Former concertmaster of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra Jeremy Mastrangelo took the stage with faculty member Juan La Manna for a concert with all of Johannes Brahms’ violin sonatas, on Sept. 13.
Brahms was a composer that lived during the Romantic period of music, known for expression and experimentation with musical forms, styles and tonalities. Brahms was unique in that although he lived in this era when many composers were moving away from the Classical period, Brahms still maintained many Classical elements. He is loved for combining the best of both eras. In particular, performers love the Brahms violin sonatas, as well as his violin concerto, which he wrote for his close friend, Joseph Joachim.
The concert began with a talk hosted by La Manna, in which the two discussed the music of the night, and how the pieces played at the concert were written throughout Brahms’ lifetime, so they could explore the range of emotions and how the composer’s style changed and progressed throughout his lifetime. Also, the audience was treated to some insight into the pieces, particularly for the Sonata in G major.
Brahms was a very close friend, a “spousal relationship” as Mastrangelo described, with Clara Schumann, an extremely gifted pianist and wife of Romantic composer Robert Schumann. Brahms often sent her copies of his manuscripts for her to review and play. While composing his Sonata in G major, her sent her copies. At the time, her son had passed away. Brahms told Schumann that he wrote in a funeral dirge for her son in the first and second movements, as well as quoting one of her favorite songs at the beginning of the third movement.
The beginning of concert began with the Scherzo movement of the F.A.E. (frei aber einsam; “free but lonely”) Sonata, which was a piece that Robert Schumann, Albert Dietrich and Brahms, worked on together as a piece that was a “guess who wrote what movement,” according to La Manna. The Scherzo movement was a young man’s piece, though not a classical light and dancing movement. The piece was driving, dark, and gritty, with jumping and high melodies. The piece had two lyrical slow breaks. It thoroughly sounded like a young man’s piece, with intensity and braggadocio. The audience was treated to Mastrangelo’s animated and lively playing.
The second sonata, as indicated by their introduction was profoundly sad. The first movement began with a slow, loving and lyrical melody, and continued to be tender and bittersweet. An interlude followed, with a piano solo, and Mastrangelo accompanied the solo playing pizzicato (plucked strings), and ended with a light dance section and dazzling off beats that elicited faux pas applause after the movement. The second movement began with crunchy chords, but followed a Classical-sounding progression. Many themes were repeated throughout the movement. The piece ended with beautiful, heart melting, and bittersweet double stop (two strings at once) playing. The third movement repeated many of the themes of the previous movements, and ended with a lovely progression and double stop playing.
The Sonata in A major was beautiful and serene throughout, and felt like a summer’s love song. The movements did not follow a typical Classical form. It was the simplest of the pieces played, and was a nice change of pace following intermission after the emotionally powerful Sonata in G major.
The Sonata in D minor sounded like a piece of a man growing old, and frustrated with his age. The first movement was introductory, but introduced the themes of frustration and turmoil. The second movement gave the impression that Brahms was weary of the world and wanted respite. However, the grief came in waves, and came between sections of happiness and frustration. The final movement began with a feeling that seemed like a grandfather meeting his grandchildren. The piece felt like it was more in major than the minor key of the piece, but it ended in a dazzle with a definite feeling that this was the movement to convey frustration.
The concert ended with a flash and a standing ovation.