Sonata for Cello and Piano
Duration: 14'

My Cello Sonata was written in 1996 and premiered on March 14, 1997 by the Fischer Duo, for whose 25th wedding anniversary it was commissioned. It has subsequently been championed by the Lopez-Scanlon Duo, who performed it on a tour of the eastern U.S. Both of these groups have recorded the work. The Fischer Duo’s performance appears on Gasparo GSCD-349, and the Lopez-Scanlon’s recording is included on Naxos 8.559079.

The number and tempi of the movements (three; fast-slow-fast), the precise formal structure, including a clear sonata-allegro form for the first movement, and the use of poetic repetition and paired phrases, so studiously avoided by many composers in the last few decades, all bear witness to this work’s evolution from the models of the classical era. But the respectful nod to history notwithstanding, there are many considerations of style and idea which mark the work as very much a child of its time.

This work utilizes what I refer to as structural programmaticism, that is, it uses extra-musical allusions not in a story-telling sense but at the level of the basic tonal material of the work itself. In this work it is present in the very opening sonority, a bitonal structure composed of two triads (F Major and A-flat Major, both in first inversion) sounded simultaneously. The musical idea came first, but soon I came to view this sonority as the musical embodiment of a good marriage, the coming together of two strong individuals. As the sonata progresses, and particularly in the apotheosis which closes the work, the two triads discover how to resolve into a completely new entity, the sonority of D Major, symbolizing what happens when the two people have created a new, unified life together.

The slow movement had special poignancy for me as I composed it. Since, according to Jeanne Kiermann (the pianist of the Fischer Duo), the slow movement of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony seemed to keep reappearing at important moments in the life of their family, I used it as commentary upon the extended song which forms the corpus of the movement. I originally wrote the song (a setting of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee?) for my wife as a wedding-day gift in December, 1975. She graciously allowed me to quote it here.)

Program Notes by Samuel Jones