Lately, I’ve been re-listening a lot of violin pieces. Then I thought to myself: what’s nicer than sharing your love for pieces with others? Here’s a list of pieces with some of my favourites from the violin repertoire. You can find recordings of the pieces underneath this post.
Sonata for violin and continuo No. 2 – Biber (1681)
I’m going to start off with this beauty. This is one of my favourite pieces all time. The Passacaglia for solo violin is probably one of Biber’s most known pieces. It was actually the first piece that I heard by Biber. After hearing more music of him I am convinced that he was a genius, and this Sonata proves it even more. I had the pleasure to study and play this piece this school year.
The piece starts with an opening, the ‘Praeludium’. Biber uses this movement to let the public get acquainted with the tonality in which the piece is written in. After that, the violin plays the theme of the piece, which I think is extremely beautiful. The first time I heard it I almost got tears in my eyes. After the theme, the variations start (there are six in total). The thing I like the most about this piece is that each variation has his own character. I think this is what makes the piece so special. It uses the same kind of material but takes you through a lot of emotions. The piece is not that long, but the practice time that went in it was enormous!
Sonata for Solo Violin No. 2 – Ysaÿe (1923)
Ok, we’re going to make a huge jump in time. This sonata for solo violin, written by Ysaÿe is breathtaking and amazing. The first time I heard the piece was during a violin summer course in Hungary. I immediately decided that one day I would also play this piece. Since I don’t like ripping one movement out of a piece, I put all the movements in the list down below. The movements are not that long, so if you have the time, I can definitely recommend listening to the whole piece.
The first movement begins with a quotation of Bach’s third Partita and after a few bars it stops and turns into something completely different. After this big change, it turns back to Bach for a few bars and again changes in Ysaÿe’s own composition. The Dies Irae theme is a returning element throughout the whole piece. For those who don’t know the Dies Irae theme, here’s a Youtube link to listen to.
The second movement is maybe one of the most beautiful movements ever written. There are two voices in the violin part. Again the Dies Irae theme appears at the end of the piece and with that, the movement ends.
The third movement begins with pizzicato. This movement consists of different Dies Irae themes. Each one of them has a different character. That makes it very interesting to listen to, it carries you away in different kinds of emotions. At the end, the theme is played again, but this time it’s not pizzicato, it is played with the bow. This movement also left me in tears the first time I heard it.
The fourth movement is the craziest of them all and the most exciting to hear. The double stops make the most interesting harmonies. The differences between the forte and piano passages are magical to listen to. Aah, I could listen to this piece at any given moment!
Poème – Chausson (1896)
This piece is magic! The original piece is written for violin and orchestra, but I have to say that I like the version with violin and piano a lot as well. In the list, I added the orchestra version with on the violin Itzhak Perlman. The piece opens very calmly and after a certain point, the violin starts to play his line, which is mesmerising. The second time the violin enters a completely different character starts to build up in the piece. What is interesting to know is that this piece was written on request of Ysaÿe. The first time that this piece was played was in 1896, at a party where Ysaÿe and the wife of Chausson sight-read through the piece. Fun fact: Ysaÿe wrote the double-stops that you hear in the exposition over Chausson’s framework. The whole piece is dreamy and melancholic. That’s probably the reason why I love this piece so much.
What is interesting to know is that this piece was written on request of Ysaÿe. The first time that this piece was played was in 1896, at a party where Ysaÿe and the wife of Chausson sight-read through the piece. Fun fact: Ysaÿe wrote the double-stops that you hear in the exposition over Chausson’s work. The whole piece is dreamy and melancholic. That’s probably the reason why I love this piece so much.
Le bœuf sur le toit – Milhaud (1920)
We go on with another French composer: Milhaud. I think that every violinist should know this piece. It’s swingy and you can hear the Brazilian influences in this piece. Milhaud visited Brazil during the First World War. The piece was supposed to be music for a silent film of Charlie Chaplin, but eventually became music for a surrealistic ballet. The thing that is so fun about the piece is that Milhaud quoted a lot of Brazilian choros in his piece (30 to be exact!). Choro is a Brazilian instrumental genre which originated in the 19th century in Rio de Janeiro.
The piece opens with one tune that keeps coming back throughout the piece. It is very happy and rhythmical. If you listen to this piece, you should listen to the whole piece. Well, at least I wouldn’t be able to stop somewhere in the middle because it’s so incredibly fun to listen to. The recording I put on the list is one that I used to listen a lot when I was still living home. It’s a recording with Renaud Capuçon, probably one of my favourite recordings with violin and orchestra. The cadenza in this piece is so happy and swingy, I can’t get enough of it. So if you don’t know this piece, please listen to it! If I had the chance to listen and analyse this piece with all of you readers, I would definitely do it!
Author: Nino Natroshvili
Violinist and student at the Utrecht Conservatory, the Netherlands.