Violist Communicates Through Music

“Music and the viola have never failed to soothe me.”

20-year-old violist Nicolette Marie Sullivan-Cozza shares a soulful performance of Brahms F Minor Sonata with pianist David Pasbrig. Nicolette shares her thoughts about what music means to her and her journey with autism below.

Hello! My name is Nicolette. I am twenty years old and I play the viola. I reside in Hockessin, Delaware and I am currently studying at New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts. Music has always been a great comfort for me. I am Autistic, which makes things like communication, understanding feelings and emotions, sensory processing and adjusting to changes difficult. However, music and the viola have never failed to soothe me. I feel like, in a way, I communicate better through music than with words or body language and that I can process my emotions and feelings better while playing. I am very sensitive to sounds, touch and smell, often leading me to get overstimulated. In addition, Autism makes it very difficult for me to deal with any changes in environment and routine.

However, music calms me down when I am feeling overwhelmed and challenged. I love to perform since music often makes people happier and moves them emotionally. Seeing people excited or touched by the music makes me so very happy. Music has done so much for me, and helps others get through so much. I feel that performing for others is one way of sharing that beauty with others, and I want to do it as much as possible.

The piece I played was the second movement of the Brahms F Minor sonata for clarinet and piano. The piece was originally written for clarinet instead of viola. However, Brahms greatly appreciated the gentle and warm sound of the viola and thought that the piece could fit the instrument’s qualities. The clarinet and the viola share so many similarities, making the arrangement very natural.

This was one of his last works. Brahms had already announced that he would retire from composing music. Shortly after his declaration, he would suddenly be inspired by the talented clarinetist Richard Mülfield to compose two works: Sonata in F Minor and Sonata in E Flat Major for Piano and Clarinet. Brahms and Mülfield would then go on tour around Europe to play these pieces, deeply moving everyone who was fortunate to hear them.

The second movement of the F Minor Sonata is especially touching. On the surface, the movement is simple, melodic and gentle. The first theme, while sweet, is constantly rising, getting higher and the intervals between notes getting farther. This gives it a kind of longing, feeling. Sort of like someone reminiscing and longing for something of the past, trying to reach it or remember it, but not being quite able to attain it. Even through the turmoil built throughout the piece, I feel that the piece ends on a happy note (no pun intended!) when the first theme, softer and more leisurely than before, finally resolves.

Today’s Daily Joy is part of From the Top’s Musicians with Disabilities Special Initiative. Throughout the month of March 2023, From the Top is spotlighting young disabled and/or neurodivergent musicians who will share their talents and tell their stories in their own words.


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