My Piano Sonatas 1 and 2: Notes on manuscript sources


One of my ongoing efforts is to document the music I have composed, party with the idea that if something happened to me (at 72), someone could discern my intentions and some of it might get professionally performed.


Note that the “file names” that I give are the names of PDF’s (and sometimes MP3 files) on which I have save them.  They will all be available on the Safe Deposit Backup USB (to be described soon).  Otherwise, they are available in the “Scores” directories of my Windows 8 and above computers, and my most recent MacBook (and backed up by Carbonite).


I have composed (or sketched in detail) three Piano Sonatas, and I want to leave some notes now.


The Piano Sonata #1 in A Major is a neoclassical affair.  I believe it was composed and written out by hand when I was 13, in early 1956.  A chum at William and Mary claims to have memorized it by ear and played it in California over Christmas in 1961, shortly after my William and Mary expulsion.  A complete performance should take about 16 minutes.  The files are all named Son1M1.pdf through M4 (and were recorded from Sibelius in 2013;  sib files exist that can convert to mp3).


First Movement: Allegro, 2/4.  The first theme is based on a perfunctory ascending and descending scale that the chum liked. The second theme makes heavy use triplets.   5 min with repeat.


Second Movement: Adagio, 4/4, A Minor, a funeral march with a very symmetric theme.  4 minutes.


Third Movement: Minuetto (A Major), and Trio (D Major).  This movement has some bite, and I like more than my little E Major Minuet that won a composition contest in 1957.   3 minutes.


Finale:  Presto, Tarentella, 6/8, A Minor.  A very symmetric piece. It stays in minor (no happy ending).  Some music very similar to this was played in the pre-show of the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012.  I wonder if it really did stick in somebody’s mind at William and Mary in 1961. 3 Minutes.


The Piano Sonata #2 in D Minor is much more ambitious.  It is hype-rromantic.  I was impressed by works like Brahms First Piano Concerto, and Concertos 2 and 3 by Rachmaninoff.  There is a tendency for the music to sit in the rhetorical dominant too much (Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto tends to do that but is still a masterpiece), but that could be revised.  I think the piece, if performed by a virtuoso perfmance, would work.  A complete performance should take about 28 minutes.   The file name is MUSSonata2.  It is a PDF of the handwritten copy (27 pages)


I believe I handwrote the score on the kitchen table in the late winter of 1960, im 11th grade, when I was 16, particularly on some snow days (we had three big March storms that year – “three White Wednesdays”).  The manuscript had to be written neatly in black ink, and the process was tedious, rather like doing a biology lab “draw and label”.  I entered it into a composition contest and have shown a couple of the feedback letters.  (One grader suggested study of Bloch, Bartok, and Kabalevsky!   Bartok I would respect!)  I have tried manipulating the manuscript pages on the iPad.


First Movement:  The exposition starts with a brief slow introduction (which can be repeated) and then moves to an Allegro Commodo, 3 /4 (a quarter note at 168). The opening theme sounds symmetric and contrapuntal, and migrates to F Major for the Minuet-like second subject (Qr at 144). The development is stormy (I was influenced by the cadenza of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto) . The Recapitulation is pretty straightforward with the second subject in D. Then there is a brief cadenza and a violent close, FFF, crashing on D Minor chords.


Second Movement: G Major, Lento Placido, Qr at 52, 4 /4.   It is a simple sonatina form with two subjects, the second in D Major.  After a short development, there is a cadenza requiring “leggerio”. The second theme returns as a singable chorale-like hymn, before ending quietly.


Finale:  It starts with an introduction, a cadenza to migrate from G Minor back to D Minor, but it is so extensive as to almost constitute a separate movement (in place of a “scherzo”).  A Rondo follows, in 2/2 (accidentally left out), with a toccata theme in triplets.  The second subject in 6/8 is more lyrical, and will appear in B-flat and G Minor before the chromatic “refrain” part of this subject returns at the end as a “big tune” D Major triumph, leading to a rush to a wild, joyful close.


The manuscript has hand indications of other chord formations for some passages to reduce the dependence on the dominant key (A Major v. D Major).  But well performed, it might not be necessary.


I believe I performed the D Minor before my second piano teacher’s class in her home in Arlington in the Spring of 1960.  I believe I played them for a friend om Ewell Hall at William and Mary (in the practice rooms) in the fall of 1961.

All these links are available here.

(Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2016, at 9 PM EST.)


Update: Monday, April 25, 2016  (about 6:30 PM EDT) 

Saturday night, I stumbled through playing the complete Sonata #2 on my Casio.  It took about 35 minutes.  It shocks me that I was able to play this at age 16 as a junior in high school, and recognize how much skill I lost.

The piece is surprisingly effective, and would work, at least as a “curiosity”, if performed by a virtuoso pianist.  The style at first glance seems perfunctory, built on neoclassical mannerisms all the way back to Scarlatti. But in the development section, on p. 5, the music becomes stormy, and then violent at the end of the first movement, and gradually triumphant in the finale.  The “big tune” in the finale has a lot more harmonic modulation than the other materials.

The “sturm und drang” process on p. 5 returns in the “Introduction” to the finale (which is almost a separate “scherzo” movement, however abbreviated), and then again in the Finale before the final appearance of the “big tune” in the Picardy D Major.

When I play this passage by itself, it seems trite, with the “dominant of the dominant” effect, as if the basic tonality were A major.  My ear was somewhat influenced by the massive cadenza in the first movement of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto, but not as sophisticated. But there is also some similarity to material toward the end of the long first movement of the Piano Concerto in C# Minor by Amy Beach (1896), which after being laid back turns violent as the movement closes.  The passage does not sound as harmonically “trite” when played in context, but I think the two reappearances need to more harmonic ventures, especially using the “Beach chord” using the sixth interval (so effective in the finale of the Beach concerto).  Also, the opening theme of the first movement mixes the interval of the fourth with the minor second (something Scriabin developed in his “Black Mass”, Sonata 9). That could provide material for harmonic enrichment.  One of Alma Mahler’s songs (in D Minor) has a harmonic progression that seems also relevant.  But simply changing keys by measure (as suggested in the handwritten notes on the copy) would not be effective.

I will develop a plan, detailed in a blog posting later, identifying pages and measures, of how to make the changes, especially to the recurring “Development Section” passages when they are repeated.  I’ll probably make some files of rewritten passages on Sibelius and post them.  It’s not practical right now to rewrite the entire manuscript in Sibelius until there is more “help”/

I note also that the opening theme in the slow movement resembles the Andantino theme of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1, although I use G Major and 4/4 time (a tritone away from D-flat in the Tchaikovsky).


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