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A strange marriage indeed, between violin and keyboard. In the beginning there existed the harpsichord solemnly coupled with the viol: it sustained the soloist with the discretion of a continuous bass. Late in the 18th century, the intrusive pianoforte reduced the violin to a superfluous companion. Bach’s lesson was of another kind, delivered in six masterly Sonatas «à Cembalo certato è Violino solo, col Basso per Viola da Gamba accompagnata se piace» (1718-1722). Inserting a bass viol does not likely please anyone: in another manuscript they are called «trii per tastiera e violino». The score is for three parts, two voices with the keyboard and a third one with the violin, often with imitative counterpoint. The old «sonata a tre», two violins and basso continuo, for a total of four performers, synthesised in only two interpreters, a harmonised dialogue takes place between actors of equal dignity. From the old rendition it keeps the structure in four tempos alternating between Adagio and Allegro. The Fourth Sonata, in an elegantly melancholic C minor, opens up with a cradling Siciliana: the melodic dominance of the violin is entrapped by the variety of accompanying figures. The wide fugued Allegro exhibits absolute equality between the three voices in the exchange of the thematic material. In the charming Adagio in the noble quietness of the E flat major, with indications of forte and piano which are very rare in Bach, the voices develop contrasting designs – swift triplets on the right hand of the harpsichord, solemn dotted rhythms played by violin – merging in the embrace of the final cadence. The final Allegro, in spite of its ravelling force, is a throwback to the rigorous fugue style.
The cult paid by Ferruccio Busoni to Bach appears in the Sonata in E minor op. 36a (1898-1900), in the density and highness of the language, which is also remindful of a Romantic inheritance. The wide formal design is articulated in three sections without breaks and with unified thematic postponements. The first section opens up with a Langsam (Slow) which progressively picks up force, flowing into an episode with rhythmic energy (Poco con moto, assai deciso), to refold on the nostalgic echo of the initial motif. The second section consists of a Presto having the tones of a Scherzo, a playful pause of the spirit. The mysterious, rather grave Andante introduces an ascending motif which looks like searching for an identity; it is found in the Andante con moto, and it is a Bachian choral which chants about confident abandonment to God’s love. The choral is subjected to a series of variations, taking the melody to a peak of expressive splendour: «apotheotic», in the words of the score.
Arriving to Webern after the tumultuous late Romantic period of Busoni is like stopping at the far end of silence. And yet even in the very short Four Pieces op. 7 (1910-1014) the question arises about the concordia discors between the two instruments. The more evident does the search for violin timbral novelty show: in just a few beats the interpreter is called upon to unearth ever different sounds by making use of most varying techniques (harmonic, dampers, wood) and in full respect of dynamic requests such as «almost inaudible». Yet the pianoforte has a similar commitment, with specific resources: every time the sound is reinvented according to a coherent journey, which is perfectly accomplished in its shortness.
Schumann’s essentially piano genius approached the sonata for violin with two works in 1851. The Zweite Grosse Sonate in D minor has the dark and typically introverted colour of his late creativity and attributes little satisfaction to the strings virtuoso looking for sparkling acrobatics. Four movements are developed in the canons. The first is replete with melodic energy; the Scherzo (Molto vivace), strung and exciting, prolongs his rhythmic echo to ruffle the delicate serenity of the slow tempo. An unexhausted Romantic impulse pushes the driving moto perpetuo of the final piece.

Marina Verzoletto