The MCO understands the importance of music education, which is why we’ve developed a unique instructional resource for teachers and parents. Written by music educator Beryl Peters, Ph.D, MCO’s Listening Guides provide a clear and thorough analysis of the repertoire featured in our concerts. They offer a perfect primer to the great works of Bach, Beethoven, Britten and beyond for K-8 and 9-12 students — with engaging historical anecdotes and simple theory for younger students, and more complex information for older students. Indeed, just about anyone can learn a thing or two from our MTS Future First Listening Guides … so dig in!


Beryl Peters, Ph.D.

Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), was one of the most renowned violin virtuosos of his time. He was also a highly regarded teacher, conductor and composer. Ysaÿe was born in Belgium but was an important part of musical communities around the world. Many composers associated with César Franck’s circle of composers wrote and dedicated works to Ysaÿe, for example Saint-Saens, d’Indy, Debussy, and Franck. Ysaÿe was a founder-member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Ysaÿe composed the sixth in a set of six sonatas for unaccompanied solo violin in 1923. Ysaÿe composed each of the six sonatas in Op. 27 to reflect a different character, style, and personality associated with famous contemporaries of his time. The sonatas were also conceived as Ysaÿe’s response to his fascination with the music of J. S. Bach, in particular J.S. Bach’s Six Unaccompanied Violin Sonatas and Partitas.The sixth sonata was an homage to the great Spanish violinist Manuel Quiroga and has less Bach influences than the other sonatas of Op. 27.

When you listen to this Violin Sonata by Ysaÿe, you will hear a work that incorporates the Spanish habanera.


Manitoba Music Curricular Connections

9-12 Making: The learner develops competencies for listening by listening critically with discrimination and purpose to:

  • situate and contextualize music (e.g., cultural/ ideological/historical/social contexts, music style, genre, tradition, or praxis, etc.)
  • support enjoyment and understanding of music
  • make and interpret music expressively and creatively
  • inform analysis, interpretation, judgement, appreciation, and evaluation

K-8 Understanding Music in Context: Demonstrate awareness of the intended meanings and/or purposes of music encountered in own performance and listening experiences

9-12 Connecting: The learner develops understandings about the significance of music by connecting music to diverse contexts.

The following questions can help you listen to this work.

1 Form in music refers to the musical architecture or the way the music is structured. This work for solo violin was composed as a single movement structure. The form can be described as a free rhapsody that includes a cadenza (a showy, difficult, virtuosic section) introduction and various contrasting sections. Can you hear a section that sounds very lyrical with Spanish influences? It occurs just after the opening cadenza. Can you hear a section with very demanding and complex technical passages? Can you hear a section that sounds like a tango?

2 What Instruments do you hear playing this work? Is the violin playing by itself or do you hear any other instruments accompanying the violin? Ysaÿe specifically wrote all six of the sonatas in Op. 27 to be unaccompanied violin sonatas.

3 What tempo (the speed of the music) would you mainly associate with this work? The composer marked this work as “Allegro giusto non troppo vivo” meaning lively and quickly with consistent speed but not too fast.

What dynamics (the volume of the music), and expression (musical elements that express certain feelings or dispositions) are used throughout this sonata? Can you hear where the composer creates the effect of rubato (expressive and rhythmic freedom)?

Was the music played at all the same volume (dynamics)? When do you hear music played loudly? Quietly? When do the dynamics change and what effect does that create? When does the music get louder (crescendo) or get quieter (decrescendo)?

Do you hear musical sounds that are short sounding (staccato) or very smooth sounding (legato)? Can you hear a section where there are sudden accents (sforzandos) on every other up bow?

Ysaÿe uses expressive elements to capture the character of Spanish music, including the tango and haberna rhythm. Ysaÿe also uses expressive elements and special effects to create different rich textures throughout the work. These effects include highly demanding virtuoso bow and left hand techniques such as slurred and fast double stops, broken octaves, descending chromatic thirds, arpeggiated chords, difficult string crossing passages, grace notes, trills, jazz-like harmonies, difficult scale passages, and chromatic playing, etc.

4 How is rhythm used in this sonata? Is this the kind of music that you could keep a steady rhythm or beat to? Or do the rhythms have a more rhapsodic, virtuoso and improvisatory quality?

Can you hear a brief silence that Ysaÿe marks as a “grand pause” in the music about halfway through the approximately 7 minute sonata?

Do you hear the habanera rhythm of the tango following the grand pause? Listen for a rhythm that sounds “long short even” with an accent occurring on the “e” of even—the upbeat in the middle of the bar. If you have ever heard Bizet’s opera Carmen you will remember the famous habanera rhythm in that work. Do you hear other syncopated (off beat) sounds in the tango section and in the sonata?

5 How is melody or pitch used in this sonata?

Do you hear high sounds or pitches? Do you hear low sounds or pitches? Can you pick out a particular melody to hum from this sonata or do the melodies have a more rhapsodic, fantasy-like and improvisatory quality to them?

Do the melodies seem to belong clearly to one key or do you hear dissonances and chromatic notes?

6 Can you hear different kinds of texture in this work? Do you hear places where the violin plays single notes and other places where two notes are played together? Do you hear places where more than 2 notes are played together to create a thicker texture?

7 What kinds of timbre do you hear? Timbre is the different qualities of sound that can be heard, for example when the composer create special effects using techniques described above. Can you hear different qualities of sound created by the different virtuosic techniques?


Reflections and Responses (K-8 Valuing; 9-12 Responding)

Grades 9-12 Responding

The learner develops and uses critical reflection and thinking for music learning:

  • the learner generates initial reactions to music experiences
  • the learner critically listens to, observes, and describes music experiences
  • the learner analyzes and interprets music experiences
  • the learner constructs meanings about music experiences

Grades K-8 Valuing

Students analyze, reflect on, and construct meaning in response to their own and others’ music:

  • students analyze their own and others
  • musical excerpts, works, and performances
  • students form personal responses to and construct meaning from their own and others’ music

1 What is your immediate response to this music? Does this music sound like any other music you have heard before? What does this music make you think of?

2 What adjectives might describe the mood that you felt when listening to this sonata? Can you identify what musical elements may have created that mood for you? When did the mood change and why?

3 What musical elements did you enjoy or find interesting? Did you enjoy the melodies that you heard? Did you enjoy the sounds of the Spanish influences? The tango?

4 Were there parts of the sonata that you did not enjoy? Why or why not? Can you identify which music elements made you enjoy or not enjoy the music?

5 Different people often have different responses to the same music. Ask others who heard the same music about their response to Ysaÿe’s Sonata in E major.

6 What feelings did it seem that Ysaÿe was trying to communicate to his audience about this work? What music elements seemed to be important to him?

7 Is there other music by Ysaÿe that you could listen to and compare to the sounds and experience of this sonata? Try listening to the other five sonatas of Opus 27. They can be found on youtube and on a wonderful CD of the six Ysaÿe sonatas by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra’s concertmaster, Karl Stobbe.