My Piano Sonata 3, manuscript notes


I’ve written about my Piano Sonata #3 in C here before, but today I want to provide a detailed and “definitive” reference – which may get updated from time to time.


I began to compose the work in December 1961, right after my William and Mary Expulsion, at age 18-1/2, shortly before starting at George Washington University while “living at home”.  I wrote in rag-tag small composition notebooks available to me at the time.  Since this wasn’t getting entered anywhere, I wasn’t particularly attentive to legibility.  But I actually composed the first two movements pretty quickly, and was ready for the slow movement by March.  (The “chum” from William and Mary visited me at the end of January and saw what the first movement would be like.)   Then schoolwork slowed me down.  I left aside until the spring of 1974, when I was living in the Rivercrest Apartments in Piscataway, NJ.  Having returned from spending most of the winter on a benchmark for Univac in Minnesota, I finished the slow movement, and sketched out a Finale, on regular staff paper.  By September I had moved into New York City, started working for NBC, was socially involved with the Ninth Street Center, and had pretty much laid it aside. I was 31 then.


The First Movement (16 min.) starts with an ambiguous introduction “Molto Moderato” and then precedes to the Exposition “Allegro Moderato” (Qr at 160), 4/4, a neoclassical little invention in C.  Passage to the second theme in A Minor, also playful, is immediate.  (The only well-established classical sonata movement in a major key with second theme in relative minor that I know of is Brahms’s First Piano Trio in B.)   The second theme slows down for a moment with a Lydian mode motif that had occurred to me in English class in 10th Grade when we were studying short stories, and stayed in mind forever.  The exposition is repeated (w/o the intro).  The development is marked “Adagio” at the start and a lot of it is in slow tempo.  (The major classical work that does something like this is the first movement of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, in e minor, which I got a recording of – Scherchen’s on Westminster – some time in 1962.)  The music becomes detached, schizoid, and then goes into a twelve-tone fugato. The music tries to gather steam and disintegrates into cadenzas before getting some momentum again and building up to a romantic climax to start the Recapitulation, which states the first theme in grandiose chords but in E-fat Minor.  The second theme will come back transformed in C, and be almost “Brhamsian”.  The movement slows down and slips into minor and ends very quietly, in meditation.  A sustained quiet ending for this movement is mandatory for the whole concept to work.


The Second Movement (11 min.), in A-flat, is the Scherzo, 3 /4, at qr of 198.  The marking is “Allegro Moderato” but the sensation is that of speed, so “Vivace” would be more appropriate.  The pianist should play this opening fast and with virtuosity.  (It doesn’t lumber, like Bruckner.)  There are a lot of passages with octaves in eighth notes at high speed. The first Trio, in F Major, Moderato, in varying compound time signatures (like 9/4, 6/4) is a crude mockery of a march that comes back three times.  The trio is a mini-rondo itself as it is broken up by cadenza-like passages (in bizarre meters like 2/8).  The first part of the “exposition” in A-flat returns, to go to a second trio, which is a satirical waltz in C# Minor, which then pixilates. Finally, the “exposition” concludes in A-flat, and ends with one little flourish, FF, in the extreme registers of the piano.


The Third Movement (11 min.) is the Slow Movement or “Elegy”, and it starts with a 12-tone row, but “harmonized” in E-flat minor (a key used in the first movement to start the recapitulation).  There follows a main theme, a kind of dirge in F# minor, 12 /8, which had come to me when my father was recuperating from his minor heart attack over anxiety over my expulsion (it had happened to him around Feb. 15 when he was on business in Williamsburg, ironically;  he had driven home and was hospitalized briefly; he was told he had smoked his last cigarette).  Father often complained about loud music from the basement, so I tried with this theme to see what could be done “quietly”, but rather mesto.  There follows an etude-like episode in B-flat minor, 8 / 8 (odd measures), and then the F# Minor mesto returns as a grander theme, now often FF, on three staves.  I then move to a “middle section”, a Largo Religioso in B Major, which is rather like a highly chromatic hymn tune without words.  (Or, so to speak, “Words Fail”).  This section can be played in a self-contained manner (I’ve tried it on an organ and it works!).  Finally, a long development section starts, Grave, 3/4, with the twelve-tone row.  Going into some arpeggio-like passage work, it picks up momentum, and comes to an unresolved dissonance as a climax.  Here I recently added another passage of development, starting to recapitulate other composers.  Building on the Religioso theme (now in E Major), the tonality comes apart, as the “octave theme” from the Bruckner Ninth is overlaid upon it, and then the motto of Scriabin’s Black Mass appears, but in reverse (trying to rise up).  All this comes collects into one more unresolvable dissonance.  Finally, the opening tone row is played backwards, in E-flat minor again, and the movement ends quietly on a couple staccato minor chords, back in desolation.


Finale (12 min):  It starts in C, Andante 2 /4, and then quickly a fugato, Allegretto, 6 /8, and some other meters (even 7 /8).  I’ve outlined the structure in detail in my January 15, 2016 post.  There is a major “hymn-like” second subject in F# Major (with a lot of modulation and dissonance), then more development, which gradually brings in external music, and then a cadenza, all “crashing” to dissonance before the F# Major theme returns, and then fights being dragged back to C Major.  The triumphant end, in C, plays a lot of earlier material polyphonically over the final chords, that finally end in a “drumbeat” and one final shout, FFF.


My NIH notes (from my late 1962 stay as an inpatient) say that I “began to compose a series of piano sonatas based on a 12 tone scale. These were compositions that he did not hear in his head but rather worked out as a prearranged formula.”  Not very complementary, and not exactly correct.


Below I will diagram how I performed the work at home recently.  It took me, with my level of technique, about 67 minutes to get through it.  A good pianist would perform it in about 50 minutes, with 15-second pauses between movements.  That’s long for a piano sonata.  I can perform the first movement better than the rest of the work (and make it convincing), but I’m quite confident that the concepts work if well executed.


In the chart, a “c” means I played from iTunes, a “p” means that I played on the Casio.

The handwritten score pdf is in the same link as the previous day’s post (on the legacy site).  There is one URL for each movement, such as this for the first movement.   More instructions on the location of the physical booklet are forthcoming.


4.9Coda 1 stanaz F#71Sonata3Mov4cadcends in dissonance

Mov-seq desc page file played comment
1.1 Moderato,C 1 na p Introduction
1.2 Allegro,C 2 Sonata3Mov1E1 p Exp, first theme
1.3 Scherzando,a 3 SonataMov1E2, E2a,b p 2nd thm,Ossia avl; take repeat
1.4 adagio 4 SonataMov1D1 p Development, 1st 2 pages
1.5 Atonal 6 Sonata3M1D2,D2a (ossia) p 2 pages
1.6 Grave, cadenzas 8 Sonata3M1D3 p
1.7 allegro 10 Sonata3M1D4 p pick up speed
1.8 Allegro Maestoso,ebmn 14 Sonata3Mov1Ra p Recapitulation
1.9 transition 15 Sonata3movR2 ossia p
1.10 transition cont 16 Sonata3MovR3 p climax
1.11 2nd theme, C 17 Sonata3MovR4 p
1.12 Coda starts 19 Sonata3Mov1RC p Coda starts;
1.13 Tranquillo 20 Sonata3Mov1R5 p
1.14 Coda ends 22 Sonata3Mov1Rc1 p Movement ends quietly in minor
2.1 Scherzo, Vivace, Ab 23 Sonata3Mov2E1 c
2.2 Scherzo, cont 25 Sonata2Mov2R2 c
2.3 Trio 1, F 31 Sonata3Mov2R3 p long trio, only a little in Sib;
2.4 Reprise 1 42 na brief
2.5 Trio 2, c# mn 42 na play this w cadenzas
2.6 Reprise 45 na conclusion
3.1 Elegy, eb min 49 Sonata3Mov3I1 p
3.2 lamntation f# 50 Sonata3Mov3E1 p father’s theme
3.3 8/8 b-f min 51 Sonata3MovE2 p
3.4 lamentation f# in octaves 53 Sonata3MovE3-1a
3.5 Religioso B 55 Sonata3Mov3Religioso c chorale
3.6 Grave molto, atonal 57 Son3Mov3D1 c
3.7 accel 61 Sonata3Mov3D2 c,p much was played manually
3.8 extra material 61f Sonata3MovD3 c comes to a dissonance
3.9 coda, palindrome 62 Sonata3Mov3Coda p
4.1 Andante 2/4; Allegretto 6/8 63 MSonata3FinaleS1 c
4.2 Andante 65 MSonata3Finale1 – 2, after playing at 65A p,c
4.3 Mahler 5 theme 67 Sonata3Mov4E2a c
4.4 intermed develop 67f Sonata3Mov4E3a c
4.5 F#Maj hymn 68 HoldApplauseTheme p
4.6 Devel 1 with external minuet 68 Sonata3Mov4E5a c I probably should call this D5a
4.7 Dev 2 with external songs 69 Sonata3Mov4E5b c D5b
4.8 Cadenza, external materials 70 Sonata3Mov4cad c ends in dissonance
4.10 Coda 1 Stanzas go to F Min 72 Su702CfromF#c 17 measures p
4.11 Coda 2 Modulate to C, stay in C 72 Sonata3Mov4Coda2 p end FFF


(Published: Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 at 9:30 PM ESR)

Update: Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016

I found this printout of some alternate music (6/4) for the final coda in the Finale.  Don’t recall the file number.  I need to work it in.

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