About this work:
My Sonata for Piano was completed in 1961 but extensively revised in anticipation of its publication during the summer of 1977. Although, as the reviewer for the New York Times observed after its first performance by Genevieve Chinn in 1964, it is a sonata in the tradition of those by Copland and Carter, that tradition in the American literature
extends as far back as the sonatas of Griffes and MacDowell and in the European to those of Brahms, Liszt, Chopin and Schumann. The single most powerful influence, however, was that exerted by the later sonatas of Beethoven, without which none of the grandes sonates of the last two centuries, including my own, would have been conceivable.
In my sonata, as in those just cited, bold, forceful statements contrast with periods of great introspection. A passage which begins quietly may little by little become almost unbridled in its energy only to yield suddenly to one of restraint and repose. It is a music that is, I hope, logical in its relationships yet affective and that reflects through the nature of its materials, their treatment and arrangement, the experience of the human psyche while making it clear that these materials were allowed to coalesce in ways that are peculiar to
music and incomparable to those of any other art. To balance the desire for the one with the requirements of the other is the dilemma faced by all composers, whether consciously or not, and the extent to which each composer has succeeded in achieving this balance is the standard by which I judge his work and by which I hope that my own music, in particular this sonata, will also be judged.
The basic plan which I chose for this sonata was of a four-movement cycle in which, while each movement would be separate and complete in itself, it would seem that each had, in fact, suggested the next and that the pauses between them would actually
contribute to a sense of continuity, enabling the listener to hear the four movements together as inevitable parts of a single work. In addition, an especially perceptive listener might notice that, although the sonata contains many distinct motives and themes, almost all share certain basic traits such as comparable intervallic content, similarities in melodic direction, or certain recurrent metrical qualities. More easily discernible are the more or
less closely related mottos with which each movement begins and the quotations from the previous two movements which can be heard before the recapitulation in the last movement.
Although its harmonic language is certainly not triadic or based in any way on the major-minor system, like my Sonata for solo violin, this sonata is centered around D, which together with such closely related tones as A, a perfect fifth above D, and E, which is both a neighbor tone above D and a perfect fifth above A, can be found at many structurally important points throughout the piece. There is, furthermore, in addition to the melodic and rhythmic motion evident in all music, a kind of motion akin to the harmonic motion made possible in tonal music by such factors as the movement of chord roots. As a result of the interplay of these three kinds of motion the music can be heard in something
rather like seeing in three dimensions.
Those acquainted with how composers like Beethoven expanded their musical ideas into ever enlarging complexes of motives, often in highly contrapuntal textures, may also observe strikingly similar techniques used in the outer movements of this sonata, especially the last. In the first movement, however, one may also observe pitches in transposed series but in a manner that should not be confused with that found in twelve-tone music. In
contrast with the openendedness of these movements, the two inner movements are characterized more often by clearly defined sections growing out of successions of interlocking phrases.
The tradition of the Beethovenian grande sonate extends no less to the form of each movement. The two outer movements both employ principles of sonata-allegro form but each in a very different way. The first begins with what is, ostensibly, a slow introduction but which actually sets forth the principal tonal material of the movement. With the establishment of a fast tempo two groups of themes are presented in turn. Following an extended cadence, a development section begins with a sustained melody above a running descant and gradually intensifies until at the very moment of climax the opening, apparently introductory, section is heard again, now slightly altered. The movement concludes with a coda that is improvisatory in character, if not in fact, and that anticipates the more delicate sounds of the second movement.
The second and third movements are both ternary in form, the second a true scherzo and trio, not so much humorous as playful, the third a sometimes somber but often sweetly lyrical "song," that is interrupted by a violent middle section only to regain, after four dense, repeated chords, the composure of the opening section.
The last movement, though like the first movement in sonata-allegro form, is much more forthright in expression and economical in material. Like so many last movements in Classical sonata cycles, it is less troubled than the first and ends the sonata affirmatively.
Score available from Mira Music Associates. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Recorded on Centaur Records CRC 2156
Reviews: A large-scale work in four movements. Demanding both technically and musically. Well-organized but many thorny passages must be patiently analyzed."
Guide to the Pianist's Repertoire
"I am very impressed by the piano sonata (1961, revised 1977) by Allen Brings, a professor at Queens College. Brings' sonata, for all its borrowings from some other American sonatas (Carter, Copland, and Barber, most noticeably) establishes a dramatis personae all its own, through the posting of intervallic and metrical 'guidelines' at the outset that distinguish the work's themes for all four movements. Its chromatic harmonies are naturally pianistic and repeated hearings increase my admiration for the work. Back in Fanfare of May/June 1982 (V:5), colleague J. D. found Brings' Solo Violin Sonata a 'thorny but lyrical, eminently expressive work'; let me reiterate those sentiments for this sonata.
"Genevieve Chinn, who has recorded as part of a piano duo with Brings, makes her disc premiere as a solo performer, and her firm control of all elements contributes greatly to the impact of the Brings sonata."
S. W. E., 1984
"Allen Brings's Clarinet Sonata (written 1955 and revised 1967) is a big, virtuoso work in a tonal-but-chromatic neoclassical style akin to such other Americans as Walter Piston, Irving Fine, and Ingolf Dahl. Like them, Brings clearly knows his Hindemith and his Stravinsky, though he sounds like himself and not an imitator. The sonata's outer fast movements are fresh and inventive, with lots of good tunes and beguiling rhythmic fillips; the adagio is dark and expressive. I found it a wonderful piece from beginning to end—a real discovery. The other two sonatas on this program (reissued from Orion LPs)—for solo violin and for piano—are thornier and more complex, more dissonant, more intense. They are closer to Roger Sessions in style (Brings studied with him in the 1960s). They confirm my impression of Allen Brings as a composer of intelligence, imagination, and integrity. Performances and recordings are excellent. A superb release for anyone who really cares about modern chamber music."
"Allen Brings, born in 1934, could serve as a model for the academic composer—if that term wasn't currently so disparaging. His writing frequently draws inspiration, if not literal design, from Baroque, Classical, or early Romantic forms, voiced in a fluidly chromatic language that avoids all-out atonality. It's an attractive blend, not dissimilar
Version: for piano
Year composed: 1961
Ensemble type: Keyboard:Piano
Instrumentation: ,1 Piano soloist(s)