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Sonata for violin and piano

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1. Allegro vivo – 2. Intermède: fantasque et léger – 3. Finale: très animé

In a letter dated 22 July 1915, Debussy announced to Jacques Durand, his publisher, a projected series of six sonatas for various instruments. The third of them, his Sonata for violin and piano of 1916-1917 was the last work he completed before his death the following year. Much weakened by his battle against cancer, and faced with the growing hardships of the First World War, he despaired of ever completing the work. He struggled with the finale especially and, ever the perfectionist, decided to rework it. Despite Debussy’s misgivings, Durand considered the new movement superb: “A week later, he asked me to call at his home, where he played the new finale, which undoubtedly overshadowed the previous version.” Everything here seems effortless, and the sonata is fascinating in its inventiveness, the exhilaration of its movement, the freedom and flexibility of its discourse, all of which conceal a rigorous structure (making use in particular of the resources of a cyclical theme – Debussy described it as “a simple theme that turns back on itself like a snake biting its tail” – that is stated in the opening bars). As in Debussy’s other late works, the writing is more spare, the line sharper; the melody has the vehement and disillusioned accents of a flamenco singer. On 7 May 1917 he wrote to his friend Robert Godet: “I have – at last! – finished the Sonata for violin and piano! By the most human of contradictions, it is filled with tumultuous joy. In future, beware of works that seem to hover in the sky; often they have languished in the darkness of a morose mind.” The première of this sonata, on 5 May 1917 at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, with the violinist Gaston Poulet, was Debussy’s last public performance.


publication date : 25/09/23

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