H. W. Ernst: Introduction and Variations on an Irish Tune “The Last Rose of Summer”
W. A. Mozart: Sonata for Piano and Violin, KV 301
1. Allegro con spirito
L. van Beethoven: Sonata for Piano and Violin, Op. 96
1. Allegro moderato
2. Adagio espressivo
4. Poco Allegretto
Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1814-1865) was a violinist and a true master of his art, a virtuoso. Ernst, who was born in Brno and educated at the Vienna Conservatory, was heavily influenced by Niccolò Paganini, whom he had had the opportunity to hear in Vienna in 1828. He followed the "Devil's Violinist" around, attending many of his concerts. In his mind, a clear goal – to learn from the master and surpass him. Many of Ernst's compositions reflect his urge to be in constant competition with the great virtuoso and are regarded as some of the most technically demanding violin pieces ever written. Among these are his Six Polyphonic Studies, which were all written in Nice after he had retired.
Introduction and Variations on an Irish Tune: "The Last Rose in Summer" is the last of the Six Polyphonic Studies. In terms of structure, it is similar to Paganini's compositions – it includes an introduction, a theme and a set of virtuoso variations. It was typical of Paganini to use themes and arias taken from Italian operas in his pieces. The set of variations that follows the theme used to have a strong impact on the audience due to the extraordinary technical ability Paganini demonstrated by his performance. In that respect, "The Last Rose in Summer" differs substantially; the main tune was taken from the eponymous Irish folk song, whose character is fully reflected in its title – the tune is warm, simple and romantic. In the variations, technical elements, such as arpeggios, ricochets, double harmonics, chords, solo-string passages and pizzicatos, do not appear merely as a means of making an overwhelming impression upon the audience by accentuating the violinist's technical brilliance – their main function is that of highlighting the main theme and achieving a richer overall sound. For instance, the famous fourth variation, also known as "A Duet on a Single Instrument", features quick broken chords accompanying a pizzicato "The Last Rose in Summer" theme.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) (baptismal name Johannes Chrysotomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart) is perceived as the incarnation of simplicity, playfulness and pure genius. Among Mozart's more "mature" sonatas is his Sonata for Piano and Violin KV 301, which was written in Mannheim when he was only 22. At the time, he was already a fully-fledged violin composer – not only had he composed most of his violin sonatas, but he had also finished all of his violin concertos two years earlier. An interesting fact can be noted in relation to the sonata's theme – it includes the same elements as the Irish theme used in "The Last Rose in Summer". Furthermore, the basic melodic and harmonic elements that determine the sonata's character and atmosphere are also identical to those of Ernst's piece.
W. A. Mozart: Sonata for piano and violin, No. 1 in G - major, KV 301
H. W. Ernst: Variations on "The Last Rose Of Summer"
It is safe to say that although he was born in the Classical period, Mozart was a true Romanticist at heart. His genius was to be able to use basic elements, such as those found in folk music, to create a theme that served as a basis for the whole composition.
The same skill was possessed by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), one of the greatest "architects" among his fellow composers. His fondness of pastoral atmosphere and simple motives can be observed in his last four-movement Sonata for Violin and Piano, op. 96. The sonata is the precise opposite of the other two pieces; both "The Last Rose in Summer" and Mozart's sonata reflect their composers' young age, whereas Beethoven's sonata is often described by musicians as being "transcendental". In the introduction, this magnificent sonata assumes a different, rather distant character. Page one of the first movement features very simple musical elements used in an extremely precise manner. The broken chord part of the first movement is widely known among lovers of Beethoven's music. In terms of chord progression, the piece could easily be mistaken for a warm Romantic piece, but since the chords are played in a high register, they do not convey the sense of warmth so typical of Romantic pieces, but rather profound solemnity.
Each of the three following movements has its own distinctive character. Featuring a motif from the "Lebewohl" Piano Sonata, the second movement is lyrical in style and conveys a sense of serenity and emotional intimacy. In terms of composition, the third movement, Scherzo, is an outstanding masterpiece that sounds almost as a display of virtuosity and is the only part of the sonata that reflects Beethoven's passionate side. At the heart of the last movement is folk-like simplicity and modesty. The main theme has a dance-like quality and is developed with great simplicity. As in Ernst's "The Last Rose in Summer", the theme is followed by a set of variations.
To use a simile – in the sonata, Beethoven is like a mountain lover: he admires their magnificence, wisdom, beauty and radiance (first movement). Up in the mountains, he is able to find his inner peace (second movement), fire and passion (third movement), and love of nature (pastoral fourth movement).