Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos and the Chinese pianist Yuja Wang perform Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (Violin Sonata No. 2). This performance was recorded at Carnegie Hall in 2014.

Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang perform Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (Violin Sonata No. 2). This performance was recorded at Carnegie Hall in 2014.

Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (Violin Sonata No. 2)

Inspired by the kinds of music of American origin (jazz and blues), Ravel composed this sonata between 1923 and 1927. When the composer was living in Montfort-l’Amaury, France, he accompanied a French violinist, Helen Jourdan-Morhange (1888 – 1961). Ravel and Helen shared a love for jazz. In a letter in March 1920, Ravel indicated that he was planning to write a violin concerto for her – but that was an unfulfilled project. Ravel dedicated to her the Sonata for Violin and Piano, and it was intended that she should give the first performance. But her career was cut short when her hands were afflicted by arthritis.

The classic blues band of W.C. Handy (William Christopher Handy – November 16, 1873 – March 28, 1958, an American blues composer and musician, was widely known as the “Father of the Blues”) exhibited the style of St. Louis blues in Paris from 1923 to 1927. Ravel was inspired by the style of music and dance and applied the technical and melodic forms of blues to the work.

Jazz elements can also be found in other works of Ravel, for example, the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, etc.

Ravel’s approach to this sonata was notably different from his earlier works. He moved away from the lush, impressionistic textures that characterized his previous compositions. Instead, this sonata demonstrates a more stripped-down and clear-cut style, reflecting the influence of American jazz and the neoclassical movement led by Igor Stravinsky. These influences are evident in the sonata’s rhythmic vitality and harmonic language, which includes unexpected turns and a playful use of dissonance.

The interplay between the violin and piano in the sonata is also noteworthy. Ravel, known for his masterful orchestration, brings out a rich palette of timbres and colors even within the constraints of just two instruments. The violin part, often lyrical and expressive, contrasts with the more percussive and rhythmic role of the piano. This interplay creates a lively dialogue that is both challenging and rewarding for performers.

Despite its modernist leanings, the Sonata for Violin and Piano is deeply rooted in classical form and structure. Ravel’s craftsmanship in form and development is evident, as he skillfully weaves thematic material throughout the piece, creating a sense of unity and coherence.

The piece was initially met with mixed reactions, as its departure from Ravel’s earlier style and the incorporation of jazz elements were quite novel at the time. However, it has since become a staple in the violin repertoire, celebrated for its innovative use of rhythm, harmony, and texture.


1. Allegretto

The first movement of Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, titled “Allegretto,” is a fascinating and innovative piece that sets the tone for the entire sonata. It is characterized by its lightness, clarity, and a subtle blend of classical form with modernist elements.

This movement is structured in a sonata-allegro form, a common choice for the opening movement of a sonata. However, Ravel’s approach to this form is anything but traditional. The movement opens with a gentle, lyrical theme introduced by the violin, immediately establishing a sense of intimacy and introspection. This theme is notable for its simplicity and elegance, a contrast to the more complex and richly textured compositions that Ravel was known for in his earlier years.

The piano joins in, not merely as an accompaniment but as an equal partner in the musical dialogue. The interplay between the violin and piano is one of the defining features of this movement. Ravel’s writing for both instruments is masterful, with the piano providing both harmonic support and rhythmic vitality to complement the violin’s melodic lines.

As the movement progresses, Ravel introduces a second theme, which provides a contrast to the first. This theme is more rhythmic and energetic, showcasing Ravel’s interest in the rhythms and harmonies of jazz, which was a novel and somewhat controversial inclusion at the time. The jazz influences are not overt but are subtly woven into the fabric of the music, adding a unique flavor to the movement.

The development section of the movement is where Ravel’s skill in thematic transformation is most evident. He takes the initial themes and manipulates them, exploring different textures and harmonies, and developing the musical ideas further. This section maintains the overall light and transparent texture of the movement, avoiding the dense counterpoint that characterized much of the music of that era.

The recapitulation brings back the initial themes, now transformed and enriched by their journey through the development section. The movement concludes with a sense of resolution, yet it retains a hint of the introspection and subtlety that it began with.

2. Blues. Moderato

The second movement of Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, titled “Blues. Moderato,” is a striking and innovative part of the sonata that distinctly showcases Ravel’s fascination with American jazz and blues music. Composed during a time when jazz was burgeoning in Paris, this movement is a testament to Ravel’s ability to incorporate contemporary influences into his classical compositions.

The “Blues” movement is characterized by its rhythmic vitality, syncopation, and a sense of improvisational freedom, all hallmarks of jazz and blues music. It opens with a bluesy, swinging melody in the violin, immediately setting a mood that is both moody and playful. The use of certain techniques on the violin, such as slides (or glissandi) and pizzicato, adds to the jazz-like flavor of the music, creating a sound that was quite novel in classical chamber music at the time.

The piano part in this movement is equally significant. It complements the violin with syncopated rhythms and chords that are reminiscent of jazz piano accompaniment. The piano’s role is not just supportive; it engages in a lively dialogue with the violin, sometimes echoing its melodies, at other times providing a rhythmic and harmonic foundation over which the violin part can soar.

Throughout the movement, Ravel maintains a balance between the classical sonata form and the freer, more improvisational style of blues. This is achieved through his careful structuring of the movement and his subtle use of harmonic progressions that, while evoking the blues scale, still adhere to a sense of tonal center typical of classical music.

The interlude sections in this movement are particularly noteworthy. They feature more introspective and lyrical moments, providing a contrast to the rhythmic and bluesy character of the main themes. These sections showcase Ravel’s skill in creating a wide range of emotions and textures within a single movement.

The “Blues” movement ends with a return to the initial themes, but now with a sense of increased energy and drive, leading to a spirited and rhythmically charged conclusion. This movement not only provides a stark contrast to the more subdued and classical first movement but also sets the stage for the final movement, creating a diverse and richly textured overall sonata.

3. Perpetuum mobile. Allegro

The finale of Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano is titled “Perpetuum mobile. Allegro.” This movement is characterized by its relentless energy, technical demands, and the brilliant interplay between the violin and piano. It serves as a vibrant and exhilarating conclusion to the sonata.

“Perpetuum mobile,” which translates to “perpetual motion,” is an apt description of this movement. It is built around a rapid, continuous stream of notes that creates a sense of unending motion and energy. This motif is introduced right at the beginning and is maintained throughout the movement, giving it a driving, almost breathless quality.

The violin part in this movement is particularly challenging. It requires a high level of technical skill, as the violinist must play rapid passages and complex figurations at a fast tempo. The piano part is equally demanding, with its quick, repetitive patterns and the need to maintain a precise rhythm to synchronize with the violin.

Despite the focus on velocity and technical display, Ravel’s compositional skill ensures that the music is not just a showcase of virtuosity. The movement is carefully structured, with the perpetual motion theme being developed and varied as it progresses. Ravel’s mastery of form and his ability to create coherence and unity even in such a fast-paced and lively context are evident.

The harmony and rhythm in this movement are also noteworthy. Ravel employs shifting harmonies and syncopated rhythms that add to the dynamic and spirited character of the music. These elements, combined with the constant motion of the melodic line, create a sense of excitement and spontaneity.

As the movement builds towards its conclusion, the tempo and energy increase, leading to a climactic and exhilarating finale. This ending perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the entire sonata – a blend of classical tradition and modernist innovation, showcasing Ravel’s unique musical language and his ability to push the boundaries of conventional forms.

The “Perpetuum mobile” movement is not just a technical tour de force but also a brilliant piece of music that demonstrates Ravel’s compositional prowess and his ability to create vivid, engaging, and emotionally resonant works. It leaves the listener with a sense of awe and admiration for both the composer’s skill and the performers’ abilities.


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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