Chinese pianist Yuja Wang and Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos perform Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100 (“Thun” or “Meistersinger”).

Chinese pianist Yuja Wang and Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos perform Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100 (“Thun” or “Meistersinger”).

Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2

Johannes Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor, Op. 2, and his Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100, also known as the “Thun” or “Meistersinger” Sonata, offers fascinating insights into the composer’s creative evolution and the diverse influences that shaped his music. While the Piano Sonata No. 2 was composed early in Brahms’ career, demonstrating his mastery of form and depth of expression at a young age, the Violin Sonata No. 2 reflects a more mature phase of his life, marked by lyrical beauty and intricate interplay between the violin and piano.

The Violin Sonata No. 2 was crafted during a summer spent in Thun, Switzerland, in 1886, a period of exceptional creativity and personal reflection for Brahms. Surrounded by the scenic beauty of the Bernese Oberland and in the company of friends such as the Swiss pastor and poet Josef Victor Widmann, poet Klaus Groth, and the young contralto Hermine Spies, Brahms found himself in an environment “so full of melodies that one has to be careful not to step on any.”

This vibrant and nurturing atmosphere led to the composition of not only the Violin Sonata but also the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99, the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, and various songs inspired by the voices and poetry of his companions.

The Violin Sonata No. 2 is distinguished by its brevity and intense lyricism, considered the most lyrical of Brahms’ violin sonatas. Achieving a successful performance of this sonata demands a delicate balance between lyricism and virtuosity, as it maintains a radiant and joyous mood throughout.

By titling the work “Sonata for Piano and Violin,” Brahms emphasized the equal importance of both instruments, a decision highlighted from the outset as the piano introduces the opening theme. The sonata subtly references themes from Richard Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,” despite the known rivalry between Brahms and Wagner, and incorporates motifs from songs written that summer, intertwining personal and musical narratives.

The premiere of the Violin Sonata No. 2 in Vienna in December 1886, with Brahms himself at the piano and Joseph Hellmesberger on violin, underscored the deep personal connections and artistic dialogues that pervaded Brahms’ work. The sonata not only showcases Brahms’ evolution as a composer but also reflects the rich tapestry of relationships and experiences that influenced his musical output. Through these compositions, Brahms navigated the complexities of musical form and expression, leaving a legacy that continues to resonate in the realms of piano and violin music.


1. Allegro amabile

The first movement of Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2, marked “Allegro amabile”, is marked by its lyrical beauty and warmth. This movement, like the rest of the sonata, reflects the idyllic and creative summer Brahms spent in Thun, Switzerland, in 1886. Characterized by its melodious and flowing themes, the opening movement immediately establishes a sense of intimacy and dialogue between the violin and piano, which is a defining feature of the entire work.

In this movement, Brahms intricately weaves together a fabric of musical ideas that are both tender and expressive. The piano introduces the initial theme, setting a serene and pastoral tone that is soon joined and embellished by the violin. The interplay between the two instruments is central to the movement’s character, with Brahms treating both as equal partners in the musical conversation.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this movement is its subtle allusions to other works and personal connections in Brahms’ life. The opening notes bear a resemblance to the melody and harmony of “Walther’s Prize Song” from Richard Wagner’s opera “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,” hinting at Brahms’ complex relationship with Wagner’s music. Furthermore, motifs from songs Brahms composed that summer, inspired by the voices and poetry of his friends, make fleeting appearances, enriching the movement’s emotional landscape.

The first movement’s lyrical quality and thematic integration exemplify Brahms’ mastery of musical expression and form. It sets the stage for the sonata’s exploration of lyricism and virtuosity, establishing a radiant and joyful mood that permeates the entire work. Through this movement, Brahms invites listeners into a world of intimate musical dialogue and reflection, showcasing his ability to blend personal experience with compositional craftsmanship.

2. Andante tranquillo – Vivace – Andante – Vivace di più – Andante – Vivace

The second movement of Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 is an intriguing blend of contrast and cohesion, marked “Andante tranquillo – Vivace – Andante – Vivace di più – Andante – Vivace.” This movement is unique in its structure, presenting a seamless integration of different tempos and moods that showcase Brahms’ innovative approach to sonata composition.

At the outset, the Andante tranquillo section sets a serene and contemplative tone, with the violin and piano engaging in a gentle, lyrical dialogue. This tranquility serves as the foundation of the movement, to which Brahms returns between the contrasting sections. The calmness of the Andante sections encapsulates a sense of introspection and warmth, providing a reflective space within the movement.

The Vivace sections introduce a lively and spirited contrast to the Andante’s tranquility. Here, Brahms explores a more playful and energetic dialogue between the violin and piano, marked by rhythmic vitality and melodic brightness. The interplay between the instruments in these sections is more animated, bringing a sense of dynamism and joy that contrasts with the opening’s calm.

Brahms masterfully transitions between these contrasting moods, weaving together the serene Andante and the spirited Vivace with great fluidity. The movement progresses through variations of tempo and intensity, with the “Vivace di più” section pushing the energy even further before returning once more to the Andante’s peaceful embrace.

3. Allegretto grazioso (quasi andante)

The third movement of Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100, marked “Allegretto grazioso (quasi andante),” is a work of sublime beauty and charm, epitomizing the lyrical and intimate qualities that define the sonata. This movement, with its graceful and almost leisurely pace, offers a moment of gentle reflection and joy, beautifully contrasting the more dynamic sections that precede and follow it.

In this movement, Brahms crafts a delicate and tender melody that flows effortlessly between the violin and piano, creating an atmosphere of serene elegance. The designation “Allegretto grazioso” suggests a light and graceful approach, while “quasi andante” indicates a pacing that is almost walking, adding to the movement’s relaxed and contemplative mood. This blend of tempo and character invites a performance that is expressive and nuanced, highlighting the sonata’s overarching themes of lyrical beauty and emotional depth.

The music unfolds with a sense of natural ease, weaving a tapestry of melodic and harmonic ideas that are both sweetly engaging and subtly sophisticated. Brahms demonstrates his mastery of chamber music writing, balancing the voices of the violin and piano in a way that allows both instruments to shine individually while contributing to the movement’s cohesive musical narrative.

The “Allegretto grazioso” is notable for its song-like quality, which resonates with the influence of the vocal music Brahms composed during the same period. Motifs from the songs he wrote that summer in Thun subtly inform the melodic material of the sonata, lending the movement an air of intimate personal expression.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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