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Violin Sonata in E Minor Op.82

Edward Elgar (1957-1934)

Violin Sonata in E minor Op.82

The Elgar violin sonata has always been one of my favourite violin works. It combines great emotional depth with sublime delicacy and subtlety of colour. I have wonderful memories of performing this piece for it always creates a marvellously intimate atmosphere in recital. A few years ago, I played it on tour in South America, where the majority of the audiences had never heard much English music and they were quite taken aback by the passion of the work.

In 1918, Elgar retired to West Sussex to a cottage called Brinkwells and it was here that he wrote his last chamber works - the Violin sonata, the String Quartet and the Piano Quintet. The violin sonata was the first to be completed and the première was a private performance given by the violinist W H Reed, who was then leader of the London Symphony Orchestra, with Elgar himself at the piano. Reed, who stayed with the Elgars at Brinkwells for most of the summer of 1918, wrote of this period:

"All the music composed at Brinkwells was undoubtedly influenced by the quiet and peaceful surroundings during that wonderful summer. Miles of woodland, through which Elgar walked daily with any friends of his and his wife's who came to see them, enchanted him by their beauty and serenity. It was a perfect reaction from the feverish heat of the war music which he had been writing, and the peacefulness which came upon him in this quiet retreat, which seemed so remote from the world war made it impossible for him to visualise such happenings, surrounded as he was by the beauty of this wonderful countryside."

Although the key of the first movement is E minor, it begins very boldly in A minor and, astonishingly, it is not until the coda that the home key (E minor) finally establishes itself. Elgar described the movement as "bold and vigorous", yet there are also many elongated reflective passages - unlike so many other composers, Elgar is not afraid to keep a more introverted mood. The second movement portrays a capricious character to begin with: Alice Elgar referred to this movement in her diary as "wonderful new music, different from anything of his. Wood magic... so elusive and delicate". This initial section gives way to a lyrical and passionate middle section which builds to an intense climax before returning to the capricious first section, with the violin muted until the end of the movement. Even the last movement is not a traditional bravura Finale - the first theme is lyrical in nature, allowing itself some passionate outbursts with dazzling broken octaves from the piano, but these quickly subside to give way to the second subject. Here, once again, the mood is elusive and the theme wanders into many different keys. The development section continues this trend, with constant modulation and then comes to a ghostly halt, faltering before gradually finding its momentum for the triumphant return of the first subject at the recapitulation. Both themes are fully explored again, then in a moment of hushed awe, Elgar brings back the Romance theme from the second movement and only after this does he allow the sun to shine fully in the triumphant closing section.

Tasmin Little


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