Gems Rediscovered features unknown and unrecorded works for viola and piano from lesser-known composer of the Romantic tradition. It is Delos’ pleasure to highlight these composers on The Delos Insider:
Paul Juon (1872-1940) was a very successful and well-respected composer during his lifetime. Born in Moscow to a German mother and Swiss father, he attended the Moscow Conservatory in 1889, studying violin with Jan Hřímaly, and composition with Aleksandr Taneyev as well as Anton Arensky, whose students also included Scriabin, Glière, and Rachmaninoff. He completed his musical studies in 1895 at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin where he was awarded the Mendelssohn Prize. Following his studies, he briefly taught violin and theory at the Baku Conservatory in Azerbaijan. In 1906, Joseph Joachim – a close friend and colleague of Johannes Brahms – hired Juon to teach at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, a professorship he held until he left Germany in 1934. Citing health reasons, not to mention the political climate of the emerging Third Reich, Juon and his family emigrated to Vevey, Switzerland, where he remained for the rest of his life.
While Juon composed orchestral works, concerti, piano music and choral works, chamber music comprises a substantial amount of his output, including three sonatas for violin, a cello sonata, four string quartets, several piano trios, a piano quartet, and a piano quintet. The Sonata in D Major for Viola and Piano, like all Juon’s chamber repertoire, displays a masterful integration of the instruments, sensitivity to musical color, and unerring sense of form and proportion. Juon is often referred to as the “Russian Brahms,” for as Edwin Evans states in the fifth edition of the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians: “Juon’s style is an interesting blend of Russian and German, the material being almost invariably Slavic in character, while the treatment thoroughly German, leaning often toward Brahms.”
This blend is certainly clear in Juon’s Sonata, first published in 1901. The first movement, Moderato, is in traditional sonata form, the viola sounding a sweeping melody over a somewhat static accompaniment. This quickly changes, however, as the viola and piano trade melody and accompaniment frequently. Both parts sound musical lines that are barely contained within the given meter of 6/4, again reminding the listener of Brahms. The second melody in the first movement is presented in 5/4, recalling Evans’ reference to Slavic folk melodies. The second movement, Adagio assai e molto cantabile, again features long, sweeping melodies first presented in the viola. They are supported not only by the echoing of the melody by the piano, but also by the piano’s low range and thick, almost orchestral texture. The third movement, Allegro moderato, stands in relief to the first two, as its opening melody is sounded in unison by the viola and piano. Its return near the end of the movement passes almost unnoticed as it returns softly in the piano only. After a brief diversion to the lyrical second melody, the first one returns as the viola makes its final, commanding statement.
— Program notes by Dr. Amy Engelsdorfer, Assistant Professor of Music, Luther College