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Parisian audiences were still being shocked and baffled by the first production of Carmen when the 30-year-old organist Gabriel Faure, Saint-Saens deputy at the church of the Madeleine, put the finishing touches to his Violin Sonata in A, op. 13. Since 1872 the composer had been rubbing shoulders with Flaubert and Turgenev, Renan and Georges Sand at Pauline Viardot's Paris salon, and he dedicated the sonata to her son Paul. Most of it was written during the summer of 1875 at Sainte-Adresse in Normandy, where Faure was a houseguest of the rich industrialist Camille Clerc. Another guest, the young Belgian violinist Hubert Leonard, was able to offer advice as composition proceeded. Through Clerc's influence, Breitkopf and Hartel took on publication of the sonata, on condition that Faure, largely unknown as a composer, receive no royalties. The work's premiere, in 1877, was in fact a great success. The opening theme of the Allegro molto, wide ranging and adroitly syncopated, has a Schuman-nesque verve and energy which propel the whole movement forward. A bridge motif of four ascending notes leads to the second theme in the violin, descending and of more limited compass. The bridge motif closes the exposition (Faure marks a repeat), then all three themes are developed in turn until, after a brief, rapturous pause, the violin introduces the reprise. A throbbing trochaic rhythm permeates the D minor Andante, the violin responding with a cadential flourish to the piano's mournfully rising figure. The latter, inverted in F major on the violin, acts as the second theme, and eventually brings the movement to an eloquent, soaring climax in D major. The scherzo has violin and piano scampering after one another in witty, quicksilver crossrhythms, the flowing, more serious trio offering a brief respite. (This movement had to be encored at the first performance.) The closing Allegro quasi presto begins with an urbanely sauntering tune in compound rhythm. A more energetic, syncopated theme on the piano leads to a fiercely declamatory motif in octaves on the violin, almost like a cock-crow. The development plays half-questioningly on the opening theme, whose first three notes the piano then repeats in different keys while the violin weaves figurations above in duple rhythm. The opening theme briefly appears a fourth time, after the reprise, to usher in an exultant, high-spirited conclusion.
The sonata is eleven years older than Cesar Franck's, with which it is often compared. As Koechlin commented, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's, to Gabriel what is Gabriel's." More than 40 years separate it from the Violin Sonata in E minor, op. 108, which opens the splendid series of Faurd's late chamber works. Considered by many superior to op, 13, it is much less well known. "My poor Sonata is still so rarely played", Faure complained to his wife in 1922; "Music takes so long to get known!" It was begun at Evian in the summer of 1916 and completed the following winter. "Here at last is music that restores music to its rightful place", wrote Paul Dukas, "that is neither Javanese nor Russian nor Polynesian and in which the reasons of the mind blend with the reasons of the heart". Faure's indifference to musical trends may in part have been a consequence of the deafness which afflicted him increasingly after 1903. Notes were distorted at both ends of the register, and he could hear only the middle range accurately. At the same time, he was by character drawn to write "absolute" music, devoid of any external programme, which by deliberately limiting its resources would achieve a rarefied eloquence, a passionate and deeply affecting introspection. The first movement of op. 108 expresses a frenzied agitation remarkable in a composer of 71. It retains the tripartite structure of sonata form but develops its themes continually: rather than themes, in fact, there are groups of motifs which combine and segment, to reveal unsuspected interrelations. The violin at once attempts to soothe the ominous crescendo "hammer" motif of the opening with descending syncopations, and then itself proposes a gently surging figure. This leads to an emphatic melodic phrase, presented several times and characterized by an initial diminished fourth over augmented harmonies, before a tender strain beginning with five descending notes intervenes (dolce tranquillo, with the ominous rhythm still in the bass). Its reappearances mark the movement's gradual transition from grimness to exuberance. The opening violin melody of the Andante (based on a theme from the rejected Symphony in D minor op. 40) seems to circle, trapped, around itself while the piano's chords sketch a delicate counterpoint. A second theme, also on the violin, has wider intervals and more adventurous harmonies; in successive appearances it attains an impassioned frankness, without ever unlocking the secret of the wistful opening. The latter returns with characteristic "wrong note" harmonies, and the second theme sings in canon on violin and piano (in the bass) before both themes merge more and more intimately as the music moves to a close. The rondo-like Final begins with a refrain whose undulating melody is of disarming simplicity. A triumphant theme on the violin, beginning with an octave drop, leads imperceptibly back to the refrain; then the piano proposes a third theme (cantando) against perpetually shifting harmonies. After its second appearance, the refrain has its time values briefly doubled. After its third, the "hammer" motif from the first movement rumbles in the bass and the tender strain from the same movement also returns. The undulating melody of the refrain, increasingly obsessive, builds to final a climax, marked by violin figurations that recall the opening Allegro.