozapaitis, not to be confused with his elder brother
Vytautas, is an incantatory triptych, rather harsher than his florid
"Rex" symphony, a cosmic and luxuriant work which should be more widely
Talivaldis Kenins's Chaconne for solo violin is one of his rare pieces
based on an actual Latvian theme (also used in Vitols's Fantasia).
I have been reflecting on this work for several years and performed
it privately. The audience was spellbound and the piece, indeed, is
grippingly tragic, not so far from Symphony No. 6 "Ad Fugam" which is
arguably his most essential and a masterpiece of the late-20th century
Marzena Komsta is a vital, immensely energetic composer from Poland.
"Brun" is an ambitious, almost wild piece which digs deep into the dark
sides of the instrument. I look forward to performing it one day soon.
Uros Krek is one of the best living composers in a classical tradition.
His three impromptus are more "modern" as his deeply moving "Inventiones
ferales" for violin and orchestra but still very clearly, cleanly conceived
and expressively laid out.
Ljubica Maric, one of the few Serbian composers to have reached international
audiences, left an early Sonata-fantasia inspired by a vision of sunrise.
Her mature style is already recognizable without its brooding, Byzantine
undertones. An attractively rhapsodic piece, recorded by Julia Hartig
a few years ago.
Jean Martinon's Sonatina No. 5 has been one of the most performed modern
violin works in France, understandably so, since it is very effectively
written for the instrument. It might not reach the emotional depths of
the glorious Concerto No. 2 but still remains a sheer pleasure for the
Janez Maticic's Chants belong, together with Niculescu's Echos I, to a
stylistic period more typical of the 1970s - textural writing, eruptive
outbursts, intriguing, strong dramatic appeal.
I don't think that Carl Nielsen's Prelude & Theme with Variations,
as well as his Prelude and Presto, have already been mentioned in this
topic. Those belong to Nielsen's mature style (the latter work is the
most modern, in the vicinity of the clarinet concerto and the 6th symphony)
and they are two of the most intimidating works written for the violin
during the 20th century.
Boris Papandopulo's centenary is being commemorated this year. His
Monologue for violin is not one of his most immediately captivating
pieces but ought to be mentioned - a fine, effective achievement.
Moses Pergament, whose Jewish Song (a vast symphony with choirs) is
shamefully absent from the CD catalogue, left a Chaconne on the lines
of J.S. Bach's masterpiece, albeit entirely in minor tone. It is based
on the Kol Nidrei which does not easily allow variations in a major mode.
Gundaris Pone, one of the few Modernists of Latvian descent, revels in
virtuosic show-off with his "Di grand maniera", a kind of thoroughly
atonal answer to Paganini.
Franz Reizenstein, one of the most talented emigres in Britain's music,
left quite an impressive solo violin sonata which recalls Bartok and
Prokofiev with much flamboyance and expressive immediacy.
Joaquin Rodrigo's Capriccio for solo violin displays a much darker side
of his temper than the celebrated Concierto de Aranjuez and comes as
close as any to "duende" in a classical, Sarasate-inspired approach.
Hilding Rosenberg, a great symphonic arch bulider, also loved virtuosity,
as is illustrated in his masterful 2nd violin concerto. The three violin
sonatas are leaner, more sombre, pithy as always with Rosenberg and
interesting, not least in the fact that they span four decades from his
early Modernist, constructivist years to the more humanistic light of
the 1940s and 1950s and the astringent harmonies of his later period.
Marko Ruzdjak's Partita "la Gioconda" is no neo-Renaissance pastiche.
A serious work, harmonically uncompromising, it nevertheless plays with
ancient archetypes in a way which some might have termed "postmodern".
Claudio Santoro, whose hymnlike symphonies are being revived by BIS,
explored the paths of atonality as early as the 1940s (which is indeed
early in Latin America!). His solo violin sonata may thus surprise those
expecting something like Guarnieri's infectious vitality and colours.
Ahmet Adnan Saygun, whose symphonies rank along with the greatest masters
of the genre in the 20th century, wrote several substantial works for
the violin, not least the solo Partita, as usual a strongly rhythmic,
masterfully contrapunctal work.
While Erwin Schulhoff's later works in simplified, "Marxist" style are
not to everyone's taste, there is no doubting the eloquence of his best
music written in the 1920s. The solo violin sonata is wonderfully direct,
vital and captivating.
Roger Sessions's sonata is much tougher stuff, half an hour long and one
of the composer's first dodecaphonic works. He was very reluctant to
write such a piece but the result in one of the most powerful utterances
in our repertoire. By the way, if anyone here can direct me to a score,
I would be very grateful (Carl Fischer's in Chicago explained to me that
they did not have it and being the largest music store in the world, if
they did not have it, I would not find it anywhere - I just loved that
Nikos Skalkottas is another towering figure and his violin sonata is
hardly less demanding. He had an uncommon ability to bring strong
dramatic impact out of the most complex patterns and while a solo sonata
can hardly be as intricate as the Return of Ulysses symphony, the result
remains as amazing as ever.
Stravinsky's Elegy has not been mentioned. It might be more popular
among violists. Still, it is an important, if somewhat secret piece
in the violin repertoire.
Ton-That Tiet's Metal Terre Eau belongs to his cycle of pieces based
on the five Elements of Oriental philosophy. It is characteristically
eruptive, timeless. Maryvonne Le Dizes recorded performance is brilliant
but misses the point in my opinion, being much too linear and "temporal".
Karmella Tsepkolenko is an enthusiastic leader in Ukrainian contemporary
music and an ambitious, prolific composer. Several striking pieces for
solo violin can be found in the CD-Roms published by the Association New
Music in Odesa.
Eduard Tubin's solo violin sonata follows in the footsteps of Bartok
and Bloch. I find it less immediately convincing as his 2nd sonata for
violin and piano. Still, it remains pure Tubin, which means important,
Joseph Vella is another composer strongly rooted in tradition, that of
Hindemith, Berg or Britten. His violin works display the same eloquence
as his orchestral music, deeply serious, balanced, translucid.
Sandor Veress is regarded as many as Hungary's most essential composer
in the generation after Bartok. Few postwar symphonies are as concentrated
as his Minneapolitana and the same can be said of his violin works, among
which the solo violin sonata is particularly concise and accomplished.
Egon Wellesz composed a huge violin concerto at about the same time as
the 5th symphony. His violin sonatas are much earlier but hardly bear
any sign of his contemporary work on Byzantine music and richly ornamented
operas. They are uncompromising 1920s Viennese stuff, epxressionistic,
very well written for that matter.
In contrast, Bernd Aloys Zimmermann's solo violin sonata dates from the
same period as his violin concerto. It is a technically demanding work,
virtuosic but not very flattering, very muscular and urgent.
I am of course well aware that my list, albeit long, leaves out some
potentially important works which I do not know as yet (by Vainberg,
Guerrero and others). Any additional comments would be very welcome
as far as I am concerned!