Piano Sonata No. 1

for Piano

  • Genre
  • Commissioned by/written for
    David Brunell
  • Year completed
  • Year revised
  • Timing
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    known performances
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My first piano sonata was originally composed between July 3, 1986 and January 30, 1990. Its gestation, very long by my recent standards, was due to the difficulties I was experiencing as a composer in the 1980s, when composition was a rather slow and tedious task, and largely unrewarding to me. This difficulty is quite apparent in the original version of the work, which is itself quite tedious and unrewarding, with many sections that could charitably be described as note spinning. In 2014, in preparation for a recording project of my integral piano music, I was faced with he prospect of omitting the work from this recording, leaving a difficult-to-explain lacuna in presenting a second sonata while omitting the first, or including a work that I felt was substandard (indeed, I had withdrawn the work from my list of official mature compositions). I realized I could also rewrite it to make it acceptable to me, and in fact, this is what I did between December 6th and 13th of 2014. The revisions ranged from comparatively minor reworking of the third movement, including abridging it somewhat, to writing an almost entirely new finale, utilizing only a handful of measures from the original work. The first two movements retained many ideas and much material, but were quite thoroughly re-examined to make them as good as I felt capable of doing in 2014. In all of this revision, the structure of Piano Sonata No. 1 remains quite similar to that of its original version, and the harmonic treatment also retains much of its original characteristic, although some sections are now much more tonally focused than they were previously. I also gave titles to all four movments, namely "Fantasia," "Furioso," "Marche funèbre," and "Toccata." This work is the first such in which I sought to personalize a piece for a particular friend through the use of musical letters in the his name. Many works followed using this technique, but in the piano sonata at hand, the initials of dedicatee David E. Brunell, who premiered my piano concerto while we were both still graduate students at Indiana University, happened to be contained among the notes of the musical scale. I seized the opportunity to use these three notes, D, E, B, in melodic, harmonic and structural ways throughout the first, second and fourth movements of the sonata. Given that the third movement is a funeral march, I thought it inappropriate to use them in that movement, lest I be thought to be wishing for his demise! Given that in the intervening years, Brunell also lost his father, and I (earlier in the year of the rewriting of the work) lost both of my parents, the funeral march was appropriate for both him and me. The opening "Fantasia" is in a free form in contrasting sections of quietude and drama, while the second movement is a quicksilver scherzo with only a brief respite from its whirlwind activity in a middle section . The third movement comprises the aforementioned funeral march, which ends in a whisper of grief, and the final movement is a toccata, albeit a rather easy going one by the standards of those of many composers. Its driving rhythms are occasionally interrupted by quieter sections, although the movement ends quite dramatically. The premiere of the original version, the first of my works to receive a premiere outside of the United States, was given by David Brunell at the Festival Européen International in Geneva, Switzerland on July 27, 1990. David Brunell currently serves on the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

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