Spring Sonata

(About music rather than language.)

On the radio show Exploring Music by Bill McGlaughlin (from WFMT in Chicago, but I get it through WQXR in New York), this week (April 6 – 10) was Spring is Here week:

Spring is in the air as we celebrate the coming of flowers and sunshine from under the melting winter ice here on Exploring Music. Vivaldi, Strauss, Chopin and more.

Much wonderful music. For me, the highlight of the week was Beethoven’s “Spring Sonata” (Frühlingssonate) : the Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Opus 24 (1801).

The arrival of spring. The official first day of spring is the vernal equinox (March 20th this year), and on that day radio stations celebrated with music, both classical and popular, appropriate for the day: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the Rodgers & Hart song “Spring is Here” (1938), and so on. But as far as the weather and most plants are concerned, spring is not much advanced (in the Northern Hemisphere) on the vernal equinox. Now, a few weeks later, real spring is getting into swing (see Claytonia virginica, the Eastern spring beauty, below), and that’s an occasion for another festival of seasonal music.

The Spring Sonata. Program notes from the Midori site:

One of the most popular of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and violin, the work is easily remembered, even after first hearing. The music is full of joy, and its refreshing, hopeful quality makes the subtitle, ‘Spring,’ most appropriate. Throughout, the melodies are immediate, simple, and elegant. There are also humorous moments, reminding listeners that Beethoven was a master of fun and games as well.

‘Spring’ is one of only three of Beethoven’s piano and violin sonatas to be cast in four movements, the others being No. 7, Op. 30 No. 2, and No. 10, Op. 96. It opens with one of the most unforgettable melodies of all time played in F Major by the violin. The second theme which follows is more rhythmic and energetic, and the movement develops around the two contrasting themes. The slow movement in B-flat Major speaks simply and flowingly, with violin and piano alternating in presenting the theme in slightly different variations. The third movement, a scherzo and trio, is like a game of tag in which the violin and the piano bounce off each other. The coquettish impression is strengthened by the rhythmic playfulness. The finale is in rondo form, with a lyrical theme followed by three episodes. Lighthearted and spontaneous, its dotted rhythms exemplify Beethoven’s inventiveness and sense of humor.

On YouTube, the first movement in a historic recording with violinist Henryk Szeryng and pianist Arthur Rubinstein:

The luminous performance on Exploring Music was by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.

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