Violin Sonatas, etc.
November 9, 2018 1:00 AM   Subscribe

Mozart wrote three dozen of the things; Beethoven composed ten; Charles Swann was obsessed with M. Vinteuil’s. The violin sonata (and is cousins featuring the viola, or the cello, or, much less often, the double bass) is a commonplace of the classical repertoire: below the fold you’ll find links to more of them than you’ll have time to listen to. For those in a hurry, try investing 6½ of your minutes on the finale of the Violin Sonata in A major by César Franck.

All links are to recordings or performances of music on YouTube.
posted by misteraitch (19 comments total) 74 users marked this as a favorite

The Brahms no. 3 is wonderful, for anyone who hasn't heard it.
posted by rory at 1:09 AM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Absolutely love this, especially the chronological ordering. Will be going through these over the next few days. Thanks!
posted by Dysk at 2:03 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oooh, I like this, possibly just as much as your earlier FPP on piano quintets and other music collection posts (always posted on the 9th of the month, hmmm).
posted by Harald74 at 3:17 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Guess what I'm doing this evening?

Thank you so much for posting this wonderful music.
posted by james33 at 3:28 AM on November 9, 2018

I appreciate the post and your efforts--definitely a keeper.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:39 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

A smidge embarrassed that there are a few composer new to me, will need to work through this list. The Franck Sonata is one work of art that is just about as perfect as imaginable, utterly sublime. For the violinphobic flautists often transcribe, or even omg Sax (surprisingly lovely)
posted by sammyo at 4:44 AM on November 9, 2018

Thank you for posting this! The Franck sonata is one of my favourites, and is also lovely in the transcription for cello
posted by tsuipen at 6:23 AM on November 9, 2018

Wow!! Thanks for taking the effort to put in all those women in there as well.

I notice you started from the classical era, but I want to plug some baroque ones as well (all violin & continuo). La Folia's probably Corelli's most famous one but my favourites are the G minor and the A major. They're healing to listen to but even more so to play. Bach (JS) wrote some incredibly precious ones too.

I've not heard either of those bass sonatas before- when I've heard basses do sonatas it's often 'stolen rep' (repertoire rearranged from rep of other instruments due to a lack in own instrument- usu by basses and violas) like Schubert's Arpeggione (another lower instrument staple) or the Franck sonata (often referred to by players as 'the Frank Sinatra'), which is the queen of stolen repertoire. I've heard it on a lot of instruments (mostly cello/violin/flute), though given the smoky tone needed for the first movement it probably wouldn't be adequately expressed by say, a kazoo (or, well, by your average kazoo).

I hope you don't mind me recommending two other 20Cs: the Walton violin sonata and the Milhaud (what I think of 'gentle Milhaud', as contrasted with 'raucous Milhaud'. If you're normally put off by Milhaud this might convert you. It's incredibly pretty.)

It's interesting seeing them put in order of composition because I hadn't realised I'd categorised the eras and the composers so disparately, but of course they co-exist and overlap. In my head Debussy's a solidly 19th C composer that existed in a totally different time-space as say, Stravinsky, but thinking logically of course they would have been alive and composing at the same time, it's just that what they're known for are the first thing I think about them (impressionist era vs free tonality/atonality modernism era). And I didn't realise the Shostakovich was written as late as 1968 because I knew it was dedicated to and premiered by Oistrakh, but I've only ever seen the two in black and white footage and in my mind media was generally in colour by then or something?? I also had in my mind that Gubaidulina was a 'contemporary' composer because while she started becoming famous around the 90s it's only in the last few years with the 'there's more to [art/books/music/etc] than dead white men' movement that her name's spread to the general consciousness/general orchestral programming. I just learnt that Shostakovich was an examiner in her final exams! (and that she was in trouble for being too experimental in Soviet Russia but Shostakovich encouraged her to keep doing her thing).

I haven't heard of Dora Pejačević but that's a lovely tune. Again with the overlap- Rite of Spring was written in the same year, but the two are of completely different movements.

I sometimes think of taking violin back up again to get to play the free/squiggly notations in that Schnittke violin sonata.

For the violinphobic flautists often transcribe, or even omg Sax (surprisingly lovely)
Someone recorded the Glass on saxophone a few years back as well!
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were at 6:25 AM on November 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

I also noted and applaud the inclusion of a significant number of women in the list.
I'm working through them today and really appreciate the work you've done here.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:30 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

For the violinphobic flautists often transcribe

I can't imagine that! Here are the two timbres the flute is capable of:
1. Flutey.
2. Extra flutey.
posted by thelonius at 6:42 AM on November 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

An excellent post, as usual, thanks!
posted by gusottertrout at 7:17 AM on November 9, 2018

Just now I'm listening to the soundtrack to the Capcom game Okami, which is inspired by traditional Japanese music, but as soon as that's done I'll get started on this list.
posted by Gelatin at 7:19 AM on November 9, 2018

Fantastic post. Thank you!
posted by twilightlost at 7:28 AM on November 9, 2018

Though not a sonata (it's written for violin alone), I think that the last movement from Bach's Partita No. 2, the very famous chaconne merits inclusion here. About this particular movement, Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann:
The Chaconne is for me one of the most wonderful, incomprehensible pieces of music. On a single staff, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and the most powerful feelings. If I were to imagine how I might have made, conceived the piece, I know for certain that the overwhelming excitement and awe would have driven me mad.
Also, though short (we have so little music from her, after all), enjoy Lili Boulanger's Nocturne for Violin and Piano.
To add a few more recent pieces to this wonderful post (not all sonatas--pieces for solo instrument and keyboard--are titled 'sonata'):

John Adams, Road Movies
John Corigliano, Violin Sonata (also terrific piece for violin alone, the Red Violin Caprices)
George Crumb, Nocturne for Solo Violin and Prepared Piano
Bright Sheng, A Night at the Chinese Opera
Steven Stucky, Sonata for Violin and Piano
Eugene Ysaye, Sonata No. 3 for Solo Violin

Last thought, a quick reply to this comment:

In my head Debussy's a solidly 19th C composer that existed in a totally different time-space as say, Stravinsky, but thinking logically of course they would have been alive and composing at the same time, it's just that what they're known for are the first thing I think about them (impressionist era vs free tonality/atonality modernism era).

"The century of airplanes has a right to its own music," - Debussy

La Mer premiered in 1905, the same year that Einstein published the article "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" (containing his special theory of relativity), and was as tectonic within the musical world as Einstein's ideas were within the scientific one. Debussy is a significant and influential early Modernist composer, and is not really a late Romantic at all. Also, Stravinsky didn't really write atonal or pitch-serialized music until 1954 (!), during his third ('Serial') period as a composer. More contemporary with Debussy would be Stravinsky's ballets, and one of his most significant Neoclassical pieces is the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, from 1920 and dedicated to the memory of Debussy (one of Stravinsky's best pieces, IMHO).

Claude Debussy was a barn-storming, door-busting kind of creative game-changer as an early Modernist composer, but the delicate, often gentle and always finely-wrought nature of his music kind of belies that. But his influence throughout the 20th century is very evident and quite deep.

(E.g., "The Incalculable Influence of Debussy," or "Influence: Debussy and Coltrane," and etc.)
posted by LooseFilter at 8:29 AM on November 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

I have the great good fortune to be married to a violinist, and to have heard/seen him perform the Franck on numerous occasions. He's played lots of others on this list, too, but I think the Franck is my favourite. Thank you for this wonderful, wonderful list.
posted by angiep at 8:29 AM on November 9, 2018

Great post! Beethoven's 'Kreutzer' sonata is a wild ride that I would urge on anyone.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 8:53 AM on November 9, 2018

Most excellent! Thank you, Mr. H.
posted by rmmcclay at 7:24 PM on November 9, 2018

Sofia Gubaidulina - Double Bass Sonata (1975). - The double bass one is astonishing, got me right in the sternum.
posted by h00py at 10:09 PM on November 9, 2018

György Ligeti's sonata for solo viola (1991–94) and his early sonata for solo cello (1948–53).

And it may be gauche to mention in a sonata thread, but his 1993 violin concerto is not to be missed.
posted by mubba at 9:53 AM on November 10, 2018

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