My Program Notes for Shostakovich’s Sonata for Violin & Piano

Op.134 from my Recital on January 9th, 2018

The Sonata for Violin and Piano by D. Schostakovitch was composed in 1968. It is one of his later works, showing his incredible knowledge of music history and advanced techniques. In this piece he is using for one of the first times the twelve tone method, a method that had been frowned upon in Stalin’s time. The artifiality of it interested him especially in his efforts to portrait Death in Music. This work is filled with pain and fear, but in despite of the darkness there is also always some light and hope getting through. The intensity of those emotions spoke to me on a deeper level than a lot of music does. The darkness of the world he was living in and the fear for his life are very present. In 1936 Schostakovitch caught the eye of the political rulers for the first time. Not only his artistic existence was threatened from then on, but he decided to stay in his motherland nevertheless. Especially hard times set in during the cold war for him, which he geniusly managed to put in his music.

The Sonata for Violin and Piano was written for Oistrakh’s 60th Birthday. The Year before it, he had composed the Violin concerto, also dedicated to David Oistrakh for his 60th Birthday, as a premature gift. He was so embarassed that the year later in 1968, he wrote the Sonata for Violin and Piano.

A work that is unfortunately being very rarely performed.

The Sonata has the classical 3 movements form. But that is all of the standards it has.
It is very evenly divided in the Violin and Piano, both instruments having a lot of different colors and techniques to show. The 1
st mov starting with the Piano with unisono in both hands, introducing the theme of the first movement, followed by the violin with another melody. Most of this first mov. Is written in piano or pianissimo dynamics, showing a very dark, intimate and maybe even melancholic mood.

The 2nd movement is the complete opposite. Very expressive, loud and wild. It has marching themes, and what is also very interesting, less pauses for the violin than the piano, considering that it usually is the other way around in sonatas. Giving the violin an opportunity to show a lot of virtuosity. The 3rd movement starts with an introduction. Some sort of interlude, followed by 11 bars of solo violin pizzicati, keeping the audience breathless. The theme introduced in those 11 bars is then taken over by the piano and it continues in a conversation between the two instruments, until it reaches first a piano cadenza. After which the violin takes over, has it’s own cadenza and then brings back the theme of the 3rd movement in a fortissimo. The entire work ends with motives of the first movement.

A mysterious and complex work like no other.