Violinist Jinjoo Cho is the First Grand Prize winner of the 2006 Montreal International Musical Competition and the gold medallist of the 2005 Julius Stulberg International String Competition. She has [...]
They spoke about it
Winner of the 2006 Montréal International Music Competition, violinist Jinjoo-Cho offers here, in addition to the required work by Canadian composer Scott Good, three masterpieces of the violin repertoire by three composers who marked the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries respectively—Bach, Brahms and Ravel.
When one thinks of the history of music, the things that first come to mind are composers and their masterworks. So it is easy to forget that the development of new instruments has also been a driving force in shaping music over the centuries. One such instrument was the violin. From the 17th century onward, the violin established itself a major instrument: the symphony orchestra gradually took shape around the violin family, and it was for the violin that the first sonatas and concertos were written. What made this instrument so irresistible, and why does it still elicit such enthusiasm? Perhaps it is because, as Charles Baudelaire wrote, “the violin quivers like an aching heart.”
J.S. Bach: Sonata No. 1 for solo violin, in G minor (BWV 1001)
In 1720, while still at Cöthen, J.S. Bach (1685-1750) finished the good copy of a collection of three “sonatas” and three “partitas” for solo violin, with no accompaniment whatsoever. Ever since, this collection has been considered one of the summits of the violin repertoire.
By pushing the contrapuntal possibilities of a fundamentally melodic instrument to the very edge, J.S. Bach managed to transcend the violin’s idiomatic limits without ever sacrificing expressive beauty for the sake of virtuosity or mere technical achievement. The first sonata, like the other two, follows the four-movement “slow-fast-slow-fast” form established by Corelli between 1680 and 1700. The opening richly ornamented “Adagio” is succeeded by an “Allegro” fugue constructed around a short, incisive theme based on a repeated note played staccato. The third movement unfolds into a magnificent, mournful “Siciliana, ” while the last movement, “Presto,” takes off into a wild gigue rhythm.
Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Of the three sonatas for violin and piano composed byJohannes Brahms (1833-1897), the third stands out from the first two both by its more dramatic minor key and by its scope of symphonic proportions, a breadth that stems from its having four movements rather than the more usual three. Since Brahms had initially conceived of the third sonata as part two of a contrasting diptych, he started composing it in 1886, shortly after completing the second. But, his hands full with among other things the double concerto for violin and cello, Brahms did not complete this third sonata until 1888, by which time the piece had matured and freed itself from the original two-part design.
The day after its premiere on December 22, 1888 by Hungarian violinist Jenó Hubay and Brahms himself at the piano, some critics thought they recognized in its sometimes fiery and impetuous outbursts the portrait of the work’s dedicatee—the composer’s friend and colleague, conductor Hans von Bülow. Only a few measures into the first movement, during which the violin plays the opening D-minor theme sotto voce ma espressivo, it bursts into a vehement, impulsive subito forte reprise before descending and yielding to the calmer second theme in the relative major key, this time introduced by the piano and then unfurled in all its splendor by the violin.
After a strange, dream-like development section in which arpeggios and oscillations float over a dominant pedal, the first theme gradually emerges again, announcing the recapitulation. However, this proves to be just as full of contrast as the exposition. In the D-major “Adagio,” the violin takes charge of a broad melody that, after reaching its climax in stages, comes back down, enriched by a series of sustained, double-stopped parallel thirds. The overall form can be summed up as the introduction of this melody followed by an even broader repetition an octave higher, and ending in a coda that recalls for the third and last time the melody’s opening motifs. With its light, mocking character, the “Un poco presto e con sentimento” that follows is obviously meant to be a scherzo, though it lacks the punch of a triple meter. Instead, it presents a series of variations on a curious staccato theme traded back and forth by the two instruments.
The finale, “Presto agitato,” contrasts two opposing themes: a gigue-like dance in triple metre with the violin double stopped, and a choral-like melody with sustained piano chords. The way in which the first theme emerges out of the violin’s double stops to return regularly like a refrain gives this sonata form a rondo-like character that leads the piano into an agitato coda and a fiery ending for the entire piece.
Ravel: Tzigane – concert rhapsody for violin and piano
In the spring of 1924, Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) was literally captivated by the playing of Hungarian violinist Jelly D’Aranyi: for an entire night, he made her play every Gypsy melody she could remember. A few months later, Ravel unveiled a new work entitled Tzigane, a “concert rhapsody” whose first version was for violin and a type of piano called a “luthéal,” which could imitate the sound of a cimbalom, a dulcimer-like folk instrument of Hungary, with chords struck by small hammers.
The premiere with orchestra followed in November of the same year, with the violin played by D’Aranyi herself, the woman who had initially inspired the piece. Like the rhapsodies of Liszt, which Ravel had studied carefully, Tzigane has two contrasting sections, following the model of the verbunkos, a folk dance in two parts named “Lassu” and “Fruss.” The first section, played by the violin alone, is improvisational in style and immediately creates a strange, sensual mood. From the start, the listener hears a succession of provocative technical feats that make it one of the most challenging pieces in the repertoire. The so-called “Fruss” section begins with the entrance of the piano (or the orchestra), playing a series of harp-like figures. The piece ends in a frenetic culmination of violinistic fireworks, punctuated by the piano’s animated accompaniment. Tzigane is not only an incredible feat of virtuosity but an exotic, poetic jewel of a piece.
Good: And dreams rush forth to greet the distance
Born in Toronto in 1972, trombonist and composer Scott Good studied at the University of Toronto and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. As a composer, he has won a number of awards, including the Howard Hanson Orchestral Prize (1995) and first prize at the Composer’s Composition of the 1996 Winnipeg New Music Festival. More recently, he received the John Weinzweig Prize (1999) and two Young Composers Awards discerned by the SOCAN Foundation (2000–2001). Good has composed for many different ensembles, including the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Hannaford Street Silver Band, I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble, as well as for soloists such as Dale Sorensen and John Farah. Good’s music has been recorded by the Pax Christi Choral and by the Université Laval Brass Quintet. As a trombonist, he can be heard on recordings of the Trillium Brass Quintet, broadcast frequently on CBC.
In 2006, he was commissioned to write the compulsory Canadian work for the Montréal International Music Competition, about which he wrote the following: “Producing a work for this kind of performance context presents a number of interesting challenges for the composer. As the piece is intended for an instrumental competition, it must be able to highlight the virtuosity of the performer. Moreover, it should contain a number of concepts of contemporary composition and of modern approaches to violin technique. Lastly, as this work will be heard many times, it is essential that it be engaging as much for the performer as for the audience. I also wanted to compose a work that offered maximum interpretive freedom to allow each musician’s unique individuality to shine through. The title comes from the penultimate line of Arnold Schoenberg’s seminal work Pierrot lunaire, and was chosen at the beginning of the writing process to serve as inspiration for the music.
© Guy Marchand
Translation: Peter Christensen