The Violin Sonata No. 2 in G Major, Op. 13 followed the first by just two years, in 1867 – a month after Grieg had married his beloved cousin, the singer Nina Hagerup. While he wrote that it had been composed in “the euphoria of my honeymoon,” the piece – written in just three weeks – often projects the characteristically pensive and coolly melancholic – even tragic – nature of the Scandinavian musical idiom.
Those characteristics are a by-product of the second sonata’s far greater dependence upon Norwegian folk elements. Inspired in part by the eminent Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, Grieg had resolved to lend his music a more nationalistic quality by infusing it with his homeland’s more traditional idioms. The Danish composer Niels Gade (also one of Grieg’s teachers) even criticized the work as being “too Norwegian” in nature – to which the increasingly confident young master testily responded that his next sonata would be “even more Norwegian.”
It’s indeed this characteristic of the piece that proved Grieg’s new-found ability to effectively marry folk elements and classical form. Like his contemporary, the great Czech nationalist composer Antonin Dvořák, Grieg only rarely quoted actual folk material, instead favoring ingenious simulations of it.
The first movement stands as convincing evidence of Grieg’s mastery of more ex- tended musical forms. It begins with an achingly sad and poignant Lento doloroso lament, eventually relieved by a much more upbeat section that – like the first sonata’s middle movement – evokes the traditional rhythms of the springar dance and the droning sounds of the hardanger fiddle. But from there on, the mood shifts back and forth between the poignant lyricism of the opening and the more urgent passages of soaring rhapsodic motifs, leading into a magnificent coda.
The piano leads off the second movement, setting its pensively reflective mood. But the theme soon grows in power and intensity, interspersed with variants of the minor-hued melancholic opening theme. A contrasting middle section shifts into the major mode, bringing an air of calm and quiet contentment before giving way to fresh elaborations of the opening theme.
The dancing final movement emerges as a cleverly built sonata-form rondo, again introducing a traditional droning effect in the exposition as it builds into a waltzlike interlude. The meltingly lovely major-mode central section comes almost as a surprise before morphing into minor-key fluctuations. The bold and brashly virtuosic coda brings the work to a resounding close.