Synesthesia: Brahms Sonata No. 1 for Violin in G Major

Synesthesia is a brain phenomenon that allows a person to experience a multi-sensory perception of music. Below is a visual of what I experienced when listening to Brahms Sonata No. 1 for Violin in G Major. 

You may follow along with the Free Score and recording below.

This sonata was composed by Johannes Brahms during the summers of 1878/1879 and was first performed on November 8, 1879 in Bonn, Germany, Beethoven’s home town. The encyclopedia Britannica defines the cyclic forms of a sonata as the compositional form characterized by the repetition, where in a later movement or part of the piece, of motives, themes, or whole sections from an earlier movement in order to unify structure. Indeed, a distinct melody line and underlying rhythmic pulse can be identified in every specific part of this sonata. Perhaps Brahms himself used the sonata form to mimic a rain-shower, given that he used this melody in various moods to create a Regenlied, or rain-song.

I – Right from the start of the first movement, the piano plays ever so lightly, to ease the listener into what follows. The violin’s melody falls into rapid descent to the sempre tranquillowhere the piano accompanies the violin’s melody without stepping into it, yet remaining a constant musical support. The piano melody starts off on the fifth of the scale, wailing its way down to the tonic only to bounce around, mimicking the impending rain through the heavy waving of the trees. Finally, after the melody repeats twice and the violin blurts out its highest note, the rain steadies and the piano settles into a rhythmic pulse rather than arpeggiating the notes (p. 3).

After the first crescendo, when the roles are reversed and the violin adds a lower harmony and shifts into the tenor line, the violin still remains prominent in a harmonious melody, while the piano keeps to it’s rhythmic pattern rather than taking on a soloists’s role. The piano notes are now taking bigger bolder leaps, doubling the melody, yet not overpowering the song of the violin in the lower register. Rather, they merge into a sweet muddy sound of intensity without a ferociousness (p. 4). The piano then skips down the scale while the violin soars upward to prepare for the melody theme to repeat again, ever so softly this time, with barely any piano.

The sonata returns to its familiar melody as the pretty little finger-dance on the piano clearly invokes the sweet little raindrops in a little countryside, this time with a different pulse (p. 7). The filling of the last three beats gives a fresh space for the first beat, bringing a different sound to the piano, before returning to arpeggiated twinkle-drops. The fiddler remains insistent on its mood, which is filled with underlying hardships masked by yearnings and hope, as the day comes to an end. These moods are played in vivid contrast when the piano support shifts from quarter notes to dolce dotted notes, accenting the different thoughts of the soloist (p. 9). When the piano begins to fill most of the space, the violin song drops by a third, in a questioning manner before settling to the familiar melody again.

This time, the piano boldly converses with the violin, perhaps in clarity of the realization of the rain’s purpose (p. 10). Almost as if the violin is the simple farmer and the piano is God the rainmaker, the piano then softens as to convince the necessity of the rain, perhaps a message to the simple farmer that another day will come, and the field will be restored to sunshine-health tomorrow. The piano does this by introducing the original melody with its stronger voice. The violin’s melody in response increases to question with sporadic highs and lows, while the piano supports with loving opposition. The joyous understanding emerges after the explanation of necessity, and it then slows to a sweet note of thanks with mutual agreement (p. 8). Only then is it safe for the violin to return to the original melody in relative faith (p. 10). The piano shows the love by following each utterances of the violin with three words of support, supporting each phrase. Now, the violin can repeat the melody with less support, and the piano noticeably softens. We know the farmer now accepts the rain with understanding, as the pitter-patter takes on a joyous sound, no matter its free-willed direction (p. 11-12).

Original Photography, please do not steal.

As the rain dies down, the glorious picture of its gift returns. We hear the sweetness enter the scene after the crescendo, with soft undertones (p. 13). The clean twinkling of the piano plays wonderfully to the beck and call of the violin, answering sweetly. Despite the surprise gracioso, the piano’s last attempt at this dance ends in both players going their separate ways by the calando. Peace is restored when the violin’s lovely melody line confirms that this feminista now has gained a stronghold over the piano’s intensity. As the violin leads off into the opening of the original melody line, it sends the piano spiraling into a foray of exploration, as it all culminates into a sense of finality at the conclusion (p. 15).

II – In the second movement, the ternary form (A-B-A) is clearly obvious, right when the violin’s melody comes in, only after the piano settles into a perfect adagio. The image is of a field washed clear, glistening with the crisp raindrops that fell just before in the first movement. The key change to Eb major is distinct in its contrasting crispness to the previous movement in the wet G major. This fresh start introduces the listener to the first melody by way of the piano in the entrance, before dropping to a lower register to welcome the the violin. The melody is an answer to the piano’s opening, in sweet calm with an air of lightness, even through its first crescendo. The piano now breaks into a heavy piu andante, warning us of what is to follow (p. 17). The violin joins in the cacophony, and tames the piano into submission, almost with a wise woman’s touch (p. 18).

Exquisite sound now emerges in the the adagio come I softly like in the beginning. Although the piano playing is rich, it does not take the lead, but merely aligns itself with the organized sound of the violin (p. 19). When the violin throws in the G flat and dips into minor territory, the sound of the piano softens as well, to welcome its espress mood change (p. 20). The piano however ceases to support the melody with arpegiated sweetness, and rather darkens the sound with trepidatious doubling of the first note of each violin breath, as if wondering what will come next.

The piano then tries to convince the violin to return to its sweetness, by gently prodding it with softened but questioning support of the tonic, almost like an invitation to please please come home (p. 20). With the violin’s safe re-entry, the piano now shows its approval by briefly nodding in treble clef. The violin’s boldness emerges with its harmony, sending the piano on a wild chase of support. Only when the violin returns to home does the piano then settle into the sweet diminuendo again, with its exquisite richness to end off the first movement, just like it began, wrapping up the ternary form.

III – The familiar melody now returns in the third movement in G minor with an allegro molto moderato quickening the pulse (p. 21). The nimble twinkles of the piano adds a flavorful trickle of sound to the violin’s long notes. When the violin crescendos into the leggiero, the piano lightly skips enough notes to lighten the support and create more breeze (p. 23). This fresh new space allows for the piano to enter again with its bright response to the melody which the violin has just produced. The violin remains dignified in its rejoining of the familiar melody-end of this phrase. The ferociousness of the piano now peaks as it begs the violin to return to G major. The violin insists on responding with the familiar melody, leaving the piano no choice but to return to accompanying it with mechanical disinterest (p. 24). When the violin insists yet again to just stick to its melody, the piano shamelessly insists on staying put in the same place without much emotion, even sneakily withholding the bass in some places. But when the violin launches into the beautiful Eb Major section with added harmony to its melody, the pianist sits up straight and gets to work (p. 26).

The familiar sweetness returns with glorious richness to support the violin. This encourages the violin to erupt into song, where it then turns into a fireball nodding its approval, before tranquility is restored (p. 28). The piano and the violin now work together to slide out of the minor mode, but it is merely a tease albeit a brave attempt, before the melody returns in G minor. Finally, we are successful and the shift to G major mode occurs after the crescendo in this coda(p. 30). When the violin convinces us that it is here to stay, it reintroduces the familiar melody in a well suited legato for the piano to match the added harmonious voices of the violin smoothly into the diminuendo. To end off this sonata, the piano takes the lead, prodding the violin to follow its melody, which it does without hesitation, after the poco ritard helping the violin rondo back home to utter its last sweet breath (p. 31).

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