Joachim Raff published five sonatas for violin and piano during his lifetime and there is a sixth, of which he abandoned, the manuscript, which is in Berlin; there is evidence that others were intended. The first of his violin sonatas (e minor) was very popular in the late 19th century, probably the most performed of the group. It is difficult to estimate the number of performances the others have had, but they all have music of incredible melodic invention and, because they are so gratifyingly conceived for the violin, it is difficult to understand their neglect by violinists over the years.
The Sonata No. 4 in g minor, Op. 129 (subtiled Chromatische Sonate in einem Satze - Chromatic Sonata in one movement), stands out from the others insofar as it is cast in a single uninterrupted movement. The phrase "quasi recitativo" appears a number of times in the score suggesting perhaps that Raff had in mind some kind of instrumental parallel to an operatic or vocal scene, perhaps a chamber music parallel to Ludwig Spohr's Gesangscene Violin Concerto (No. 8, in A minor, Op. 47). The tone of Raff's sonata is almost Sturm-und-Drang, a characteristic enhanced by the intentional chromaticism indicated by Raff's subtitle to the work, Sonate chromatique.
The title should not be construed that Raff was seeking odd harmonic relationships in the work, for even though he was associated with Franz Liszt and the progressive New German School of the middle of the last century, Raff did not endorse the harmonic experimentation of his esteemed associate and the circle. Neither should one expect the slithery melodic configurations that salon composers of the period endorsed to extend four-square ideas in assuaging popular taste of the time. Raff's 4th Violin Sonata stands isolated in its period (1870) as a unique experiment, neither anticipated by Schumann nor complemented by Brahms. It is matched in brevity and concentration of expression by few sonatas in the repertoire (i.e.Beethoven no.8, Schubert's Sonatinas) and by no composer of note either before or contemporary with Raff. The Sonate chromatique lasts approximately 16 minutes in performance.
Professor Alan Krueck
These notes a reproduced with the kind permission of Robert Rej.