Caprice No. 1 is called ‘Die Kranke und die Uhr’ – ‘The Sick and the Clock’. Sonia wrote this Caprice as she sat at the bedside of her sick friend, while a clock ticked ominously in the background. In this short Caprice, there are two main sections; the rhythmic chime of the clock, and the emotive cry from Sonia, representing her feelings about losing her sick friend. The clock motif returns at the end of the Caprice, but this time Sonia asks for it to be played as quietly as possible; perhaps there is a connection between the incredibly quiet, fading rhythm of the clock on the wall and the fading rhythm of breathing life in the bed before her…
Following this, we have Caprice No. 2, ‘Sherz’, or ‘Joke/Prank‘. It’s only about 2 and a half minutes, but it’s probably the trickiest little bugger of the set (is that the prank?!). It’s full of little funny, sparkly moments and plenty of tricks!
Caprice No. 3, ‘Chant triste-chant gai’, ‘Sad song-happy song’, is probably the first of the Caprices where we really feel Sonia’s love for Walter soaring through it. It goes wayyyy high up on the G and D strings in the sad song bit, which often sounds overwhelming and makes me feel like Sonia almost couldn’t express enough how much she loved Walter, and then becomes more bouncy and bright in the happy song. This Caprice constantly switches between the two songs, but with which one will Sonia leave us?
The following two Caprices were composed during Sonia’s time living in Spain, and they very much portray this new culture that she was experiencing for the first time. First, we have Caprice No. 4, ‘La isla de oro‘, ‘The golden island’, which Sonia composed on the island of Mallorca. The Caprice opens with strummed pizzicato chords that sound like a guitar, and then she writes a kind of flamenco melody, very dark, mysterious and mesmerisingly beautiful. I especially love how Sonia ends the Caprice with the same chords she opened with, but this time she writes ‘aspirando’ above them; I thought this might indicate something like we must breathe in the last smells of Mallorca, faint now and fading away as the music also fades! What do you think?
Sonia dedicated Caprice No. 5, ‘Danse Marocaine’ or Marocain Dance, to Fatima, a dancer whom Sonia observed performing – an impression that would last a lifetime on her. This music is rhythmic and exciting, capturing the essence of the Spanish dancers, the sights of the gypsies, the markets and the camels who all shared the experience of seeing this dance with Sonia. The middle section is also quite remarkable; Sonia writes for it to be played like a ‘Moorish flue‘. It took me a while to come up with a sound that I thought could match this instruction, to make my violin sound like a traditional Spanish flute. With the help of a wonderful flautist at The Banff Centre, I think I created an unusual pipe-like sound. See how you think I did!
Caprice No. 6, ‘El pajarito’, ‘The little bird‘, is probably my favourite of the set. Sonia wrote it after observing a little bird trapped in his cage, and the whole Caprice follows his struggle in trying to escape to freedom. The ending is strange and open – I think Sonia leaves it to us to decide if the little bird won in his plight, found his freedom or succumbed to a life of imprisonment inside the cage. I thought I would share too, that at the end of this Caprice Sonia has left this note: ‘Music is a language; let’s describe here the soul of this tiny bird: describing what he went through after being aware where he was: gentle first, desperate and resigning, because hopeless, helpless!’ Could there be a personal message from Sonia behind these words and this music? Did she feel trapped in the cage of a society that didn’t accept her as a woman and a composer?
Caprice No. 7, ‘Le départ d’un train’, ‘The departure of the train’, portrays the moment in 1928 when, as Sonia’s career was just beginning to take off, she said goodbye to her sick husband on the platform of a train station in France. Sonia was off on a concert tour in America, leaving her beloved Walter behind to battle his illness alone. It was unimaginably difficult for both of them, and this is the mood that comes across in this Caprice. It has some beautifully sad melodies combined with train noises, speeding up and slowing down, winding it’s way to its own end. The music almost matches an inner struggle that perhaps Sonia was feeling; the painful emotions of saying goodbye to Walter mixed with her exciting train journey, taking her to places she had only dreamt of.
In Caprice No. 8, ‘Elegie’, we say a last farewell to Walter. It was composed during winter, an image of falling snow beautifully reflecting the tragic mood of the music. Even as Sonia remembers their happy times together, captured in the sprightly middle section, the pain and emotion of losing him is ever prevalent here.
Something completely different in Caprice No. 9, ‘Chestnut Hill at Night’. This one was composed in Philadelphia, during Sonia’s big concert tour in the States (which had been organised and promoted by Leopold Stokowski). This Caprice is full of the new and exciting sounds and sights that Sonia experiences for the first time in this new part of the world. It was really fun to come up with ideas for what was happening in each moment of this music while I was working on it; what exactly did Sonia see here, on Chestnut Hill!? Philadelphia is so often associated with the righteous traditions and philosophies upheld by America’s forefathers, but, paradoxically, this Caprice sounds sometimes exotic, sometimes risky, even sometimes quite dangerous!
Finally, Caprice No. 10, ‘Klage’, ‘Complaint’. By this point, in 1934, Sonia had found peace and contentment with her second husband, Ferdinand. Did she feel guilty for her so-called ‘betrayal’ of Walter? Is this Caprice perhaps a lament on losing her real love? This music is slow and sad, not in the tragic sense, as in Caprices 7 and 8, but in a humble and soft way. Sonia would never let go of Walter, he certainly always lived on as a central part of her life and Ferdinand’s too.
For more context about who Sonia was and the life she led, please read this post that I wrote about her!
I hope you enjoy my album!