Felix Draeseke: Scene for Violin and Piano, Op. 69

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The Scene for Violin and Piano, Op. 69 is, technically speaking, Draeseke's only original composition for this otherwise beloved instrumental combination, as the Sonata for Violin, Op 38 is an alternate version of the Clarinet Sonata. It is by no means a negligible work and certainly should not be misconstrued as a salon piece because of its title. The Scene was composed in the summer of 1899 and is dedicated to Landgraf Alexander Friedrich von Hessen, a noted music patron of the day. Draeseke makes several references to it in his memoirs, the unpublished Lebenserinnerungen, which he dictated to his wife Frida between 1906-1911, but only to performances, not to the motivation for its composition.

Draeseke uses the English spelling Scene for the title of the work, rather than the German Szene or Italian Scena, but this is simply the composer's conceit and one should not attach much importance to the fact. What is important about this piece is that it incorporates music from Act I of Draeseke's unperformed opera Bertran de Born from 1893-94, namely melodies from the initial encounter scene between two secondary characters, Young Henry (son of Henry II of England) and Marietta (a niece of Bertran). One must be cautioned that the Scene is neither an operatic fantasy nor a potpourri because of this material. The melodic borrowings from Bertran serve as lyrical contrasts to the fiery, virtuosic, and harmonically volatile material with which they are combined.

Scene for Violin and Piano, Op. 69At the beginning of the Scene one is greeted with the directions, Fiery and Passionate (4/4) and highly decorative, almost athletic motivic material is offered by the violin, after which the first of the quotes from Bertran enters, calmly at first but then with colorful modulations and increasing agitation until the home key of G minor (-major) is re-established, Without preparation the violin announces the key of B-flat major with a single sforzando entry, slowly ebbing away thereafter to permit the exposition of the second lyrical quote from Bertran de Born. When the piano repeats the passage an octave higher Draeseke creates a wonderful line of counterpoint presented on the G string of the violin, which is almost a melodic throw-away amidst the richness of development. The virtuoso element takes over once again: two developmental rhythmic motives, freely modulating, drive the music forward until C major dominates. It is at this point that Draeseke unveils one of his most beautiful melodies: it is the only lyrical theme which belongs to the Scene alone and has not been drawn from Bertran. The glorious development of this lyrical material extends over some 42 measures and reaches its magnificent apotheosis in A major some 31 measures after it begins. The violinistic turns of the beginning re-establish themselves and what ensues is a repetition of all that has preceded. The form of the piece reveals itself as a sort of schematic parallelism, that is, A, a', B, b, 'C, c' with repetition of these in exact order and a coda that begins with references to A and B before the bravura ending of the work. It is not exactly a rondo, though some may consider it so. When one listens to the piece carefully it becomes clear that timbre is a defining element for the sections, for virtuoso coloration dominates clearly at certain points and expressive melodic means at others.

Draeseke's Scene for Violin and Piano, Op. 69 on CD:

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Felix Draeseke: Scene for Violin & Piano op 69; Violin Sonata in B flat op 38; Clarinet Sonata in B flat op 38; Nanette Schmidt [violin], Martin Nitschmann [clarinet], Wolfgang Müller-Steinbach [piano]

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