Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in C minor, Op. 45
Grieg may be most renowned for his Piano Concerto and incidental music for Peer Gynt, but he included among his own favorites his three violin sonatas. “They represent,” he said in 1900, “periods in my development – the first naïve, rich in ideas; the second national; and the third with a wider horizon.” Grieg fully acknowledged his absorption in and reliance upon the folk music of his country, but he also considered himself a German romantic. The combined influences on Grieg of Schumann and Mendelssohn – particularly of their small character pieces – and of Norwegian folk music, resulted in a composer who was essentially a miniaturist, at his best in telling a short musical story and creating an evocative mood.
His Third Violin Sonata was composed in 1887, a time when he was on the threshold of his largest fame, a circumstance that may explain his view of the Sonata as representing a wider horizon. Everything is relative, however, and if the composition evolves as a more dramatic piece than either of the earlier violin sonatas, it still betrays its Norwegian origin rather clearly.
The geography is not immediately apparent, however. The first movement begins with an urgent C-minor main theme in the violin set against granitic keyboard chords. A second idea, anxiously wanting to come out of the minor mode and into the major, serves as an episode leading to an abridged version of the main theme in the piano (C-minor wins!), which in turn acts as a transition to the second subject – a tranquil melody the maker of which would never be mistaken. The theme is eventually developed in surprisingly dramatic fashion and, after some of Grieg’s favored sequences, another, even more tender, melody is introduced, this one derived somewhat from the main theme.
The second movement’s lyrical main theme flanks a spirited dance section in which a syncopated accompaniment provides tensile vigor. The dance mood carries over into the final movement, which is made of two parts rustic muscularity and one part sweet songfulness, a mix in which Grieg was particularly adept.