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Violin Sonata in A Major
 Composed by Franck, César
 Work Notes
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César Franck: Sonata in A major for violin and Piano

Although born in Belgium, César Franck is usually thought of as belonging to the French school, probably because he took out French nationality in 1872 as a condition of being able to accept the post of organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire. It is from this final period of his life that almost all the works that were to make him famous come. Many distinguished musicians passed through his hands, including Debussy, Duparc, Chausson, Bordes, Dukas and d'lndy.

The idea of writing a work for violin had come to Franck as early as 1859; had anything come of it, it would have been intended for Cosima von Bülow (later Cosima Wagner). Twenty-seven vears later, stirred by the playing of the young Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, Franck's inspiration took flight and in August September 1886 he produced one of the finest works in the repertoire. The dedication to Ysaÿe was not originally Franck's idea, but once suggested he readily agreed to it and it was decided to present the manuscript to the violinist on his wedding day. As Franck himself could not be present, the duty was performed by his pupil, Charles Bordes, Ysaÿe, deeply moved, insisted on playing the work through there and then - it must have been an extraordinary wedding. The first public performance was equally eventful. This was given in the winter of 1886 by Ysaÿe and Charles Bordes' sister Madame Bordes-Pène, in one of the rooms of the Musée Moderne de Peinture in Brussels. The recital began at three o'clock in the afternoon and already the players could scarcely read their parts. Official regulations concerning the safety of the paintings did not allow any (gas) light, and by the end of the first movement it was so gloomy that the audience was about to be requested to leave. Ysaÿe decided to continue, however, and the remaining movements were performed from memory in gathering darkness, producing in the absence of visual distractions what evidently was a quite unforgettable effect.

The Allegretto ben moderato in A major (with two clear-cut subjects, both recapitulated) is an introductory haven of peace before the storm-tossed Allegro in D minor. Though so turbulent, this second movement borrows the first movement's opening motif to link its own first and second subjects, besides bringing a pre-echo of the third movement in a new, quasi lento chordal motif for the piano at the start of the development. The Recitativo-Fantasia also looks backwards (to the first movement's first subject and the second movement's quasi lento) and forwards to the finale (in an appealing dolcissimo espressivo and a passionate dramatico largamente). After a wandering start, it settles in F sharp minor but even in minor territory Franck seems to clutch at gleams of major light and hope. Victory comes in the concluding Allegretto poco mosso in A major, a free sonata-rondo with its Iyrical main theme always introduced in canon by the two instruments. The episodes hark back to first and third movement motifs before the main rondo theme finally rings out exultantly like pealing bells.

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