1853: F-A-E Sonata

Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang, Scherzo

Start here: This seems to be the movement that is frequently performed today.

  • Brahms, Scherzo, Allegro, C minor, C major

F-A-E Sonata – Dan Zhu and
Vanessa Wong Wai Yin

  1. Albert Dietrich, Allegro, A minor
  2. Schumann, Intermezzo, Allegro,ma non troppo vivace, F major
  3. Brahms, Scherzo, Allegro, C minor, C major
  4. Schumann, Finale, Marcato, vivace mosso Tempo, A minor, A major

Note that Brahms wrote in C minor and major, not described in the title. Note also that the letter “C” is not normally used in German.

A collaborative violin sonata for Joseph Joachim:

This was written by Robert Schumann, young Johannes Brahms, and Schumann’s pupil Albert Dietrich. It was composed in Düsseldorf in October 1853.

Here is when all of them were born:

  • Schumann: 1810
  • Dietrich: 1829
  • Joachim: 1931
  • Brahms: 1833

Schumann was between 19 and 23 years older than the others

The sonata was Schumann’s idea:

It was a gift and tribute to violinist Joseph Joachim, whom the three composers had recently befriended. Joachim had adopted the Romantic German phrase “Frei aber einsam” (“free but lonely”) as his personal motto. The composition’s movements are all based on the musical notes F-A-E, the motto’s initials, as a musical cryptogram.

Joachim was a monster player:

Beethoven’s sonata for violin was not well played, so it was not the total success that it became later. Joachim singularly changed that at a young age and set the world on fire. Later, when Brahms own concerto for violin appeared to be too hard to play, Joachim again made it a success.

In fact, all three composers also wrote violin concertos for Joachim. But although Schumann’s was completed on 3 October 1853, just before the F-A-E Sonata was begun. Joachim never performed it, unlike the concertos of Brahms and Dietrich. This is curious.

Schumann assigned each movement to one of the composers:

Dietrich wrote the first movement in sonata form. Schumann followed with a short intermezzo as the second movement. The scherzo was by Brahms. Schumann wrote the finale.

Schumann wrote this dedication on the score:

“F.A.E.: In Erwartung der Ankunft des verehrten und geliebten Freundes JOSEPH JOACHIM schrieben diese Sonate R.S., J.B., A.D.”

(F.A.E.: In expectation of the arrival of their revered and beloved friend, Joseph Joachim, this sonata was written by R.S., J.B., A.D.).

The composers presented the score to Joachim:

It was performed in the Schumann household, The composers challenged Joachim to determine who composed each movement. Joachim played the work that evening, with Clara Schumann at the piano. Joachim identified each movement’s author with ease.

The complete work was not published during the composers’ lifetimes:

Schumann incorporated his two movements into his Violin Sonata No. 3. Joachim retained the original manuscript, from which he allowed only Brahms’s Scherzo to be published in 1906, nearly ten years after Brahms’s death.

 The complete sonata was first published in 1935:

It took 82 years for this composition to be presented to the world. What a strange story.



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