Thursday, July 03, 2014
What is it about second piano sonatas? We see a very different Brahms and Schumann between their first and second sonatas. Schumann labored over his Second for seven years, whereas Brahms actually composed his Second previous to the first, but thought the first better.
In our own time, three composers have presented their second piano sonatas to the world. Sonata II by Betty Wishart has a marvelous opening movement, pregnant with possibilities. I hear the romance and modernism combination of Samuel Barber with a bit of Bartok thrown in, hence, I relish this captivating exploration of questions from the depth of the human spirit, which I also endeavored to do in my own Sonata No. 2 for piano.
The Capriccio is most welcome, as the energy of the harmonic language is soaked up into a rhythmic drive and the music becomes tonal, centering on D Minor. It most certainly does not wear out its welcome, and I would enjoy hearing more of this movement.
The third movement seems to be a distillation of the entire sonata, with a slow introduction shifting gears into a tumultuous Vivace. But a reversal occurs here: the slow introduction is the tonal section, whereas this closing Vivace is more harmonically adventurous as well; a fine complement to the opening two movements.
Wishart asks us to decide whether the Sonata II concludes with angst or joy and hints, through the closing G major chord, that it might be joy. All well and good, but an interesting conversation might ensue: are tonal harmony and/or major triads essential to depicting joy in music? Perhaps the postmodernistic environment finds this to be the case, but I would say that some of the most joyous moments in music are the dissonant, atonal, modernistic ones. Maybe that’s just the modernist in me protesting. Wishart’s Sonata II is a compelling work, and worthy of listening and performance. A fine performance by Jesse Davis, pianist, may be heard at http://williamvollinger.com/audio/Wishart.mp3 and the score may be viewed at http://williamvollinger.com/pdf/Wishart.pdf .
I have long admired the many excellent works of David Canfield, including dozens of magnificent chamber sonatas, particularly the sonatas for violin and piano. So it is with joy I anticipate the release of a new CD featuring Canfield’s Piano Sonata No. 2. on the Enharmonic label. Cast in four movements, this work opens with a whirling dervish reminiscent of the finale of Chopin’s Bb minor Sonata (also his second), and then, like Witold Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, continues with an even faster second movement! The third movement comes off as the slow movement but in an elegant intermezzo; it is also the most tonal movement of this thoroughly modernistic piece. The finale begins pointillistically and gradually the “points” approach each other as it goes through times of stride bass and a powerful accelerando leading to a breathtaking close.
The entire work is a tour de force for the exceptional pianist necessary to perform it, and seems disquieting, with some sparks of anger in the opening and closing movements, balanced well with the wit and humor of the inner movements.
In its journey through many moods and struggles, Canfield’s second piano sonata reminds me of my own, now available on the new CD Walter Saul: Sonatas and Meditations for Piano. Cast in two movements, my Piano Sonata #2 (1981) could be summed up as my cry for help followed by the Lord’s response. I have never matched the violence of the first movement and its passionate outbursts in the 33 years since I wrote it, and it is barely restrained by its sonata-allegro form. It is answered by a mostly quiet five-part rondo unabashedly in B Major, but with many atonal surprises here and there, depicting the surprises of the Lord’s leading in my life. Interestingly, it follows the first sonata by eleven years.
Each of these second piano sonatas is distinctly personal, taking the listener into deep spiritual realms of their composers. Let’s celebrate and anticipate the releases of these fine works.