30 November 2010

First of Three

On Fair Warning, first movement of the Sonata for Viola and Piano, Opus 102:

In the first movement, you hear the shadow of Alban Berg in the Viola: a mysterious yearning arises from a kind of struggling non-tonal tonality. Note that even in the first bar, in the 5:4 figure of 16ths, one hears a kind of tonality in the broken D# (= Eb) Bb (= A#) Eb (= D#) chord, and then again in bar 2, note the broken up D major scale in the 5:4 figure, nearly emphasized by the accent mark on the D after the 16th Bar 3 has the little march figure which again has an aroma of traditional tonality (F minor, starting with the C-F figure at the end of bar 2), and tells us that maybe the Viola has been wanting to be in F minor from the start, but cannot decide. The seeming chaos in the piano, with its B/A# and D/C# in the bass, and similarly wide-spaced dissonances in the treble, would apparently not be involved, but listen carefully to the odd E major in the piano in bars 3 and 4, which the Viola picks up in its partially contrary figure at the beginning of bar 4. rest.

The chord at the end of bar 4, with its open fifths in the piano and the Viola’s minor second G#/A stubbornly refusing to accept the engagement ring from either suitor, will become very important motivically, as it is paralleled in bars 28-31, and in bars 203-205, repeated nearly verbatim in bar 41, and paralleled again in the conclusion. The minor second in the Viola can of course be heard as a variation on the major 7ths in the piano’s bass at the beginning. This idea is reinforced in bar 7 in the piano, where the bass ascends from Bb to Bb to G#, while the treble and the Viola hold an A.

Lest ye think that the little minor second is just a moment’s hesitation, let me send you to bar 14, where for a moment both instruments play G#, but then the piano plays F#2/G# on the last beat, and to the Meno mosso section at bar 45, where things are seemingly in accord, with a unison on B in both instruments, but immediately we get a disagreement (Bb in the piano/A# in the Viola), followed by a C/Db and then in bar 46 we hear that G#/A, resolved into a unison to be sure, but then note the minor seconds in bars 49 and 50 (nicely played in the performance). This is one of the more comically poignant, or poignantly comic parts of the work.

The Più mosso section at bar 59 shows a variation on the 5:4 motif from the opening melody. The motif is now legalized with a time signature of its own (5/16), but does return in the piano for a moment in bar 64. Of interest rhythmically and motivically are bars 66-72: the music struggles upward through major and minor seconds for a while. In bar 69 the 5:4 figure in the piano sets the stage for an erratic ascent from B to C, with a minor ninth crescendo in bar 72.

The delicious Slow (but with life) part (bars 83-108) shows variations on the previous motifs (bar 86 develops the 5:4 figure, and the double open fifths in bar 87), and I like how the wide leaps in the piano presage the sudden drop in the Viola in bars 97-98. Octaves abound, but not for long, as the music fragments to a kind of pointillism in bars 109-132. The open-fifths-vs.-minor-second debate is heard in the piano in bar 122, just to make sure you are paying attention, and that 5:4 figure now appears as a 5:6 in the base.

And then my favorite part: the completely schizoid Più mosso ancora! (Bars 133-176) The section continues to play with items already established, e.g. hear the bass part of the piano continue the minor/major 2nd/7th/9th patterns, while the treble plays around with the motifs introduced back in bar 95ff. and 106-107. Listen to how they contrast with the melodic line in the Viola, with trills (136-137), emphatically accented 16ths, the 5:4 and new 6:4 figures, while the piano obediently avoids such rhythmically complexities, allowing only some syncopations. And I must remark upon how well the premiere performance handled this section!

In bars 177 the music develops the earlier Più mosso (bars 59-82) and drives toward a climax where a variation of the opening is proclaimed beginning at bar 201. During this drive, note again the presence of those minor/major 2nd/7th/9th patterns: bars 189 and 194-195 are especially impressive here, the latter two bars show a minor second expanding to a third and then a fourth, leading to the open fifths in the treble in the next two bars.

As mentioned earlier, those Beethovenian chords from bar 4 return in bars 203-205. We then hear a brilliant, condensed, and varied recapitulation of the most important parts of the entire movement (e.g. listen to the piano in bars 212-214 and in the bass only to 218 and compare it to bars 95-102), while above one hears a near apotheosis of the 5:4 figure interspersed with continual variations on it: check out e.g. bar 219 where the Viola plays an eighth-note triplet with a duplet, as well as the bass part in the piano in bars 220-221. Bar 221 is particularly fascinating with the way motivic and rhythmic elements coalesce in the piano, before our Beethovenian chords put an end to this serious yet playful and highly expressive movement!

— Leo Schulte

Here reproduced with the author’s permission.

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