For some, it comes as a great surprise that Edvard Grieg's catalog contains five sonatas: one for piano solo, three for violin and piano, and one for cello and piano. All of these but two -- the third and last violin sonata (Op. 45) and the Cello Sonata -- are very early works, composed by Grieg in the mid-1860s. The Sonata for cello and piano in A minor, Op. 36 (1883), on the other hand, is the work of a composer almost 20 years older; while Grieg's frustrations and difficulties with traditional genres (sonata, string quartet, symphony, and the like) are well-documented in his personal letters, the Cello Sonata's urgent and energetic dramatic thrust, as well as voluptuous, satiny songfulness, have ensured its position as one of the three or four best-loved late nineteenth century cello sonatas.
The Cello Sonata is in three movements: Allegro agitato, Andante molto tranquillo, and Allegro -- allegro molto. The first movement's opening theme is as full of sturm und drang as they come; its second gushes with a most extraordinary warmth. There is, quite unexpectedly, a little cadenza for the cellist midway through the movement, just before the recapitulation; one cannot help but notice that when the pianist enters again the music takes a rumbling, ominous tone quite like one heard in the cadenza of the famous Piano Concerto's first movement. The slow movement is in a warm F major; as the opening musical paragraph gives way to the second and third paragraphs, it becomes clear that all is not as innocent and sweetly lyrical as the lovely opening melody would suggest. Indeed, there is real desperation in the middle of the movement. After a quiet introduction, the lengthy finale assumes the shape of a dark-hued goblin-dance that ends in robust A major.