Thursday, November 03, 2011

My D Minor Piano Sonata (1960): posted old manuscript posted online

As a step in reconstructing and rehabilitating the music I composed earlier in my life, I’ve uploaded by Piano Sonata #2, D Minor, composed at age 16 (around 1960), 27 pages, into Adobe image format, here.  It should be possible to view it on an iPad by page.

The Sonata is in three movements. The first is an “Allegro commodo”, d minor; the second is a Nocturne, Lento Placido, G Major; the third has a cadenza-like introduction in G Minor leading to a Rondo, D minor with episodes in B-flat and G Minor and a Picardy D Major, triumphant conclusion.  I see that I had blogged about this work Sept. 13, but I want to do a little of my own constructive criticism here.

In the first movement, the Development Section starts normally enough and progresses naturally through a variety of key sequences for about 26 measures, before turning violent and cadenza-like, hanging in oscillation between D minor and the dominant A Major for about 40 measures (although it varies tempo, from ¾ to 4/4 and even one measure in 5/4 before recapitulation.  Also, the opening measures seem like a reduction of the opening of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto, as if to mock it.  Maybe that’s OK. I’ll come back to that.

The slow movement is in the subdominant G, a little unusual for a minor-keyed work, because it throws the second subject back to D Major.  I remember, when composing it, that I thought this was original, because so often composers go to the relative Major (here, F) too easily.

The introduction to the Rondo may seem rather conventional, but it is when I get to the Rondo itself that I have the most interesting problem. 

In Vivace 4/4 (really 12/8), there are two measures of a fugal subject in d minor, and then a switch to A minor to continue a fugal idea with a counter subject.  But experiments with Bach die here. Then I stay in an A major cadence here with the rest of the subject, sliding into a Hanon-like arpeggio structure.  But the rest of the opening subject (the next 12 measures) going from G minor through E-flat back to D minor seem logical enough.  The second subject (the rondo alternate) will become the big tune at the end and has a lot of embedded variety (I think there is a theme a little similar in the Tchaikovsky Concert Fantasy in G). When I return with the first subject, it becomes very abridged, and the second return of it morphs into a restatement of the cadenza-like violence at the end of the development in the first movement. 

Is this (letting the opening subject hand in the dominant key) trite?  A virtuoso pianist, dispassionate and cocky, could pull it off.  What appears to me now is that maybe I had a “duty” to continue the fugato. I could use this kind of harmonic scheme:  “ d d a a F# F# B Bg#f A f# a# A”.  But then the harmonic progression in the development section of the first movement ought to follow suit, so that the modulatory scheme matches the subject. Then, for the triumph on the coda finale, re-use this scheme, and come crashing down in D Major “FFF” only in the last two measures or so.  (I could also change the Rondo subject my simply alternating tonic and dominant, fugato style.)

I believe I performed the whole work, not fast enough, in the spring of 1960 to my second music teacher’s class in front of about 10 students, on her Baldwin piano in north Arlington.  I had a “girl friend” of sorts in the class who actually could make comments about the development sections – but I don’t think the criticism led to tonal monotony.  I think I played the second movement once in a recital (at a local church) that spring. With all my schoolwork as a high school junior (the hardest year), with a term paper on J F Cooper and Virginia's hardest US History teacher, I don't know how I had time to hand-scribe this manuscript. Did I do the work at the kitchen table, like I wrote term papers?  I don't recall now. 

My musical ear at the time was influenced by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s moody Piano Concerto #3, also in d minor.  That work tends to hang in keys for a while during virtuosity, particularly in the famous “ossia” candenza in the first movement, performed here on YouTube (link).   Readers may enjoy this musical analysis of both cadenzas.  At the time, I had the RCA Victor 1957 recording with Van Cliburn and Kondrashin conducting the Symphony of the Air, with the Ossia cadenza.  I didn’t find out that the lighter one was actually more often played (even by Rachmaninoff) until much later.  (In fact, the Ossia could almost function as a separate Op. 32 prelude, a bit like the concluding D-flat Prelude, which I did play in high school.) This evening I played a CD of a 1982 recording by Zoltan Kocsis with the San Francisco Symphony (Edo de Waart) on Philips, which uses the "lighter" one.

As for "hanging in the dominant", there are many other examples. For much of its first half, the Bach C Major 2-part invention is in dominant G. And some composers tend to overuse relative major when starting in minor.  The Chopin B-flat minor Scherzo has this problem, and actually ends in D-flat.  (Tchaikovsky solved that problem beautifully when he opened his first piano concerto with a favorite theme and got it out of his system.)

I have a manuscript of the 4 movement Third Sonata (in "C" major-minor), the first three movements composed in 1962, and the sketchier finale (in better shape than I thought) in 1974.  The finale needs one more theme to scoop up some momentum toward the end to justify its final outbursts.   I may post this work this way later.  But then I’ll have to get my work entered onto the MacBook, probably with Sibelius.
Automatic copyright  permission is granted for immediate downloading and saving of the manuscript for personal and informal use.  By the way, the PDF was created from a scanner at a FedEx Kinkos.  One employee told me she could not copy music (even my own), but I could do it myself on a scanner, which was slow. Another employee a different day was able to do it on a fast scanner as long as I stayed on the premises.

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