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).

Synesthesia: Mozart’s Four Flute Quartets

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 Mozart’s Four Flute Quartets.

Mozart Flute Quartet No. 1 in D Major, K 285

The first movement is very anxious. It rushes to the goal and keeps chasing its way. Never satisfied with a temporary arrival, there is constant anxiety. This is a very unsettling piece and seems greedy. I want more, I want the red one, like they have, there on the other side. (@2:00) No matter what you give them, they keep running ahead, on tippy toes, too anxious to stomp, gain foothold, to take full manly steps on this path (@3:55). This trio of heavyset women are not looking to adapt, but are only after personal gain.

Adagio-Rondo: (@4:52) Finally, the individual is on a vast expanse of landscape, but the sun has set, so visibility is bad. With that, one cannot help but become in tune with the surrounding adjectives that nature offers. As you become more in tune with what the surroundings give you, you suddenly know where you are in space. The distant mountains are no longer your measure, but the nearest tree is.   With this, comes an awakening (@7:19). Oh! You’ve been here all this time, but I certainly didn’t see you, or appreciate you. Wow, look, another one of the same kind of tree. Ha, look this one has buds. Oh, wow, a whole row of them.  Is that edible? Ooh! Sweet, and tangy. Wow, how interesting. (@8:26) Oh look, a little creature, what kind is that? Wooops, it’s gone.  But ah, over there is a full colony of bouncy little creatures, zipping all around, and they too have gotten a hold of these edible buds (@9:20).

Now, if I can only zip around like them, but I can’t. I don’t want to trip on these rocks, but they know them well. I’ll just hold on to the branches, and throw myself from tree to tree, so that I am just a few inches above the ground, but not low enough to hit it.  (@10:05) Ah, I’m getting the swing of it. And the creatures are running underfoot, trying to match my pace. There, we’re in sync now (@10:11).  Will they prance with me the entire night? Until the morning? Well, let’s just keep going, because this feels safe.  Oh, oh, I’m at the end of the forest (@11:05). Now I know how to pass through, for next time.

Flute Quartet No. 2 in G Major, K. 285A

Andante: We open the scene in the grand ballroom, but the main room is vacant, people haven’t arrived yet. A servant scuttles along, adjusting a little tablecloth, lining up two vases (@:57). He then walks around in a circle, checking everything out from a distance. He then walks over  to the windows, and takes a look down the long road.  He is checking for people, but sees no wagons arriving yet. (@1:25) So he paces back and forth, making himself look busy, but he truly doesn’t know what he is supposed to do next. He looks here, there, he is worried for his job if things aren’t perfectly arranged. His thoughts are not very involved, and mostly superficial, and vague. (@1:49) Breezing through the room, he finally takes a final, and determined walk to one side (@2:00), and presses himself against the wall, making himself blend into the décor.

(@2:01) A second servant comes in and does the exact same thing, but this man is older, grayer, and with very furry eyebrows. His calf muscles are thick, taught, his silk stockings stretched to the limit. He is too old for the lady-like shenanigans pertaining to décor (@3:18). He is checking if the furniture is solid, strong, and in the right place.  He is satisfied, and with a nod to himself, and a small grunt under his breath, he walks out.

Tempo di Minuetto: (@8:26) But, he’s back. He is back with a cart, laden with books. He takes his time, rearranging them before finding their place in the grand library shelves.  He seems bored, ignoring the wealth of information in his hands. (@10:10) He is skimming the titles with nonchalance, indifferent to the sweetness of the story it tells. He is wondering about his next meal (@11:03). He is really getting bored, he considers this redundant repetitive work. He is nodding off, awakes, (@11:25) just as the books were going to fall out of his hands. He gets a grip, and finishes his job.

Flute Quartet No. 3 in C Major, K. 285B

The people arrived. Women, dressed in dark coats and furs to protect against the winter cold, sail into the ballroom, accompanied by their partners. Everyone  is rushing about, looking for the best place to sit, near the fireplace. (@1:29)More couples, still coming in. They keep coming through the entrance, not in a chaotic order, but in a mannered sequence, as if they rehearsed. There, all seated (@2:09). Nearly, a second later, they watch the procession of servants rushing about, with oversized trays, laden with wasteful amounts of foods. Sugar-glazed senseless mounds of food, in ostentatious hues. They worry about gorging themselves. Seriously? More food?  And more, it keeps coming. The servants suddenly are gone.

(@2:57) No kidding, household pets, dressed in costumes? Okay, that is quite hilarious. How long do you think that cat will remain standing upright in her missy gown? (@4:00) But now, look how they join paws, and resemble humans! Comical but entertaining at the same time. Ha, they’re pairing up, having themselves a little dance. Careful, don’t twirl so fast, you can trip on that ruffled gown. So now, they twirl in the opposite direction (@4:26). They are appearing a bit woozy. Still recovering @5:07), trying to twirl. A last effort at the dance, but, Ha! They all plop down!

Second Movement

Andantino: Here, let me help you get up. You, and you. Up. Oh, are you hurt? Never mind. You, get up. Oh good, you’re all getting up on your own. Great. Get up, and move to the side. No, don’t wiggle-waggle, just walk. In a straight line, preferably. You look drunk. Is it that you are all dizzy? (@2:04) No! No! No more dancing, no more twirling. Stop! Stop, you will fall again!

(@3:11) Oh, come on! Stop swinging from the chandelier! You, get off the window sill, it is not entertaining! You there, on the Persian rug, stop this game, it is not funny.  I will catch you!

(@3:33) Ha, you two, pretending to be human beings, but you are just a cat and a dog. You see? You have no grace, your arms don’t flex properly. This dance is not for your kind! That pretty winter white gown won’t help you a bit. So don’t flaunt it, you cheeky thing.

Allegro: (@3:55) Ah, here is the town poet, here to entertain us. What have you got for us? The story of the Count’s debate with the neighboring town’s minister. Each one with their perspective, a dialog ensues (@4:36). But wait, this is the proof. You see? I am backing it up. Here is my source. Ah, yes, but did you know that I saw that before you? When I saw it, it was a different shade of dark steel grey, with creases of amber. Really? Because the amber must have been your version, because I saw all steel, with silver ropes holding it together.

Oh, but when I was with all my cavalry, we were riding along on that path, and we saw none of it. (@5:33) We saw long roads, muddy, but not disturbing to our strong horses. We looked way out there, and we couldn’t see far at all. But what we did see was simple, unadorned, with hints of security. We cleared a path around it. We ripped out the weeds, and set aside the fallen leaves.  (@6:35) Yes! It was there, cleared and pronounced.

We were quite serious about this affair, and did not dally around. We checked and double checked to make sure we covered our bases. We loaded it onto the first wagon, and rode off, gaily in the night . (@7:44) The moon was shining silver beams, illuminating our path clearly. (@9:15) We  had no concerns at all, relying on the strength of our team. We rode like that for the rest of the night.

Flute Quartet No. 4 in A Major, K.298

Andantino: As we got closer to town, we saw the milkmen out early to milk their cows, fair maidens wrapped in their shawls on the way to collect the eggs from the henhouse. There were no children awake, but the simple townfolks walking half-asleep to their chores.

(@1:14) But ah, there! A beautiful young deer, elegantly darting around, nimble on his slender legs. We catch but a glimpse of it, before another one appears. (@1:31) One at a time, we see a family of deer passing through in the morning dawn. (@1:48) They joined each other in a pack, and merged as a team of beauty, dancing  back and forth, in figure eights, with pure carefreeness, oblivious to the awakening townspeople.

(@2:21) The mother stepped out of the circle, to show off a new dance step. They are not ready yet, they are still enchanted by watching her. So she keeps dancing, intensifying her moves. She is not tired yet, she gallops, and jumps, and runs around in circles, forming a story.

(@2:39) Wow, the young deer follow her, all trying to be synchronised, but not at all necessary. A cacophony of legs are flying, but basically lined up, enough to pass. The margin of error is acceptable, as they continue to imitate the very show they were presented.   The older ones are stronger and leap higher, the younger ones, finally quite down.

Menuetto & Trio:  (3:28) They are spent, but hungry. They shuffle about, noses to the ground, sniffing the leaves on the ground. Hoping for a berry, they leave no leaves unturned.  Not being successful, they intensify their search, kicking about, playfully, making a game of it just for fun. (@4:39) Perhaps if we go in groups of four, orderly, we can have strength to move larger rocks and bushes.

Rondo: Allegretto grazioso: It’s getting harder to keep the group all lined up, the young ones keep rushing about, doing their own thing. The older ones are trying to keep them corralled in.  They resist, one little one escapes (@5:20). They are quickly tucked back into line. Inside their circle, the resist and prance about, not standing still.  They get lectured, rebuked. Momentarily intimidated, they behave. The group moves along, but with the subdued baby deer, they moved slow and heavy. Finally, they get the go ahead to increase their pace, and everyone finds it easier to move this way. Finally, they are making headway. They moved along the meadow, coming all the way to the other side, where the grass is thicker, and lush. They scuttle around, but then hear a snort, a signal. Over there, to the other side. They all rush over, and are content with what they found.