Our music for this week is the Sonata No. 4 for Violin and Piano by Beethoven, performed by the German violinist Augustin Hadelich and American pianist Charles Owen.
This fourth violin and piano sonata of Beethoven’s was actually the only one that did not receive scathing negative reviews from the public. I find that hard to believe, given the timeless melody that we all know from the famous “Spring” sonata. However, the sonata is unique in that it does not follow a conventional sonata layout. While most sonatas start with a moderate-tempo movement, move to a slow movement, and finish with some sort of Allegro or Presto, this sonata starts with a Presto, moves to a moderate-tempo movement that also includes some faster passages, and ends with yet another fast Allegro. Even more interesting is the inscription that Beethoven put inside the first page of the manuscript: “For the pianoforte with the accompaniment of the violin.” We have come to view these sonatas as violin compositions with the piano as an accompaniment, but Beethoven envisioned them as piano sonatas with the violin as the accompaniment. I think Hadelich does a masterful job of staying true to Beethoven’s wishes on this point. You may notice that the sound he uses is a softer, more mature sound that nicely complements the active piano part. He is not afraid to blend into the background (as much as that is possible in a duet) and has a remarkable ability to make even a melody line sound like a partnership rather than a solo. This is one of the marks of a truly top-notch musician – that they do not need to be the soloist for you to recognize their mastery.