Piano Sonata

Lento alla Siciliano

Samuel Jones' Piano Sonata, composed in 1961-62, received its world premiere on October 17, 1963, in Alma, Michigan in a performance by the composer at Alma College where he was at that time a member of the music faculty as well as music director of the Saginaw Symphony. Since then the sonata has been performed by pianists Bela Szilagi, Lois Lines, Henri-Paul Sicsic, and others around the country. The work has especially been championed by the great pianist and pedagogue, John Perry, who has performed it numerous times in this country as well as in Europe, introducing it to a new generation of pianists.

The sonata, in three movements, is faithful to the traditional argument of the sonata concept, but with its own unique points of view. For example, though the first movement presents conflict, as expected, between the tonal areas of the principal and secondary themes, the greater conflict exists in the bitonality of the opening idea itself, which becomes a point of fierce contention in the coda, with the C-Major of the right hand finally winning out in the last moment over the B-Flat Major of the left. The opening motto contains other salient features as well: though each hand mirrors the neighboring-tone expansion of the other, they have decidedly different ideas of how to go about it, the bass emphasizing regular accents and the treble preferring instead to speak in dotted rhythms.

These conflicts find momentary resolution in the development section when a new melodic idea, an offshoot of the lyrical second theme, wends it way with undotted rhythms from the tenor range ever higher, all the while gracefully accompanied by the right hand's dotted laceries. But the original conflict soon arises, at first surreptitously then more insistently, leading to the reiteration of opening materials and finally culminating in the aforementioned struggle in the coda.

The second movement is a graceful siciliano, with the expected gently-rocking six-eight rhythms. The stage is set by a brief prologue, which is repeated at the close of the movement. In between is intoned a simple song-form in which chords built from recurring wheel-fragments support a plaintive melody which seeks seemingly every nonharmonic way possible to escape the tonal dominance of its accompaniment. In the middle section the theme is joined by a canonic partner and the music reaches a peak of intensity, though it does not overturn the rule of the harmonies. They return, and the plaintive melody sings again, alone now, and this time it finds contentment in its surroundings.

The final movement is an ABACABA rondo in which the main theme undergoes a striking transformation from the jaunty innocence it exhibits at the opening to the vehement intensity it has acquired by the time the movement—and the work—ends. The first diversion from the rondo theme is strongly related to the second theme of the opening movement. The middle diversion is a two-part form, the first being a steady expansion of a melody which is initially restricted to two pitches only and which gradually wins for itself greater freedom, and the second being a quiet chorale (presented simultaneously with its mirror an octave lower) which seems to offer momentary thanks for the newly-won freedoms. But the struggles have deeply affected the main idea, and the transformation mentioned above is immediately noticed upon its return. If one feels at the end a certain desperation, one also senses an unmistakable resolve and a final resolution which expresses fierce determination to meet any challenge.

Program Notes by Samuel Jones