Between 1879 and 1887, Brahms wrote his three numbered violin sonatas, all for Joseph Joachim, the Hungarian violinist, composer, and teacher. Brahms and Joachim met while Brahms was on tour in Hanover in 1853. Both were in their early 20s, and they became fast friends. Brahms was still an unknown at this point, but Joachim was already a rising star, and the two men spent a lot of time together. By the time Brahms wrote the D-minor Sonata, Joachim had introduced him to Robert and Clara Schumann as well, two more figures who would deeply affect Brahms’ musical and personal life.
The D-minor Sonata is the only one of the three in four movements. It is also much more agitated than the previous two sonatas. The beginning Allegro follows traditional sonata-allegro form, and is immediately stormy; the violin plays a very lyrical line and the piano enters high and dramatic. The violin’s music becomes more watery, and the piano echoes calmly. The instruments wind their way down and start over. There is a final restating of the theme across three octaves, and a cadence on D major, leading directly into the Adagio.
A lilting violin melody in 3/8 fills the second movement, with piano accompanying throughout. The melody repeats itself up an octave and with more strength. The two softly repeat a chord together at the cadence.
In the very short Un poco presto e con sentimento the piano plays a halting, disquieted theme and the violin accompanies. Violin and piano twist in and out of minor mode, and the violin interrupts the jittery line and rhapsodizes for a moment. The piano returns with the main theme, and the movement ends abruptly with two short chords.
In the Presto agitato, furiously fast runs consume the movement, barely slowing. The frenzied tarantella-like 6/8 rhythm has piano and violin egging each other on and vying for attention, bringing each other to new heights. The ending arrives with lots of buildup leading to a thundering cadence.
Jessie Rothwell is a Los Angeles based writer, composer, and curator who also bakes pies and constantly considers what foods pair with what wines.