Monday, July 7, 2014

About Sonatas

Another of the conversation series of this summer was about sonatas.  What are your associations with sonatas?

Pretty square.  Haydn Sonatas drove me out of music school and caused me to destroy every note of his that I possessed.  Clementi?  Are you kidding?  Those childish sonatinas I had to play as a child?
Do they really form part of the picture?

So I started the music part of the exchange with the famous Clementi C Major  Sonatina.  The reaction: "It's hard for me to hear it fresh," says a pianist and teacher.  Then I showed them the book I used, a facsimile of the first edition, no slurs, no markings except those put there by the composer.  Compare that to the usual done-to-death "instructions" added by some Italian piano teacher, which I showed them for purposes of comparison.  They couldn't get over it.  Too many instructions; the humor completely obscured.

What is the point of the form?  Constant variation of even the smallest "nothing" repeated quarter note.

This is the essence of the sonata, not the repeat of a theme or section, but the variation that permeates everything, all the time.

Haydn: I let them choose a key from the table of contents: They chose A major.  I first played the scale pointing out its quirks, i.e., the several collisions with black keys that give it its fascinating coloration.  I played the first movement the way I play it, again, stressing constant variation.  They wanted to hear it played the way it would have driven me out of music school.  "Yikes!" was the response.  Please go back to your way!

Did Mozart write any sonatinas?  Great question.  Having just purchased the early so-called "Wunderkind" Sonatas, K. 5 - 10, composed when he was seven. I sight-read one in their key of choice, B-flat.  Interestingly, I couldn't do it, perhaps because my habitual way of reading relies on pedestrian meters or because of the many markings (though this is supposed to be an Urtext edition!) delineating vertical beats.

I had to stop midway and restart talking through the reasons I was having such a hard time doing it justice.  And there we left it.

The purpose of the sonata is to be as engaged as possible in your own capacity to change even the smallest musical unit so that you never repeat yourself.  Repeating yourself is downright anti-sonata.