A solo sonata for violin inevitably draws comparison with Johann Sebastian Bach’s monumental pieces for this instrument.The present work, Caritas abundat, follows in this powerful polyphonic tradition and confronts the musician with considerable technical and musical challenges.
The subtitle Song sonata refers to three songs that underlie the three movements of the composition: a medieval chant, a chorale and a folk song.
The first movement of the sonata reworks the chant Caritas abundat in omnia by Hildegard von Bingen, interspersing choral motifs with freer passages, highly virtuoso with serene elements and outbursts of ecstasy with moments of contemplation. The opening section builds up to a double polyphonic climax which is introduced by a chaconne whose variations range across a wide technical and emotional spectrum. This is followed by a fugue which takes up and transforms the theme of the chaconne.
The chorale Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern forms the basis of the second movement. This contemplative and highly emotional chant represents an omnipresent cantus firmus.
The wild introduction to the final movement leads into an extensive cycle of free variations on the folk song Kein schöner Land in dieser Zeit. The whole sonata is a tightly woven pattern of motifs which this last movement draws together and combines to create new relationships between the musical elements. Finally, the movement ends with a short evocation of the theme from Hildegard von Bingen developing out of the folk melody
A note about the chants
Hildegard as a composer transformed the template of Gregorian chants into a very distinctive choral style. The melodies are rich in onomatopoeia, highly virtuoso and cover an unusually wide gamut.
The chorale Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (melody and text by Philipp Nicolai) is one of the most beautiful and famous German hymns written in the tradition of compositions by Thomas Münzer (1489–1525) and Martin Luther (1483–1546). Bach’s cantata bearing the same name is number 1 in the non-chronological sequence of his work.
Kein schöner Land in dieser Zeit, composed by Anton Wilhelm von Zuccalmaglio (1803–1869), was originally entitled Abendlied (“Evening Song”). This simple and movingly melancholic melody is among the most well-known folk songs.
Hildegard von Bingen as a composer
Hildegard von Bingen, 1098–1179, was a religious scholar and saint, who is widely considered to be one of the most famous and influential women of the Middle Ages. Her work, which includes treatises on natural medecine, cosmology, biology, ethics and theology, has experienced a renaissance in the course of the last decades. Her Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum, from which the antiphon Caritas abundat is taken, is a collection of 77 liturgical chants. She also composed a mystery play, Ordo virtutum, a semi-dramatic chanted dialogue, that can arguably be seen as a blueprint for later oratoria and opera.