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Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105

About the Work

Robert Schumann
Quick Look Composer: Robert Schumann
Program note originally written for the following performance:
Robert McDuffie, violin, and Christopher Taylor, piano Thu., Nov. 10, 2005, 7:30 PM
© Richard Rodda
In September 1850, the Schumanns left Dresden to take up residence in Düsseldorf, where Robert assumed the post of municipal music director. He was welcomed to the city with a serenade, a concert of his works, a supper and a ball. Despite Schumann's promising entry into the musical life of Düsseldorf, it was not long before things turned sour. His fragile mental health, his ineptitude as a conductor and his frequent irritability created a rift with the musicians, and the orchestra's governing body presented him with the suggestion that, perhaps, his time would be better devoted entirely to composition. Schumann, increasingly unstable though at first determined to stay, complained to his wife, Clara, that he was being cruelly treated. Proceedings were begun by the orchestra committee to relieve him of his position, but his resignation in 1853 ended the matter. By early the next year, Schumann's reason had completely given way. On February 27th, he tried to drown himself in the Rhine, and a week later he was committed to the asylum in Endenich, where he lingered with fleeting moments of sanity for nearly two-and-a-half years. His faithful Clara was there with him when he died on July 29, 1856, at the age of 46. Though Schumann's tenure in Düsseldorf proved difficult and ended sadly, he enjoyed there one of his greatest outbursts of creativity — nearly one-third of his compositions were written in the city. His two Sonatas for Violin and Piano (A minor and D minor) were composed in a rush during the autumn of 1851 (September 12-16 and October 26-November 2; the G minor Piano Trio was written during the interim between them).

A restless theme, marked “with passionate expression,” opens the A minor Sonata. The music brightens as it enters its formal second theme area, though its melodic content continues to be spun from the same motives. Rapid harmonic changes lend an unsettled quality to the development section. After a full recapitulation, the movement ends abruptly in the anxious, minor-mode manner in which it began. The Allegretto , more a pleasant intermezzo than an emotional slow movement, takes as its principal theme a three-part melody: the outer phrases are sweet and lyrical; the center one, quick-moving and staccato. Two short episodes, one reminiscent of the lyrical strain, the other of the staccato phrase, separate the returns of the main theme. The sonata-form finale resumes the restless mood of the opening movement, though the level of tension here is heightened by the music's fast tempo and tightly packed imitative texture. Episodes in brighter tonalities provide some expressive contrast, but the Sonata ends with agitated cadential gestures that reaffirm the work's pervasive anxious mood.