It was a very fertile and refreshing time for Brahms. His friend the Swiss pastor and poet Josef Victor Widmann (1842-1911) lived in Berne and they visited each other. He was also visited by the poet Klaus Groth and the young German contralto Hermine Spies. Both Groth and Brahms were somewhat enamoured of Spies. He found himself so invigorated by the genial atmosphere and surroundings that he said the area was “so full of melodies that one has to be careful not to step on any”. In a short space of time, he produced, in addition to this violin sonata, the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99, the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, and various songs.
The 2nd Violin Sonata is the shortest and is considered the most lyrical of Brahms’s three violin sonatas. It is also considered the most difficult of the three to bring off successfully, and to exhibit its balance of lyricism and virtuosity. It maintains a radiant, happy mood throughout.
It consists of three movements, with the middle movement doing service as both a slow movement and a scherzo:
- 1. Allegro amabile
- 2. Andante tranquillo – Vivace – Andante – Vivace di più – Andante – Vivace
- 3. Allegretto grazioso (quasi andante).
By giving gave the work the formal title of “Sonata for Piano and Violin”, rather than the more usual “Sonata for Violin and Piano”, Brahms indicated the piano part was just as important as the violin part. In keeping with this, he allowed the piano to announce the opening theme. The first three notes of the first movement are very similar in both melody and harmony to the first three notes of “Walther’s Prize Song” (Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein) from Richard Wagner‘s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Although they were musical rivals, Brahms was a great admirer of Wagner’s music, but whether this was a deliberate quotation on Brahms’s part is open to speculation. Nevertheless, the sonata has often been subtitled the “Meistersinger” Sonata. It is also sometimes called the “Thun” Sonata from the place of its creation.
Motives from three of the songs Brahms wrote that summer with Hermine Spies’s voice in mind appear fleetingly in the sonata: “Wie Melodien zieht es mir leise durch den Sinn”, Op. 105/1 (“Like melodies it steals softly through my mind”; words by Klaus Groth) makes an appearance in the second subject of the first movement. “Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer”, Op. 105/2 (“Ever gentle is my sleep”; words by Hermann Lingg) and “Auf dem Kirchhofe”, Op. 105/4 (words by Detlev von Liliencron) are quoted in the final movement. The song “Komm bald”, Op. 97/5 (“Come soon”; words by Groth) is also said have provided thematic inspiration for the sonata.
Brahms’s friend the poet Josef Widmann later wrote a poem to be accompanied by the sonata.