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Sonata for Pianoforte
Although a great deal of my concert music has been orchestral, I have long wanted to write something for the solo piano. It has been my own instrument since, as a boy of five, I first became interested in music, and although hopelessly out of practice now, I still turn to the piano to try things out or if I just need to play. So when Diana Brekalo came along, having impressed me with performances of contemporary music as well as Prokofiev and Rachmaninov, I leapt at the opportunity to write something which would explore her extraordinary technique and musicianship. It was in the winter of 2012/13 that I began, and although I set out to write something that would have elements of a “classical” sonata, things gradually developed and in the event I ended up with five contrasting movements, the first, third and fifth being mostly rather fast and dramatic, and the second and fourth very slow and predominantly quiet.
The first movement is closest to the original “classical” idea, with contrasting motifs which return periodically and a generally optimistic tone throughout – as if we’re setting out on a journey. The second movement is very slow with the right hand spelling out a melody and the left hand providing a simple chordal accompaniment; you might perhaps detect my fondness for jazz in this piece. It might also be apparent that outside there was snow on the ground. After a brief, slow introduction, the third movement is fiery and centres around repeated notes interspersed with florid passages for the two hands whizzing around two octaves apart; restless energy is the keynote here. The fourth movement, by contrast, is slow and delicate and is the only one so far to have a title – Cradle Song. But baby won’t sleep, and the music stops and starts, each time in a new variation, and mother even tries another tune in the middle. There is a suggestion that sleep might descend toward the end, but it is not certain… The fifth and final movement is mostly stormy, the whole built around augmented triads and arpeggios. I remember composing it during some especially violent winter weather, and it shows – despite there being something a little less dramatic in the middle.
Diana premiered this work in a concert at a church in Notting Hill Gate in March 2015, and has played it several times since.
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano
My Piano Trio was commissioned by the London Piano Trio and I worked on it during the early part of 2014. It takes the form of four contrasting character pieces which are all rather personal, each movement strongly influenced by scenes from my life. In the first, sub-titled “Au Jardin de Maurice,” I remember being in Bélvédere, the little house and garden of Maurice Ravel at Montfort l’Amaury. There he wrote his two piano concertos, the Bolero, L’enfant et les Sortileges, and several other works. Being there left a profound impression – it was as if the great composer was still present and might even reappear, for the house is much as he left it. His garden, to the rear, is also charmingly quirky. My piece is thus a sort of “hommage a Ravel” with many references to his style, and indeed his own Piano Trio. The second movement is subtitled “Walking with Alan,” and the person referred to is Alan Bush. Alan was the first real composer to give me encouragement during evening classes at the local educational institute. After our lessons we would walk energetically a couple of miles to the railway station, and he would talk breathlessly about everything musical and political from Britten to communism. Alan was certainly exceptionally kind, but also extremely forthright and opinionated, and for a 15 year-old boy, these walks were enormously thought provoking. In the third movement, called “Faded Photographs, Poignant Memories,” I rake through old photographs of departed relatives and friends, fondly remembering some of the scenes and events they conjure. You will hear how my grandmother would dance in the Winter Gardens at Weston-Super-Mare, and aunty Kath tell me off when I misbehaved. There were holidays by the sea at Whitstable, and memories of happy times with my brother, sister and cousins, although some reminiscences are inevitably tinged with regret and are quite turbulent.The fourth movement I have called “A Family Argument,” and it takes the form of a good-humoured discourse between two conflicting musical ideas – one slightly jazzy, the other with East European overtones. You see, I am married to a Ukrainian!
- 1st Movement – Toccata Fugato
- 2nd Movement – Snowbound Pastorale
- 3rd Movement – Finger Switching
- 4th Movement – Cradle Song
- 5th Movement – Fractious Finale
Diana Brekalo, Piano
- 1st Movement – Au jardin du Maurice
- 2nd Movement -Walking with Alan
- 3rd Movement – Faded Photographs, Poignant Memories
- 4th Movement – A Family Argument
The London Piano trio
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