By the time Brahms published his first violin sonata during the remarkably fertile period of the Second Symphony and the violin concerto, he had probably written and abandoned as many as four earlier violin sonatas. He was determined to find the correct balance between the considerable piano part he intended for the work, and the violin role, which had to compete with and complement the other instrument.
The G major work combines the intimacy of chamber music with the broader gestures of the violin concerto, and like the concerto and Second Symphony is a wonderfully lyrical work. The Second Sonata of 1886 continues this balance of lyricism, virtuosity and the perfect balance between the two instruments. This sonata quotes from Act III of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The Third Sonata of 1888 is a more turbulent and terse work, and the only one of the three to be cast in four movements. As with many of the great late period works, Brahms combines traditional late-Romantic period gestures with some daring modern features - something the young Arnold Schoenberg was watching with interest.