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Ethereal Beauty in Brahms Violin Sonatas

Today, I want to share with you an exciting project that I am working on in the spring. I will be performing the complete violin and piano sonatas of Johannes Brahms with Lin He. I've played this cycle once before several years ago, so it will be nice to do it again.

I love this particular set because it demonstrates the composer's amazing sense of maturity and lyricism in both instruments, which both parts join forces as equal partners. Although there are three published violin sonatas that were written later in his career, Brahms already began composing for this particular medium as early as when he was twenty years old! Apparently, he wrote as many as four "additional" sonatas, but unfortunately for us, Brahms destroyed them––most likely because they failed to meet his lofty standards! I would have loved to see the thought process behind some of the "unsatisfactory" works.

The three violin sonatas are incredibly reflective, contemplative, and in my opinion, they best demonstrate Brahms' unique voice. I find it interesting that he chose to wait until the end of his career to write these works, but perhaps he felt that he needed the requisite artistic growth. These works are a significant departure in compositional style when one listens to his early pieces, particularly the piano sonatas, where the influence of J.S. Bach and Beethoven is readily apparent. While musical allusions and quotations of previous works were a common practice during Brahms' day, the composer was worried that his critics would think he was merely following the steps of his Germanic predecessors. He once stated to a close group of friends: "Gentlemen, I know I am not Beethoven. I am Johannes Brahms." Perhaps he needed to find and develop his own voice before tackling on larger projects, it seems. In any case, these perfectionist qualities are characteristics that we can all emulate as musicians and educators.

If you are looking for tuneful melodies, these sonatas are great examples of that. The slow movement of the Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 108 and the Allegro movement of the Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 100 contain some of the most beautiful melodies that Brahms wrote.

Some of my favorite recordings out there are Annie Sophie Mutter with Lambert Orkis and Pinchas Zukerman with Daniel Barenboim. My all-time favorite, however, is Joseph Suk and Julius Katchen. If you don't know it, check it out here.

From my own experiences, playing an all-Brahms cycle can be tricky, not just the technical and musical demands for the performers, but for the audience. It contains a lot of serious music packed in to a (long) concert and can be a lot for an audience to handle.

For me, I have always grown to like Brahms. I released my solo debut album of his music. My earliest chamber music experiences were Brahms. I remember one year at Juilliard when I was studying his 2nd violin sonata, Piano Trio, Op. 8, Piano Sonata in C major, Op. 1, and his Concerto in D minor! I was obsessed with anything Brahms!

I look forward to sharing some of the violin sonatas with you on my upcoming Rallentando performance. Stay tuned!

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