(born 1822 in Liège; died 1890 in Paris)

Sonata in A Major (1886)

1. Allegretto ben moderato
2. Allegro
3. Recitativo-Fantasia
4. Allegretto poco mosso

César Franck's Sonata in A Major, a classic in the violin and piano sonata repertoire, is filled with beauty, excitement, imagination, poignancy, and drama. While other important works of Franck have fallen in and out of fashion in the years since his death, the Sonata in A has remained popular for performers and audiences alike.

Although born in Belgium, Franck spent most of his life in Paris. Hoping he would be a concert pianist, his father enrolled him in the Conservatoire of Liege in 1830. He became a fine pianist, made concert tours, and won awards, but his personality was not suited to the self-promotion necessary to build a successful career as a soloist.

Despite the reservations of his father, Franck was interested in composing from an early age but he was only able to turn to it in earnest around the time he became the organist at the Basilica of Ste. Clotilde in 1858. He remained there until his death and also served, from 1872, as professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where his devoted pupils included Vincent d'Indy, Henri Duparc, and Ernest Chausson.

Franck was a Romantic who succeeded in combining chromatic harmonies with the Classical style. He composed his only sonata for violin and piano in the last decade of his life, a period of intense creativity that also saw the creation of his D Minor Symphony, the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra and the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue for piano solo. The manuscript of the Violin Sonata was Franck's wedding gift to the Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaÿe in September 1886, when the first performance took place. The public premiere took place three months later, performed by its dedicatee and Léontine Bordes-Pene at the Musée Moderne de Peinture in Brussels.

The sonata is in four movements alternating between slow and fast. As the first movement unfolds, so does the story, filled with unceasing melodies and a rhythmic element reminiscent of the gentle sway of a barcarolle. The second movement is a fireball of passion and energy, with the opening solo passagework on the piano one of the most challenging in the literature. Despite the fast tempos and perpetual motion, the melodic fluency remains prominent, and the great sense of urgency adds to the excitement.

The third movement is a fantasy-filled self-reflection. It has a hint of self-indulgence, with a dark and clenching mood as well as an ecstatic melodic line that effectively contrasts with the peace and sense of attainment in the fourth and last movement. The flowing melody of quarter notes is immediately stated at the start of the movement by the piano, which the violin follows in a canon. The two instruments take turns in initiating the canon throughout. The sonata concludes with energetic elegance.

(May 2005)
  Notes © 2005 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co.Ltd.
Referential sources available on request.