Masterclass: Vadim Gluzman on Brahms's Violin Sonata no.1

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The Israeli violinist discusses why colour, shading and restraint are key in the first movement of this often-misinterpreted work. From the September 2017 issue

This sonata touches me in a way that even some other works by Brahms do not. There is something incredibly haunting and intimate about it that is difficult to put into words. It is one of Brahms’s most introverted works and emotionally that makes it ever more powerful: it is most painful to bleed on the inside, and that is the feeling here.

This sonata is rather awkward – the notes do not always lie well on the instrument – but that shouldn’t prevent us from playing it! The greatest challenge, in the first movement in particular, is to give every musical sentence a structure. Brahms asks for incredible variety of colour and mood, in a way that is untypical of him.

Already in the opening statement, marked mezza voce, we feel a direction towards a shade rather than black or white. In bar 70 he writes ‘grazioso e teneramente’ (graciously and dearly). Here he is at his most sensual and sentimental; the gradation of emotion and colour is almost a prediction of 20th-century French Impressionism. To strike a balance between colour, mood and structure…

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