SONATA NO. 1 FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO

Written: 2003
Duration: 20'
Instrumentation: violin and piano
Commissioned by Kirsten Marshall and Percy Browning
Winner of the 2005 Auros Group for New Music Composition Competition
Premiere: Kirsten Marshall, Violin and Read Gainsford, Piano; Unitarian Church of Ithaca, Ithaca, NY, USA, September 28, 2003.
PublisherBill Holab Music
 
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Program Note

(Short Version for Programs) 

The first movement, Adagio – allegro con uno trotto – adagio begins and ends in a somewhat Romantic style, but with a twist: the end of the movement sounds like a record scratch, as if what you just heard is a track from an old vinyl LP. I became fascinated with the sound of record scratches when I noticed them in many commercials, although this is somewhat ironic since no one really plays records anymore.

The imaginary title of the second movement, Schizando (derived from ‘schizophrenia’) is a word I came up with to describe a musical style centered on fast, abrupt changes. This movement also reveals an obsession with sequences: sequence-like chord patterns decay by gradually becoming more dissonant as they evolve. These sequential sections alternate with “siesta daydream” sections, akin to channel surfing with a remote control. I was recently on the road for two months with my wife Victoria while she was touring, so on a personal level, traveling on the road to a different hotel every week probably influenced how I wrote this movement. We were never in the same place for very long and many of the hotels looked the same. Our lives were not that dramatic. I started craving drama, particularly in the music I listened to, and this probably spilled over into how I wrote this movement.

The third movement, Largo is slow and broad and inspired by the phrase "the weight of the past." There are time markers that delineate certain sections, reminiscent of the ticking of a clock. There are a number of composers whose works influenced me in this movement, such as the later works of Arvo Pärt and the slow movements of some of Beethoven’s sonatas. I was also pre-occupied with wanting to write a movement that contained mostly “open” notes, i.e. half notes, whole notes and double whole notes.

My main influences for the last movement, Allegro con moto are the early formal ideas of Igor Stravinsky, folk-style fiddle playing and jazz. There are a few false starts when piano chords come crashing down and a few somewhat humorous sections. Many of the themes from the previous three movements reappear in this movement.

As with many of my earlier works, my goal was to create a four-movement work in which all of the movements are quite different from each other. In a sense, I view this multi-stylistic approach as the result of wanting to embrace a variety of tools. As a result, as I wrote this I did not have an allegiance to any one particular style, as each one hopefully elicits a certain, distinctive emotional response.

(Long Version) 

In many ways, Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano is about personal exploration. I use certain devices that I have not used much in other works such as flying spiccato, over pressure (a gritty sound produced on the violin by pressing the bow down on the strings very hard) and a variety of different combinations of slurs and articulations.

The first movement, Adagio – allegro con uno trotto – adagio begins and ends in a somewhat Romantic style, but with a twist: the end of the movement sounds like a record scratch, as if what you just heard is a track from an old vinyl LP. I became fascinated with the sound of record scratches when I noticed them in many commercials, but since no one plays records anymore, the sound is an anachronism, and it is doubtful that many younger people even know what it is other than the sound of something stopping abruptly.

The imaginary title of the second movement, Schizando (derived from ‘schizophrenia’) is a word I came up with to describe a musical style centered on fast, abrupt changes. This movement also reveals an obsession with sequences: sequence-like chord patterns decay by gradually becoming more dissonant as they evolve. These sequential sections alternate with “siesta daydream” sections, akin to channel surfing with a remote control. I was recently on the road for two months with my wife Victoria while she was touring, so on a personal level, traveling on the road to a different hotel every week probably influenced how I wrote this movement. We were never in the same place for very long and many of the hotels looked the same. Our lives were not that dramatic. I started craving drama, particularly in the music I listened to, and this probably spilled over into how I wrote this movement.

The images of decay that most influenced me when composing the second movement came from director David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of the 1958 horror film classic The Fly. In Cronenberg’s remake, the main character, Seth Brundle, has his DNA accidentally spliced with an errant fly’s DNA in a telaportation machine. I imagine the sequences in this movement transmogrifying and decaying in a “Brundlefly” sort of way. I thought of time travel machines and imagined joining one-half of a Classical era brain with one-half of a modern era brain at the corpus callosum. Like Cronenberg’s Brundlefly, the experiment doesn’t quite work; it sputters along until the end when it dies by pulling itself apart. In this sense, the recent issue of cloning and the trial and error tragedy that has so far surrounded it also influenced me, at least with regard to my mutant sequences.

Our constant desire for change and generally fickle nature seem to represent our time, an era of the short attention span. In this sense, another fairly recent innovation, the remote control, also has something to do with the fast-paced changes in the second movement and will probably play a part in some of my later works. Channel surfing seems to have become an accepted form unto itself in the age of the remote control and with the proliferation of cable TV channels. That we call it a ‘remote control’ seems to also describe the distance people have from the action at hand due to the mindless ease of channel surfing, whether with TV reality shows, actual death, or different musical styles on the radio. People have become so accustomed to this sensual, emotional Lazy Susan that they fail to see the oddness or humor of it all: they become numb to the plethora of choices. Watching modern TV has become a visual and aural analog of the heat-and-serve TV dinners of the 1950s: compartmentalized, easily accessible and not made up of very much that’s good for you. Although the TV and the remote control seem to me to be a fairly disastrous combination of inventions (and coupled with the TV dinner, even worse), channel surfing has become a formal device, albeit one that is usually controlled by the user. In this sense, the user becomes a performer: an integral part of the action. Something passive becomes active again, even if just by lifting a finger! But it is merely the notion of fast, abrupt and almost whimsical changes that are imbued in this movement.

Of course, fast changes or “cuts” are also common in commercials and even films, and I often wonder if modern art is imitating life in more ways than are readily apparent. Sometimes, it even seems like television scenes changing at a fast clip are a direct reaction to the monotonous drone of our daily lives and of other art forms such as minimalism. However, it is probably more accurate to surmise that fast-paced action is a direct result of our fickle society. It is an attempt to try to keep the audience’s attention, an audience that has become accustomed to a world of special effects, pyrotechnics and channel surfing when the scene at hand becomes just a tiny bit boring.

The third movement, Largo is slow and broad and inspired by the phrase “the weight of the past.” There are time markers that delineate certain sections, reminiscent of the ticking of a clock. There are a number of composers whose works influenced me in this movement, such as the later works of Arvo Pärt and the slow movements of some of Beethoven’s sonatas. I was also pre-occupied with wanting to write a movement that contained mostly “open” notes, i.e. half notes, whole notes and double whole notes.

My main influences for the last movement, Allegro con moto are the early formal ideas of Igor Stravinsky, folk-style fiddle playing and jazz. There are a few false starts when piano chords come crashing down and a few somewhat humorous sections. Many of the themes from the previous three movements reappear in this movement.

As with many of my earlier works, my goal was to create a four-movement work in which all of the movements are quite different from each other. In a sense, I view this multi-stylistic approach as the result of wanting to embrace a variety of tools. As a result, as I wrote this I did not have an allegiance to any one particular style, as each one hopefully elicits a certain, distinctive emotional response.