St Petersburg, Concert Hall

January's Artist of the Month Igor Gruppman (violin)

Franz Schubert. Sonatina No 1 for violin and piano
Ludwig van Beethoven. Sonata No 5 for Violin and Piano (Frühling)
Karol Szymanowski. Fountain of Arethusa from the cycle Mythes for violin and piano
Moritz Moszkowski. Suite for two violins and piano
Astor Piazzola. Winter in Buenos Aires

Franz Schubert (1797–1828) did not spare too much of his attention on violinists. He composed trios, quartets and quintets in abundance, but solo works for violin can easily be counted using your fingers.
Three Sonatas for Violin and Piano appeared in March 1816. Twenty years later, at last, they were published as “sonatinas” Op. 137. Possibly the new title was intended to draw the attention of music lovers who were on the lookout for simple, accessible works.
In terms of style, Sonatina No 1 in D Major closely resembles Beethoven’s piano sonatas. In the music we sense the distinct signature of a young composer to pass through the strict classical school, but already in the first section the “endless melody” exposes Schubert’s penmanship.

Violin Sonata Op. 24 (No 5) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was composed in late 1800 – early 1801 and was dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries, as were the Sonata Op. 23 and, much later, the Seventh Symphony. This light, vivacious work with its witty scherzo and lyrical first movement and finale, filled with beautiful cantilena melodies, was successfully given the title Frühling by the Viennese publisher Mollo with the aim of raising its popularity.
One anonymous critic for Leipzig’s Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reacted to the appearance of Sonatas Op. 23 and 24 with the following words: “The reviewer considers these to be among the finest sonatas written by Beethoven, and that, of course, means among the finest ever written in recent times. The composer’s original, fiery and witty mind, even in his early works, could not escape attention, though probably it did not meet with a universally warm welcome everywhere, because he sometimes dug in his heels ungraciously, stormily, obstinately and darkly. Now he is becoming clearer, beginning to dispense increasingly with the superfluous and drawing increasingly positive attention to himself…”

Source of Aretuza is the first of three poems for violin and piano by Karol Szymanowski under the common title Myths (1882–1937). It was followed by Narcissus and Dryads and Pan. Myths appeared in 1915, at the same time as the First Violin Concerto and the Third Symphony (Song of the Night), when the Polish composer’s talent was first resounding at full power, and, together with the piano, the violin was Szymanowski’s favourite instrument.
Turning to Antiquity brought Szymanowski close to his contemporaries, the Russian poets of the Silver Age. In fact, unlike them, the composer was an aesthete, sybarite and wayfarer – he truly had been in Syracuse at a spring surrounded by reeds and plants, where, according to legend, the nymph Aretuza had once been transformed. Szymanowski learned how to depict the gurgling of water in music and the rustling of reeds from the French impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. But behind this recording of a direct impression of the Sicilian source there lies an elusive image worthy of a symbolist artist.


Moritz Moszkowski (1854–1925), despite his surname, was a German composer. This brilliant pianist and good violinist was educated in Dresden and Berlin, made his career in Germany and spent all his life following the ideals of German musical romanticism.
The Suite for Two Violins and Piano, Op. 71, is, in fact, a true symphony in miniature. It is serious music, not drawing room music and not virtuoso music, and none of the three instruments has any cadenzas. In the first section (Allegro energico), the violin duet executes a highly complex four-part texture in the style of Schumann. The second section (Allegro moderato) is a light, almost naïve Ländler, stylised in the spirit of the Viennese classics. In contrast, the third section (Lento assai) is a romantic elegy in the primordial sense of that word, meaning a mournful, funereal piece. The finale (Molto vivace) is written with the gusto of the Italian saltarello dance. Such finales can often be found in works by Weber and Mendelssohn. But Moszkowski borrowed the form from his favourite composer, Schumann, writing a variegated rondo of scraps with many changes of tempo.

Winter in Buenos Aires is one of numerous works by Astor Piazzola (1921–1992) where his credo appears indisputably: the tango is not just music for dance, it is also for the ears. Having created the revolutionary trend of “new tango” which had absorbed equal elements of jazz and classical music, Piazzola quickly won acclaim abroad. But while he embodied Argentinean music through himself in the USA and Europe, at home his innovations were given a hostile reception.
The four pieces Seasons of the Year appeared individually between 1964 and 1970 and did not initially make up a suite. Today, all kinds of possible interpretations are performed, including symphonic ones, although in most arrangements the violin is the leader. The composer himself intended them for a quintet comprising a violin, electric guitar, piano, double bass and bandoneón (an Argentinean concertina, Piazzola’s favourite instrument).
Winter is one of the most dramatic pieces in the cycle. The free, fantastical development with the unexpected changes of tempo likens the piece to romantic poems. Piazzola’s serious and yet striking music today has entered the ranks of popular classical music and is already competing with Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons.

Anna Bulycheva
Age category 6+

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