In 1884 Saint-Saëns went on a concert tour with the violinist Martin Marsick, and perhaps that was the inspiration for the composition of his first violin sonata. Saint-Saëns had written sonatas for the instrument in his youth, but this is the first one of his maturity. The sonata was dedicated to Marsick.
The work is in 4 movements, but Saint-Saëns pairs them up in 2 sections as he was later to do with the movements of his 3rd Symphony so that there is only one pause between the second and third movements.
I. Allegro agitato - The first movement is in sonata form, with the first theme being a restless of shifting meters between 6/8 and 9/8 time:
II. Adagio - The second movement is a tender conversation between the two instruments. The violin has the melody in the beginning, but the roles are reversed a little later in the movement. Towards the end of the movement, the music becomes more decorated. The movement is all style and grace the moves with a sweet gentleness until it ends in the key it began in, E-flat major.
III. Allegro moderato - This movement is a gentle scherzo in G minor. There is a feeling of the music being a little off balance due to the many subtle 5-bar phrases Saint-Saëns uses. In its own way, this movement is as gentle as the preceding adagio, and is a good contrast for the finale, which begins without pause.
IV. Allegro molto - Saint-Saëns had run-throughs of the sonata with two different violinists. The first had much trouble with the final movement, as did Marsick himself. But Marsick handled the difficulties as he and Saint-Saëns gave the premiere of the work after its publication. The metronome marking for the movement is quarter note = 168 beats per minute, with a flurry of sixteenth notes that makes the tempo even more difficult. Below are the first three lines of the violin part that in performance are over in a matter of a few seconds: