Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/591

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


SONATA.

fresh extension it will probably be to a great extent on such lines.

Schumann's second sonata, in G, op. 2 2, though written during almost the same period, seems to be a retrogression from the position taken up by that in Fj. It is possibly a more effective work, and, from the pianist's point of view, more capable of being made to sound convincing. And yet in detail it is not so interesting, nor is it technically so rich, nor so full and noble in sound. He seems to aim at orthodoxy with deliberate purpose, and the result is that though vehement and vigorous in motion, it is not, for Schumann, particularly warm or poetical. The second sub- jects of the first and last movements are cha- racteristic, and so is great part of the peculiarly sectional and epigrammatic scherzo. The an- dantino also has remarkable points about it, but is not so fascinating as the slow movement of the FJJ Sonata.

The principles indicated in the sonata opus ii reappear later with better results, as far as the total impression is concerned, in larger forms of instrumental music, and also in the D minor Sonata for violin and pianoforte. In this there is a close connection between the intro- duction and the most marked feature of the succeeding quick movement, and similar linking of scherzo and slow movement by means of a reference to the subject of the former in the progress of the latter, with a distinctly poetic purpose. The Sonata in A for the same combin- ation of instruments is not on such an elaborate scale, nor has it as many external marks to in- dicate a decided purpose ; but it is none the less poetical in effect, which arises in the first move- ment from the continuity of structure and the mysterious sadness of spirit which it expresses, and in the slow movement from its characteristic tenderness and sweetness.

Liszt, in his remarkable Sonata in B minor dedicated to Schumann, undoubtedly adopts the same principles of procedure, and works them out with more uncompromising thoroughness. He knits the whole sonata into an unbroken unity, with distinct portions passing into one another, representing the usual separate move- ments. The interest is concentrated upon one principal idea, to which the usual second subjects and accessories serve as so many commentaries and antitheses, and express the influences which react upon its course. This is further illustrated by the process sometimes defined as ' transform- ation of themes,' already referred to in con- nection with Beethoven's Sonatas in Bb and Ab; which is really no more than a fresh way of applying that art of variation which had been used from almost the earliest times of sonata- writing, in recapitulating subjects in the progress of a moment, as well as in regular set themes and variations ; though it had not been adopted before to serve a poetical or ideal conception per- vading and unifying the whole work. In the actual treatment of the subject-matter, Liszt adopts, as Beethoven had done, the various op- portunities afforded not only by harmonic struc-

��SONATA.

��579

��tural principles, but by the earlier fugal and con- trapuntal devices, and by recitative, adapting them with admirable breadth and freedom to a thoroughly modern style of thought. It seems almost superfluous to add that the purpose is carried out with absolute mastery of technical resource, in respect both of the instrument and of the disposition of the parts of the movement.

The pianoforte sonatas of Brahms are as as- tounding specimens of youthful power and breadth and dignity of style as exist in the whole range of the art ; but it must at present be considered doubtful if they represent his maturer convictions. Both sonatas appear to have been written before he arrived at the age of twenty ; and it is probable that he was then more influenced by the roman- tic theories which Schumann represented, than he is in his later works, as far as his tendencies can be judged from their constitution. Conse- quently the fact of the earlier sonatas having obviously poetic purpose and intent cannot be taken as any proof that the great mass of his works (which it is to be hoped will yet be greatly enlarged and enriched) would justify us in enrolling him among those who consistently maintain a poetic conception of instrumental music. On the other hand, his adoption of shorter and more individual forms, such as cappriccios, intermezzi, rhapsodies, in his mature age, lends at least indirect countenance to the view that the tendency of music is to subordinate form to idea; and that if the classical form of the sonata is not expansible enough, other forms must be accepted which will admit of more freedom of development. This implies a question as to the proper meaning of the word 'sonata,' and a doubt as to its being legitimately assimilable to the tendency to cen- tralise the interest upon the idea, as a contrast to the old practice of making an equal balance be- tween two main subjects as a means of structural effect. If the word is to be so restricted, it will only be another conventional limitation, and, it may be added, must before long put an end to further enrichment of the literature of so-called sonatas.

In the finest of Brahms's two early sonatas, that in F minor, the first slow movement is headed by a quotation from a poem of Sternau, and another movement is called Riickblick. These are clearly external marks of a poetical intention. In the actual treatment of the subjects there is no at- tempt to connect the movements ; but the freedom of transition, even in the actual progress of a subject (see the second subject of the first move- ment), is eminently characteristic of the com- poser, and of a liberal view of sonata development. In the last movement a rondo the most noticeable external mark of continuity is the elaborately ingenious treatment of the subject of the second episode in the latter part of the movement. Brahms has not added further to the list of solo pianoforte sonatas, but he has illustrated the tendency to look for fresh oppor- tunities in combinations of solo instruments, as in his pianoforte quartets and quintet, which are really just as much sonatas as those usually so

P P 2

�� �