Monday, July 25, 2016

Stravinsky's piano sonatas; Chopin's enigmatic Polonaise-Fantaisie

I found two piano Sonatas by Igor Stravinsky on YouTube.

The Sonata #1 in F# Minor (1904) was composed at age 1903-1904, at age 21 or so, and is far from the neoclassical style to follow.  It reminds one of the Symphony #1 in E-flat.  The stylistic influences include Brahms, early Rachmininoff (especially the famous c# minor prelude) and Tchaikovsky, but most of all, late Chopin.  Young Stravinsky seems to be trying to extend the heroic world of Chopin’s big Sonatas and other large piano works.

The first movement starts out with a lot of blocked chords but introduces a nice lyrical and nuanced second them.  It dies away for a hushed end, before the A Major Scherzo, in 2.4 with a trio in ¾ follows.  This reminds me of the scherzo of Chopin’s third sonata.  The slow movement is an extended Andante in D in 6/8, which turns out to be a long introduction for a heroic finale, which will reuse some of the slow movement in rondo style, to build a “big tune”. The F# Major ending is triumphant.

On Youtube it is performed by Victor Sangiorgio here.  Indeed, forgotten early student works (usually written in the teens or early 20s) by renowned composers often turn out to be quite emotionally compelling.

The Sonata #2 (1924) is much shorter, just 9 minutes, in three movements (rather like the Symphony of that name) and all rather toccata-like.  The first movement seems like a perfunctory etude in C, in 2/4. The second movement is a nice Andante in A-flat with lots of leggerio in 64th notes and lot-sa, and time signature changes that play with the denominator a lot.  The last movement is a little scherzo nominally in E Minor.  All the movements end quietly, as if to give the listener a break.

On YouTube, the apparent performer is Geroge Gianopoulos, here.

I’ll mention today one of Chopin’s most addictive works, the Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61, in A-flat, by Frederic Chopin.

You can watch Timo Andres give a restrained performance in the Green Space in NYC for WQXR here on YouTube .  I wonder how David Kaplan would approach this work.

I’ll embed a video of this work with five “high profile” performances, by, showing the score, ending with Ashkenazy

This is a big, heroic work if a curious and meandering one.  Yes, the sudden tempo changes and modulations (often between A-flat and B Major)   The final big tune bears that waffling uncertainty, going into a big of resignation, diminishing, before one last single shout, an A-flat Major Chord, FFF, with the lowest note a C (breaking the “rules” of harmony, to great effect).

One of the major motifs is a descending fourth (which opens the work).  The Beethoven Sonata #18 makes similar use of a descending fifth, and one of the other Chopin polonaises (in A) uses a descending third, which I also use to introduce the chromatic "big tune" in the last movement of my own "third sonata".

This work has so many nooks and crannies it’s like a one-movement sonata.  Did this work inspire the late sonatas of Alexander Scriabin, most of all, the Black Mass?

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