Edvard Grieg: Violin Sonata No.3


Throughout his career, Edvard Grieg composed three violin sonatas. The first two he wrote relatively quickly, but the third took him much longer to piece together. Completed at the end of 1886, Grieg’s Violin Sonata No.3 has remained, by far, his most popular work for the instrument. This work was also one of Grieg’s most treasured works, with him even premiering the work (on piano) with violinist Adolph Brodsky in Leipzig. The sonata is also known for being a marker in Grieg’s style, with it being the last work he composed using the traditional sonata form structure. 


The Music

Set into three dynamic movements, Grieg pushes the boundaries of the violin in a number of different ways. 


Movement I – Allegro molto ed appassionato

The bold opening of the sonata sees a whirling figure from the violin as the piano hits accentuated chords. After this powerful opening, the music falls into a broad and lyrical theme. Throughout this movement, Grieg plays with rhythm and time so as to create rippling effects between the two instruments. Grieg’s use of a large range of the violin creates drama and tension when the instrument seamlessly jumps between top and bottom octaves. The culmination of the bold opening material and the lyrical central section creates excitement within the music and adds to the drive of the tempo. As the two instruments entangle towards the end of the movement, the fast-paced opening theme returns once more. The whirling violin reaches a climax and the two instruments come together to play the last three chords in unison. 


Movement II – Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza

The slow and lyrical second movement provides some relief from the intense movement before it. Opening with an extended piano introduction, the serene scene is set effectively. The violin emerges over a minute into the movement, and is very quiet and meek in character. As the theme begins to grow, so does the sound of the violin. The gentle atmosphere of this movement is threaded throughout the music, with the two instruments working much more harmoniously. As the violin reaches its upper limit, the movement concludes quietly. 


Movement III – Allegro animato 

Set in sonata form, the finale movement starts at an exciting tempo set by the piano. Grieg litters double stops and other tricky techniques for the violin to overcome as the movement progresses. Fast bowing and bold accentuations are needed to keep the pace of this movement going. Interestingly, although in sonata form, this movement technically does not have a development section, rather lots of themes that are explored to a point and then left. The slow central section shows a lyrical theme that is made colourful by Grieg’s use of chromatic harmony. After a range of different sections, the finale comes to a fiery conclusion as the tempo picks up in the coda. The last few bars brings the instruments together for one last time to play the final powerful chords.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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