Program Notes

By Jason Sundram

Violin Sonata #1 in G major, Opus 78 "Rain" (1879)

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Johannes Brahms (May 7, 1833–April 3, 1897)

  1. Vivace ma non troppo
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegro molto moderato

It is easy to forget that Brahms was a contemporary of Wagner, whose “art music of the future” was diametrically opposed to Brahmsís “absolute” music. ("Absolute” refers to compositions that are accepted on their own terms as interplays of sound, rather than “program” music, which depends on extramusical references.) Brahms, like Beethoven, was a short man, with a fiery temper, who loved the country side, and was a bachelor throughout his life. There is an apocryphal tale that suggests Brahms thorny wit: upon departing a party, he said “if there is anyone present I have not insulted, I apologize.”

Despite this, Brahms had a heart of gold. He was humble, and, unlike Mozart, spent almost no money on himself. Clara Schumann, the wife of composer Robert Schumann, and a fine composer and pianist in her own right, was the love of Brahmsís life. Though they were always close, Clara, even after Robertís premature death, remained married in spirit to Schumann. This sonata, as is much of his music, is filled with unfulfilled yearning, seeking the completion of mutual love. It is known as the Rain Sonata because, it contains a theme from his Regenlied ("Rain Song"), Opus 59, #3. In addition, there is a sixteenth-note passage in the Finale that, to the poetically minded, resembles the gentle falling of raindrops.

The first movement, marked Vivace ma non troppo (lively, but not too fast—a favorite admonition of Brahms), opens with a D, repeated three times. This motto pervades the whole piece, giving it unity. The opening is tender, elegiac, and highly personal. Upon receiving the sonata, Clara Schumann wrote to Brahms: “I played it at once, and could not help bursting into tears of joy over it.” The final movement opens with the same three note motto, and is at once terse and tragic. Clara said of it: “I wish the last movement could accompany me . . . to the next world.”