Grażyna Bacewicz

Works in detail

Sonata no. 5 for violin and piano

The popularity of Sonata No. 4 for violin and piano, a piece which from its premiere in 1950 has been regarded as one of the composer’s most outstanding works, has overshadowed the significance of the next and last composition in this genre – Sonata No. 5 for violin and piano. Sonata No. 5 was written in 1951, in a period marked by such works as String Quartet No. 4, Symphony No. 2 or Concerto No. 4 for violin and orchestra.

If Sonata No. 4 is characterised by profound emotionalism, revealing another, not just constructivist-neoclassical, side of the composer, Sonata No. 5 is yet another evidence of the stylistic “lack of obviousness” of the composer’s oeuvre, which is hard to classify unequivocally.

The Sonata is in three movements. The first movement, seemingly a free fantasia, has the form of a sonata allegro, however. The Allegro proper is preceded by an introduction marked Moderato. However, it is not a separate structure(like, for example, in String Quartet No. 4), but, like in Sonata No. 4, is part of the process of “integrated expression” (Robert S. Hatten), making up, together with the theme, one emotional arch. The mutual relation between the violin and the piano is governed by the principle of equal partnership.

The first movement begins with quiet piano notes held by the pedal and transformed into short passages, each of which is a development of the previous one. The violin enters with a quiet C4 flageolet to accompany fast, figurative passages of the piano with an increasingly restless, meandering phrase. In the following fragment the piano seems to be anticipating the motifs that will make up the first, energetic first theme proper. It is built of several phrases characteristic of the composer’s sound language. The first, serving as an introduction to the theme proper and ending the Moderato, turbulent at this point, has a structure that can be presented as A-A1-B (bar 25). The form of the motif is “pendular”, with a constant base of G. This brief, two-bar motif, ending with the G4 flageolet, often appearing in this movement, is then repeated an octave higher. Violin motifs are accompanied by a quasi-canonical (shifted by a quaver) piano accompaniment of the right hand, reproducing the direction of movement without respecting the size of the intervals. The B motif, different in nature, leads directly to the Allegro proper. Its form is A-B-A-B1. Part A is a rhythmic ostinato of short, two-voice motifs of the violin framed by the notes E4 and A4. Part B is a quaver figuration in a melodic arch. Further development consists in constant joining and development of these initial models in an expressive dialogue of the two instruments until the narrative of the violin fades away, when the piano, after a hushed transition, presents the second, melodious theme (bar 69). Its resembles somewhat the folk intonations of previous works, also in the invariant development of the second sentence of the first phrase. The violin intones the theme a third up. In the recapitulation the composer repeats precisely thirty-one bars of the exposition, starting from the pendular motifs in bar 25. This is followed by a change, while the second theme is presented in the violin a second up in comparison with the initial version of the piano. The narrative of the whole movement is built of short motifs in which the various components undergo constant permutations, creating an illusion of a fluent phrase. This impression is enhanced by varied articulation, staccato and tremolo passages, frequent use in the violin of flageolets, which enrich the colour of the figuration. At the same time the piano, in a dialogue with the violin, creates a background in arrhythmically repeated, harmonically saturated chord or short phrases.

The second movement, Nocturne (Andante dolcissimo), is a kind of canonical variations based on a simple four-bar theme given at the beginning by the piano. The violin, appearing after two bars, distorts this pattern already in the third bar of its part. Thus unfolds a canonical game between the two instruments, showing the main motif in a form close to the initial form or changed. The Nocturne is also known as a stand-alone piece in an orchestral transcription made by the composer.

In its kind of expression the Finale (Allegro inquietamente) draws on Sonata No. 4, especially on the dramatic first movement of the work. There are even similar turns, especially short, three-note formulas resembling the beginning of the main theme of the preceding Sonata. There are clearly evident two planes in the movement, although it would be difficult to speak of themes in the traditional sense of the word as integrated structures. The first forty-one bars are a kind of a poem of varying nature: from short sharp motifs, presented alternately in both instruments, to a broad “Brahmsian” phrase of the violin (con passione) and constantly rising tension in the following bars. After the emotions have been suppressed and the metre changed from 2/4 to 6/8, the violin, supported by the piano, weaves a calm melody serving as the second theme. Both themes become the source of variations later on, often in the form of ostinatos with sophisticated sound, like a fragment of flageolets-dyads repeated on empty strings (bars 105–110). The “Brahmsian” phrase from the first theme is presented in the reprise with a different marking: no longer con passione, but espressivo. Unlike the first theme, the second theme appears in the violin unchanged, although only for the first seven bars. The whole ends with a coda drawing on the turbulent development, with sharp second friction in the final octaves: A1–A2 in the piano and G3–G4 in the violin.

The premiere of Sonata No. 5 for violin and piano took place in 1951 in Kraków, at a PWM Edition concert. The violin part was performed by the composer, accompanied by Kiejstut Bacewicz on the piano. The piece is dedicated to Tadeusz Ochlewski.