Violin Sonata No.3 in e minor, Op.57 "Sonata Epica"
This work might well have been titled Sonata Sinfonico for it is written on a huge, symphonic scale. It is the length of most of concertos. Certainly it is an epic work and without doubt one of the most important violin sonatas of the 20th century.
Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) was born in Moscow and studied piano with his mother before entering the Moscow Conservatory, having studied with Sergei Taneyev among others. A first rate pianist, he nonetheless, at the urging of Taneyev, gave up the career as a performer and turned to composition. Medtner stayed in Russia after the Revolution until 1924 at which point he embarked on a concert tour of North America under the aegis of his friend Rachmaninov. He eventually settled in London where devoted his time to composing and teaching. Medtner wrote in what might be called a late Romantic and post romantic style. Unlike Rachmaninov, he did not always try to write exclusively Russian-sounding music but sought to write in a supra national or international style as had Taneyev and Tchaikovsky. But like them, his music does have its moments where it is very Russian.
The Sonata Epica was composed in 1937. Unashamedly Romantic and distinctly Russian with its frequent allusions to folk-dances and Orthodox liturgical chants, the Sonata reflects both Medtner’s recent conversion to the Orthodox faith and his bitter acceptance of permanent exile from his homeland. The huge opening movement to the sonata (it lasts more than a quarter of an hour) begins with a solemn, almost funereal introduction. The chords are evocative of the Orthodox church service. Eventually this leads to the main section, a wild dance with a pleading melody. A lively scherzo, Allegro molto vivace, follows, but it does not really lighten the mood. Full of nervous energy, it conveys a restless sense of striving. The second theme, slower and quite lyrical, might almost be a love song. The third movement, Andante con moto, has for its main theme a mournful melody of heartbreaking beauty. The finale, Allegro molto, begins with a series of explosive chords which serve as a brief introduction that leads to the main section, an exciting, Russian dance. The highly romantic second theme, is slower, relieves the tension created by the first section.