Bartók: Sonata No.1, Sz.75 for violin and piano

Program Note

Bartók met Jelly d’Aranyi and the d’Aranyi family in 1902 when he visited their home and played chamber music with them on several Sunday afternoons that autumn. As a token of his enjoyment of the family’s musicality, he wrote a short piece for Adila, a violinist and the eldest of the three d’Aranyi daughters, entitled Andante (1902). The family possessed close blood ties to Joseph Joachim, the prominent violinist and collaborator with Brahms, which may have informed Bartók’s musical interest in the girls. The d’Aranyis soon left Hungary, but Adila and her sister, Jelly, returned in 1921. Bartók was working in fits and starts on his ballet The Miraculous Mandarin (1924) while he rekindled a connection with Jelly, who in the intervening years had become a formidable and recognized virtuosa on the violin. The day before she returned to London, Jelly asked Bartók to compose a work for her. Bartók, infatuated both with Jelly’s playing and with Jelly herself, embarked on the task with enthusiasm. According to the d’Aranyis’ biographer Joseph Macleod,

“Bartók had the themes in his head the next day, and would have told her at the Danube steamer, if he had been more sure of himself after so long a silence. While writing it, he kept imagining with what elan she would play the Allegro first movement, how beautiful her cantilena would be in the Adagio, and with what fuoco barbaro she would play the exotic dance rhythms in the third movement. […] He had written it entirely for her, he said, and if she couldn't or didn't play it, then he would never play it.”

Bartók had finished the first two movements by November of 1921 and wrote to Jelly to inform her. They played the sonata together for the first time on March 14th of 1922 at a private recital during Bartók’s tour of England. Bartók was surprised by the amount of attention devoted to the premiere, particularly given its difficult sonorities:

“It's quite astounding that my first private recital has had so much space given to it in the press; The Times devoted a second article to it. [...] It is quite something that the papers are treating my coming here as some exceptional event. I would really never have hoped for this.”

Jelly d’Aranyi is the dedicatee of several violin works of the 1920s, including Ravel’s Tzigane (1924), Vaughan Williams’ Concerto Academico (1925), and Holst’s Double Concerto for two violins (1929) for her and Adila. 

—Josh Davidoff