Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18, 1st movement
In this masterclass, Mihaela Martin guides her student through finding more connection, expression, and activity in the first movement of Strauss’ Violin Sonata. Martin explains how long notes should always be ‘leading to or away’ from somewhere, and never remain empty. This concept can also be applied to the movement at large; the performer must always have direction in the sound and connection between notes to achieve maximum expression.
With this, arrival points must be identified and the rest of the music must always be in service of reaching them. Additionally, the professor discusses rhythm, fingerings, and quality of sound. She calls attention to the student’s tendency to move the body and the violin too much, and urges him to find more stability.
Clarity of rhythm.
Eliminating excess movement in the body and the violin.
Improving quality of sound.
Connecting the passages.
Richard Strauss composed his Violin Sonata in E-flat Major in 1887, at only twenty-three years old. It was one of the last traditional instrumental works he wrote, before dedicating himself to the symphonic tone poems and operas for which he would later be remembered. The violin sonata was composed the year Strauss met soprano Pauline de Ahna, his future wife; thus, many believe the sonata expresses feelings of love and passion.
The first movement, Allegro, ma non troppo, is in sonata-allegro form. It begins with a piano introduction, before the violin presents a melodic theme. The music travels through different meters and musical ideas, weaving together a dialogue between the two instruments that results in both lyricism and technical demands. The second movement, Improvisation: Andante cantabile, evokes the quality of a lied. Though it sounds improvisatory, the movement is in a clear ternary form. Nevertheless, it showcases beautiful melodic material in an intimate setting. The piece concludes with Finale: Andante - Allegro. The brief Andante is presented in the piano alone; when the violin returns for the Allegro, its material is reminiscent of the first movement. Both piano and violin engage in virtuosic sixteenth-note passages throughout the movement, before arriving at a satisfying and brilliant close.
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 Mihaela Martin’s feedback and comments.
Won second prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, which was followed by further main prizes in Montreal, Sion and Brussels.
Romanian-born artist Mihaela Martin is known as one of the most outstanding violin virtuosos of her generation. She began taking lessons with her father when she was five years old. Later, she studied with Stefan Gheorghiu, a pupil of George Enescu and David Oistrakh. At nineteen, Mihaela Martin won the Second Prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, followed by other prominent prizes in Montreal, Sion, and Brussels. Subsequently, her international career was launched after receiving First Prize at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.
She has performed with leading orchestras such as the BBC Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Furthermore, she has worked with conductors such as Kurt Masur, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Charles Dutoit, and Neeme Järvi. Together with Daniel Austrich, Nobuko Imai, and Frans Helmserson, she is a permanent member of the Michelangelo String Quartet, which she cofounded in 2003.
Mihaela Martin is a professor at the University of Music in Cologne and at the Haute Ecole de Musique in Geneva, and has taught at the Académie musicale de Villecroze. In addition, she teaches masterclasses all over the globe. She is a regular jury member at important international competitions, such as the Queen Elisabeth (Belgium), Indianapolis (USA), Enescu (Romania), and Tchaikovsky (Russia).
Richard Strauss was a German pianist, composer, and conductor born in Germany in 1864. His father was a professional musician, and Richard himself started taking piano lessons at the age of four. This was followed by composition and the violin classes starting from the age of eleven. While studying, he saw two productions of Wagner’s operas that made a significant impression on him. After graduating from the Ludwigsgymnasium in 1882, Strauss briefly studied art history and philosophy. Vocationally, however, he would continue to work in the musical milieu. Firstly, by becoming the assistant conductor at the Meiningen Court Orchestra. Later, he was appointed as the interim-leader of the orchestra when his boss and mentor Hans von Bülow suddenly quit his position. This brief period of Strauss’s musical life was marked by a true fascination with composer Johannes Brahms. A few years after meeting and marrying the love of his life, soprano Pauline de Ahna, he composed his first opera, Guntram, in 1894. It was not well received, but pushed him towards the forefront of the musical scene. When his first symphonic poem Don Juan premiered, it received great acclaim.
In 1894, after the Guntram debacle, he conducted Wagner’s Tannhäuser with Pauline singing the lead role of Elizabeth. He then assumed the role of lead conductor at the Berlin State Opera and stayed there for 15 years. WWII proved to be exceedingly difficult for Strauss and his family, especially when part of his daughter-in-law's family was deported and murdered, even though he had tried to intervene to prevent the tragedy. He was not popular with Nazi officials, but was left alone because of Nazi Germany’s interest in supporting German composers and musicians. The aftermath of the war was not a prosperous one: like most Germans, Strauss’s assets and money were seized, and he left the country to settle in Switzerland with Pauline. Even though he was over 80, he had to continue working as he needed income to live. In 1948, he was hospitalized due to a bladder infection, and he never fully recovered. Soon after, he died from a heart attack and kidney failure.
Despite Richard Strauss’ difficult final years marked by distress and financial instability, he managed to leave a great legacy behind. He has undeniably influenced many 20th musicians and composers. His most celebrated works include his operas Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, his Lieder, especially his Last Four Songs, his symphonic poems including Sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, An Alpine Symphony, and many other instrumental works.