About this work:
If, as many have thought during the last two centuries, a musical composition is an organism with its own genesis and presumably also life span, death, and on occasion even resurrection, then in its superficial aspects the career of my Sonata for solo violin may resemble that of a character from an eighteenth century picaresque novel, and its recording here may therefore be only the most recent episode in that account. It is an account, however, that despite its fascination for me will likely never be given because it would in all probability only divert attention away from the content of the music, the effective expression of which was my sole aim. The notes which follow then will be content only to describe some of the features which, like the details depicted in the floor plan of an intricate building, should enable one to enter and find one's way about with a minimum of difficulty.
Like a number of well-known multi-movement works from the last century, the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies of Beethoven, Franck's Symphony in D minor, to name only three, my Sonata for solo violin is cyclical in structure, that is, thematic material first heard in one movement recurs in other movements as well. The forceful theme which opens the sonata, for example, becomes the basis for the theme which introduces the middle section of the slow movement. The principal rhythmic feature of that theme can be heard in the theme of the trio section of the second movement or scherzo. The "A"
section of the scherzo supplies the principal material for the closing section of the last movement, and the secondary theme of the last movement is a transformation of the secondary theme of the first movement. A somewhat more elusive association exists between the opening themes of the first and last movements.
The outer movements because of their greater scope and complexity tend to balance each other and contrast with the two middle movements, which are simpler in structure and more direct in expression. Although the outer movements both employ principles of sonata-allegro form with its familiar succession of exposition, development and recapitulation sections, their characters are dissimilar largely because their phrase structure is different. The fourth movement is rather like a necklace on which many similar but rarely identical objects have been strung, often with spaces between them, so that, when seen from a distance, it appears as a continuous line leading the eye ever onward without interruption. The nervous energy which characterizes much of this movement owes also in large measure to the considerable role played by dynamics and articulation. The opening phrase, for example, which begins with five repeated notes, is given shape by the distinctive way in which each tone is sounded; for one or more reasons no two tones are alike. By contrast the first movement, with fewer apparent interruptions, is in a sense less continuous because phrases are more likely to end in cadences.
The middle movements are both in ternary form. The "A" section of the scherzo is based on two groups of similar themes distinguished in part by a slight difference in tempo. In contrast with the unremitting speed displayed by the "A" section, the "B" section or trio is sustained, lyrical, and flexible in tempo.
The third movement could be heard as the keystone of the sonata's arch. It was the first to be composed, and throughout the sonata's composition and recomposition it remained the point of departure for the other movements. The tranquil, soaring lines of the "A" section contrast with the vehemence of the middle section, which, because of its mercurial changes, the demands made on the virtuosity of the player, and its isolation from the rest of the movement, closely resembles the cadenza of a solo concerto.
Although it cannot be said that this sonata is in any key, it does begin and end on D, and it might not be too farfetched to suggest that the chromaticism which seems to dominate it is little more than a superstructure over a more diatonic substructure that finally prevails at the end. The ascending interval of the perfect fifth which persists during the closing moments could be heard as the sonority which the music has been seeking from the outset. At the very least this interval signifies release from the tensions generated by the preceding four movements. Unlike the journeys reported in the picaresque novels to which I referred earlier, the expedition represented by this sonata foresees its destination and directs all tonal movement toward it.
Nancy Cirillo was the first to perform any part of the sonata in public in Tanglewood in 1956 and then to give it its first complete performance in Boston in 1963 after it was extensively revised in 1959 while I was stationed with the US Army in West Germany. She has recorded it for Centaur Records (CRC 2156).
Reviews: "Allen Brings calls this performance by Nancy Cirillo of his Violin Sonata 'definitive,' and indeed one can hardly imagine a more persuasive interpretation of this thorny but lyrical, eminently expressive work. The sonata is fairly tightly unified as to thematic materials, but the composer rightly suggests that his own clear description of the work's structure cannot and should not compete with the experience of hearing it, when apperceptions of form take second place to a moment-by-moment involvement on an often darkly emotional level."
J. D., 1982
"Allen Brings, a professor of music at Queens College, has written a major work in four movements for solo violin, played here in a fine performance by Nancy Cirillo. Twenty-two minutes is a long time in this limited medium, but one's interest never flags."
David W. Moore, 1983
"Brings was a student of Otto Luening, and although I can't judge what relation his Sonata bears to Luening's music...it clearly draws on European influences of the pre-War years. In its chromaticism approaching atonality and in other ways as well, it recalls Bartók of his last three String quartets especially. Overall, it has restless rhythmic energy and the slow music, a searching emotionalism that are very Bartókian. But the thematic and rhythmic interest Brings injects into the work show he is not a mere imitator. Altogether, this is an arresting work given a beautifully nuanced account by Nancy Cirillo, who premiered the work."
Lee J. Passarella, 1985
"Allen Brings, born in 1934, could serve as a model for the academic composer—if that term wasn't currently so disparaging. His writing frequently draws inspiration, if not literal design, from Baroque, Classical, or early Romantic forms, voiced in a fluidly chromatic language that avoids all-out atonality. It's an attractive blend, not dissimilar to that of Hindemith, and Brings is likewise a convincing craftsman.
"All three works date from his twenties, and what's surprising, if anything, is the depth of feeling Brings communicates, especially in his slow movements. He acknowledges the 'brooding quality' reminiscent of Shostakovich in the clarinet sonata's adagio, which contrasts significantly with its brighter, optimistic outer movements. The violin sonata is a gutsy piece that occasionally wanders but ultimately finds itself in interesting places. Here, and in the piano sonata (in which the harmonic character and rhythmic vigor may call to mind Barber's sonata), he tends at his most introspective to stretch his material rather thin, though the line of thought is never broken. And while one may experience an echo of Bernstein or Prokofiev there, Brings's arguments are his own.
"Gilmore, who was featured on a previous disc of Brings's clarinet writing (see Fanfare 15:6), is a suave soloist in his sonata. Violinist Cirillo plays her piece with aplomb and never falters. Pianist Chinn, a doubles partner of the composer's, brings a lean tone and convincing advocacy to the piano sonata. The analog sound is fine. Recommended to all, save th
Version: for solo violin
Year composed: 1956
Ensemble type: Solo instrument, non-keyboard:Violin
Instrumentation: 1 Violin