A Musical Companion: A Guide to the Understanding and Enjoyment of Music

By John Erskine | Go to book overview

PIANOFORTE AND VIOLIN SONATAS AND DUETS

CHAPTER I
THE CLASSICS

(a) BACH AND HANDEL

NOT MANY SONATAS for piano and violin of the pre- Mozart age have survived. There are some fine things by J. S. Bach and one sonata (in E major) that stands above all the others and represents his genius in the art of instrumental writing at its best. It consists of four movements--two slow, alternating with two lively sections. The allegros have a sparkle that is not found in the allegros of the violin concertos; nor is there any other single movement of his for violin in which slight, but effective, changes of melodic design are more happily exploited. The first Adagio, somewhat florid and elaborate, serves well the purpose of an introduction; the second equals the slow movements of the violin concertos in its exquisite tenderness of devotional expression.

Again, in Handel's sonatas for piano and violin one is found which overtops the rest. The Sonata in A major has no real slow movement, its place, between the two allegros, being taken by a recitative-like passage only five bars long. Short as it is, it fulfils its purpose perfectly. The change from the preceding movement is complete; the matter is so arresting that it takes away the mind entirely from all that went before it. The genius of Handel for dramatic expression, exemplified in the recitatives of Messiah, touches here its greatest height. After the bustling energy of the first movement he conjures up in a flash an atmosphere of tense expectation; in five bars he takes us to a tragic climax. When the last movement-- a chaste Allegro of enchanting beauty--comes to unravel the plot, we experience a feeling of positive relief. Both Allegro and Recitative lose their qualities when the pace of the one and the sentiment of

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