Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano
In this masterclass, Barnabás Kelemen discusses expressivity and pacing in the first movement of Ravel’s Sonata in G Major. He works with the student to capture the singing, legato quality of the music when it is called for, without creating unnecessary accents. However, while maintaining this legato, she must still express the underlying urgency of the music. He also helps the student find a balance between rubato and rhythmic precision. While he encourages both performers to be free in certain places, they must also be aware when it is necessary to play perfectly in time and pay close attention to the written rhythms, so their partner can follow. Kelemen also discusses the pacing, both in terms of timing and dynamics. All of the musical decisions should feel organic and intentional.
Finally, he offers her many suggestions for bowing, fingerings, and vibrato that will aid with technical ease and musicality.
Capturing the legato, cantabile quality.
Playing accurate rhythms, especially on tied notes.
Choosing bowings and which string to play on.
How to pace dynamics.
Stability and preparation in the left hand.
Maurice Ravel began composing his Sonata in G Major for violin and piano in 1923, but despite its short length, did not complete it until 1927. It was originally intended for violinist Hélène Jourdan-Morhange, who contributed many ideas to the work, particularly regarding the jazz elements. She was unable to premiere the piece due to arthritis, so it was first performed by George Enescu on violin with Ravel himself on piano. The piece is unique because Ravel attempted to bridge the gap between the sustaining ability of the violin and the percussive quality of the piano. The first movement, Allegretto, is in a loose sonata form that allows both performers a lot of freedom and obscures the harmonies. The piano is given concurrent melodic lines rather than a thick harmonic texture, which allows the violin melody to shine through. The second movement, Blues, is the heart of the piece. Though Ravel would not travel to the U.S. and experience true blues music until 1928, he had a passion for the jazz music he would hear in Parisian cafes and experimented with incorporating it into his works. It incorporates many jazz rhythms over accompaniment and trades the “blues” melody between the violin and piano. The final movement, Perpetuum mobile, consists of driving, virtuosic passagework in the violin, supported in the piano, that presses forward to the brilliant finish.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this violin masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Barnabás Kelemen’s feedback and comments.
He won first prize at the Salzburg International Mozart Violin Competition in 1999 and at the Indianapolis International Violin Competition in 2002.
Barnabás Kelemen has performed at some of the most famous concert halls in the world with his virtuoso technique and dynamic, passionate playing style. Versatile and open-minded, he is an outstanding soloist and chamber musician, as well as an Artistic Director of various festivals, and a teacher at renowned institutions. In recent years, he has also worked professionally as a conductor.
His repertoire is very diverse, including works from early Baroque, Classical, Romantic works, as well as pieces from the twentieth century. Additionally, he is a devoted advocate of contemporary music.
He regularly performs at the world’s most prominent concert venues, including Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw, the Royal Festival Hall, the Palais de Beaux Arts, Suntory Hall, and the Berliner Philharmonie. He is a frequent guest of such eminent ensembles as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Estonian National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and Hannover’s NDR Radiophilharmonie, to name but a few.
Barnabás Kelemen has worked with conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Sir Neville Marriner, Vladimir Jurowski, Marek Janowski, Michael Stern, Krzysztof Urbanski, Zoltán Kocsis, Péter Eötvös, and Iván Fischer. He is also an avid conductor himself – in recent seasons he has directed the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Israeli Chamber Ensemble, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra, and the symphonic orchestras of the Hungarian cities of Szombathely, Győr, and Pécs. On top of all this, he is a sensitive and experienced chamber musician who has played with artists of the calibre of Dezső Ránki, Steven Isserlis, Miklós Perényi, Alina Ibragimova, Vilde Frang, José Gallardo, and Andreas Ottensamer.
Together with Katalin Kokas, he is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Festival Academy Budapest Chamber Music Festival, which regularly features artists such as Vilde Frang, Maxim Rysanov, Shlomo Mintz, and Joshua Bell.
French composer Maurice Ravel was born in the French southwestern town of Ciboure in 1875. His parents moved to Paris shortly after his birth, and by age seven, Ravel began piano lessons. Five years later, at age twelve, he started composing. He was then admitted to the Conservatoire de Paris as a piano student, but was a very average student; he preferred composition. After graduating from the Conservatoire, he pursued his love for composition and was re-admitted to the prestigious musical institute, studying composition under Fauré.
In the 1900s, he adapted many of his piano compositions into orchestral works before WWI broke out in Europe. Ravel wanted to join, but was too old, and his health was not optimal. He nonetheless succeeded in being enlisted in 1915 as a lorry driver. The war changed him, like many soldiers who struggled to return to “normal” life. The 1920s were prolific for Ravel, as he composed many of his most famous pieces during that time. By the 1930s, he turned his attention to piano concertos.
Unfortunately, Ravel was in a traumatic taxi accident in 1932, which was not treated seriously, but seems to have precipitated an underlying cerebral condition. As his mental health deteriorated and the pain grew, he struggled to work and meet deadlines. In 1937, he had surgery to try and relieve some symptoms, but it only had temporary results, as he slipped into a coma soon after and died that same year at age 62.
Ravel's works list eighty-five works, including many incomplete or abandoned pieces. Among his most successful oeuvres are Boléro, Daphnis et Chloé, Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte, La Valse, Rhapsodie Espagnole, Gaspard de la nuit, Piano Concerto in G Major and Miroirs. He never married or had children and remained very private about his personal life, sparkling many rumors still unverified to this day. He is considered one of the most influential music figures of the 20th century, along with Debussy and Stravinsky.
Photo credit: BNF