BOLCOM: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-4

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William Bolcom (b. 1938)

Violin Sonatas

The Seattle-born composer and pianist William Bolcomstudied at the University of Washington with GeorgeFrederick McKay and John Verrall, with DariusMilhaud at Mills College and the Paris Conservatoire,and earned his doctorate at Stanford University. Since1973 he has taught at the University of Michigan, wherehe is the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished Professor ofMusic in Composition, has undertaken commissionsfrom organizations and individuals worldwide, and hasreceived numerous honours and awards, including thePulitzer Prize for Music in 1988 for his 12 New Etudesfor Piano.

Bolcom's compositions, widely performed andrecorded, include seven symphonies, various concertos,three operas for Lyric Opera of Chicago, three theatreoperas, and an extensive catalogue of chamber music aswell as keyboard, vocal, and choral music. For overthirty years Bolcom has accompanied his wife, mezzosopranoJoan Morris, in performances, both on stageand in over two dozen recordings of American popularsong. William Bolcom offered the following notes aboutthe four violin sonatas:Ever since I was small I have been fascinated bytwo musical sounds more than any other, the voice andthe violin. I cannot sing, although until recently I hadso-called perfect pitch, a gift that is more a curse than ablessing, I never could seem to get my voice to agreewith what my ear tells me is right, and I have nevershown aptitude for any other instrument than the piano.

When I was about ten we trundled out my maternalgrandfather's imitation Stradivarius, made inCzechoslovakia, I believe, and I took a few not-verysuccessfullessons; when the violin was stolen out of theback seat of my father's Buick, that was the end of mystudies of that instrument.

I had, however, the wonderful luck about that timeto get to know a local practising violinist well and,through him, the violin literature intimately. GeneNastri, who was then string and orchestral director forthe schools of Everett, Washington, an industrial townwhere we then lived, was kind enough to play throughthe little violin-and-piano tunes I wrote for him,interspersed with long reading sessions of theBeethoven and Mozart violin sonatas and much else. Icannot think of a better way for a non-player to find outabout the history and psychology of that instrument thanwhat Gene afforded me, and I shall always be in hisdebt.

The First Sonata for Violin and Piano wascomposed in 1956 during my freshman year at theUniversity of Washington in Seattle. It was written forPeter Marsh and his then wife Joanna, who never didperform the piece. The next spring the violinist JoyAarset and I gave the first performance of the sonata at auniversity concert. The present revised version wasrequested by the Hanley Daws - Katherine Faricy Duoof Saint Paul, who first performed it there in 1984.

I have mostly tightened the piece from the firstversion - over 200 measures of repetitious passageshave been excised, as well as a fugue in the lastmovement - but I rewrote only slightly, trying to keepthe youthful energy of the piece. Only three measureshave been added, in the second movement, to fill in alink I always felt missing. I have always had anaffection for this sonata and am glad for the opportunityto present it in this new version.

Coming 22 years after the first, the Second Sonataresults in part from the violinist Sergiu Luca'sassociation with the great jazz fiddler Joe Venuti. Lucawas one of the first classically-trained violinists of thelate l970s to begin showing interest in jazz styles, andVenuti, the living legend in his eighties, still had perfectintonation, dazzling technique, and dozens of freshmusical ideas. One unforgettable evening in April l978,at Michael's Pub in New York, Joe invited first Sergiu,then my wife Joan Morris and me, to play sets with him,bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Bobby Rosengarden.

(I do not remember what or how we did, as my head wasbuzzing with excitement at sitting in with the Master.)Sergiu had secured a commission from the McKimFund of the Library of Congress for a new piece for usto play; that summer, as Composer in Residence at theAspen Music Festival, I began work on the sonata,incorporating in it many of Joe's stylistic tricks,alternate left- and right-hand pizzicato, double-stopslides, his encyclopedia of nuances. One day in August1978 Sergiu phoned me at Aspen; Joe had died, and theSecond Sonata became his memorial.

The first movement, Summer Dreams, is a modifiedblues with a contrasting middle section. Brutal, fast is afurious improvisation on a small interval, containingone of the toughest passages for the piano I have everwritten. The Adagio which follows is a rhapsodic ariosoleading to a closing, hymn-like tune. The final InMemory of Joe Venuti, a sort of Venutian salsa, recallsmuch of his style.

The first performance by Sergiu Luca and thecomposer took place on 12th January, 1979, in TheCoolidge Auditorium at The Library of Congress inWashington, DC.

I am told by my long-time librettist and collaboratorArnold Weinstein that stramba means something like\weird" in Italian, and this [the third] is certainly aweird sonata. Its uncanny mood possessed methroughout its creation. I of course had Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg's highly individualistic violin style in mindwhen writing this work; it was a pleasure to invoke herdramatic, passionate personality in my work for her.

The first movement, after a long and highlytheatrical introduction, intones "guerra, guerra" in itsprincipal motive, obsessively and implacably, like warin human history. The Andante seems hardly a relieffrom the tragic mood despite its lyricism. "Like ashiver" is a scherzino leading directly into the lastmovement, which shares a mood somewhere betweenthe darker tangos of Astor Piazzolla and Arabic music.

None of these moods is quite "on the nose" or easilydefinable literally; the whole work is "stramba."Sonata No. 3 was commissioned by the AspenMusic Festival with support by the Debby and MartinFlug Foundation in honour of the 75th birthday of thelegendary violin teacher Dorothy Delay. The firstperformance was given by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenbergand the composer in Aspen on 12th July, 1993.

The Fourth Sonata is a present from a wife to ahusband. Cynthia Birdgenaw, concertmistress severalyears ago for the University of Michigan School ofMusic's University Symphony Orchestra, marriedanother violinist, Henry Rubin, of the University ofHouston faculty (concertmaster of the BrooklynPhilharmonic before going to Houston). Cynthia hadasked for a technically challenging and brilliant work inhonour of her husband's fiftieth birthday.

The first movement generally embodies a sonataallegroform in miniature, directly followed by "WhiteNight," an evocation of insomnia. (In the midst of thislatter movement a Christmas-carol-like tune emerges,similar, I find out, to a traditional Danish one - notsurprising, as I grew up in towns in Washington Statewith a high percentage of Scandinavians. Whereas thememory of it was intended to be soothing toward sleep,it proved to have the opposite effect on me.) As with theThird Sonata's finale, the next movement has an Arabicquality, filled with drama and fatefulness - perhapssome prescience of the current world atmosphere? - andsuffused with my love of that music; it leads to the Jotafinale, a Spanish dance with Moorish roots.

The Fourth Sonata (1994) was first performed on26th January, 1997, by the composer with the violinistHenry Rubin at the University of Michigan in AnnArbor, Michigan.

I am delighted that the married team of SolomiaSoroka and Arthur Greene have recorded my four violinsonatas. They have brought a special insight to theworks, emphasizing the traditional qualities w
Item number 8559150
Barcode 636943915028
Release date 01/01/2006
Category Violin
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Greene, Arthur
Soroka, Solomia
Greene, Arthur
Soroka, Solomia
Composers Bolcom, William
Bolcom, William
Disc: 1
Violin Sonata No. 4
1 I. Legend
2 II. Nocturne
3 III. Quasi-Variations: Scenes From a Young Life
4 I. Summer Dreams
5 II. Brutal, fast
6 III. Adagio
7 IV. In Memory of Joe Venuti
8 I. A piacere, drammatico - Allegro con fuoco
9 II. Andante
10 III. Like a Shiver - attacca -
11 IV. Moderato, risoluto, all’arabesca
12 I. Allegro brillante
13 II. White Night
14 III. Arabesque
15 IV. Jota
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