PIANO SONATA NO. 1 (1990) Op.34

Opus number: 34

Title: Piano Sonata

Instrumentation: solo piano

Date written: 1990, New York City

Length: sixteen minutes

Dedicatees: Penelope Rosekell, Wu Han, Michael Dewart, Carmen Rodriguez-Peralta

Premiere performance: Larry Bell, pianist, February 1, 1991, Boston Conservatory. Other pieces on the program: Bartok, Improvisations, Op. 20; Hindemith, Sonata No. 2; Berg, Sonata Op. 1; Persichetti, Mirror Etudes

Important subsequent performances: Larry Bell, pianist, Salzburg, Austria, April 1994; U-Mass-Amherst, 1994; Dartmouth College, May 24, 1995; December 10, 1995, Larry Bell, New Music Ensemble, The Boston Conservatory; Micheal Dewart, April 17, 1991, The Boston Conservatory; Carmen Rodriguez-Peralta, pianist, April 16, 1992 and October 22, 1992, Greenwich House, New York; Larry Bell, March 1996, Temple University, Tokyo, Japan; NACUSA Christ and St. Stevens Church, New York

Recordings: Larry Bell, pianist, North/South Recordings CD N/S #1007; tape of premiere at Boston Conservatory; also tape of Dewart performance and Bell performances at The Boston Conservatory; video of October 20, 1992 Rodriguez performance

Program notes:  This first piano sonata was written in summer of 1990 in New York City. Previous works for piano include Variations for Piano, Miniature Diversions, Revivals, First Tango in London, The Parable of the Parabola, and a Piano Concerto. In the Sonata each of the four movements is dedicated to a pianist who has played my music.

The first movement,  Appassionatamente mesto,  dedicated to Penelope Rosekell, is a monothematic sonata form whose principal theme consists of the cross-relation clash between A major and the cadential a minor.

Wu Han is the dedicatee of the second movement, Canto agitato, a song form with variations. The tonal stability of this movement acts as a kind of resolution to the stormy first movement.

The third movement, Scherzo pop, is in scherzo-trio form. The “joke” in this movement consists of a parody of the first movement; the A major/a minor conflict of the opening movement, now with inflections of pop music, is reversed to end this movement in A major.  Michael Dewart is the dedicatee.

Ballo risoluto, the fourth movement, is a perpetual mobile toccata, written throughout in 11/8 + 7/8 creating the feeling of an American folk dance. This movement is dedicated to Carmen Rodriguez-Peralta.

Every movement is based on the same harmony and the same polyrhythms. This represents the underlying sound and rhythm of the entire work, although each movement differs in style as much as possible from the others without sacrificing the unity of the whole. Any resemblance between the personalities of the movements and their dedicatees is up to the listener to determine.

Reviews:  [recording] “The most substantial, and by far the most compelling, work on this program is the 1990 piano sonata of Larry Bell. A broad, passionate composition, Bell’s music has something of the anxious, highly embroidered density of Rachmaninov. There are sections of the sonata that seem to be overcrowded with ideas and energy, and some of the writing is overly florid, but there is a sense that such excess is basically a result of the youthful exuberance of an exceptionally talented composer. I would expect fine things yet to come from this fresh and exciting voice.” –Peter Burwasser, Fanfare  July/August 1996