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Serenade in A major, Op. 92 for two Violins and Piano

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Sinding
Program note originally written for the following performance:
The Kennedy Center Chamber Players play Martinu, Sinding, Stravinsky & Saint-Saëns Sun., Apr. 1, 2012, 2:00 PM
© Robert Markow

For many concertgoers, Norwegian music begins and ends with Grieg. But there is much, much more to the musical landscape of this country than the music of just one composer. Christian Sinding was born thirteen years after Grieg and, like the older man, studied music in Leipzig. Initially he intended solely to become a violinist, but then drifted into composition as well. A government stipend allowed him to continue his studies in Dresden, Berlin and Munich. In 1921 he joined the faculty of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, for the school's inaugural season, but then returned to Europe, where he spent most of his time in Germany. Hence, unlike Grieg, much of Sinding's music sounds more Germanic than Nordic. His catalogue includes large-scale works such as operas, symphonies and concertos, but he is remembered today mostly on the basis of shorter pieces - songs, works for violin and piano, and for piano alone (particularly the well-known "Rustle of Spring").

Sinding's Serenade No. 2 for two violins and piano dates from 1909, seven years after his first work of this type, which had been a big success. Both serenades are considered among the more important works for this combination of instruments. The composer shows himself highly adept at sliding effortlessly through harmonic sidesteps and in using Wagnerian chromaticism, but overall his style in the serenade is unabashedly romantic, with nothing to suggest the winds of modernism swirling to the south in Paris, Berlin or Vienna. Both violins are of equal stature and play almost continuously throughout as a pair, moving either in parallel motion or in imitation. The piano part, while substantial and adding immeasurably to the Brahmsian richness of the texture, has more of a subsidiary role. Only once, for the second theme of the first movement, does it take the lead in announcing new melodic material.

Perhaps the reason Sinding chose to call this work a serenade rather than a sonata is because not one of its five movements is actually in sonata form. The first, with its healthy, outdoorsy quality, is in simple ternary form (ABA), with each of its two thematic ideas extensively developed by itself. The lyrically expressive second movement begins in F-sharp minor with the violins alone, then moves to the major tonality while the piano contributes increasingly florid accompaniment. Again we find a simple ternary form. The return of the initial material is notable in that the piano is silent, rejoining the violins only at the very end. The third movement serves as a short, smoothly flowing interlude between the two slow movements. The fourth, all warmth and sweetness, like the third elaborates a single musical idea. The rondo-finale returns to the healthy vigor of the opening movement. It sports three themes, the third of which is notable in that it is presented by the first violin in the longest passage in the entire work for a single violin alone. A coda of surging energy brings the half-hour serenade to a rousing conclusion.