About this work:
Sonata for Viola and Piano was completed during the spring of 1955 but revised several times thereafter receiving its present form in 1967. Like the two sonatas for viola and piano by Brahms, this exists also in a version for clarinet and piano. Both versions were published in an autograph edition by Seesaw Music Corp. in 1975.
Unlike much, but by no means all, of my later work, Sonata for viola and piano contains many passages which are predominantly diatonic, and, while it would be an exaggeration to maintain that the music is oriented to a tonal center, the music does refer to single tones at points of structural importance and does rely on harmonic as well as
The first movement displays many of the familiar traits of classical sonata-allegro
form with its exposition of opposing theme-groups, development of salient motives, and varied recapitulation. The tone set by the opening movement is one of brilliant virtuosity, the perception of which led the late composer Irving Fine once to refer to it as a concerto for viola and piano.
The slow movement, the prevailing brooding quality of which may remind some
listeners of certain works by Shostakovich, is based on two related, very sustained and somewhat introspective, themes used alternately, each time with significantly different results. This chain of phrases, each with its own outcome, leads ultimately to the movement's climax and hushed denouement.
The last movement, marked Allegretto scherzando, combines features of both the ironic scherzo, with a trio that refers briefly to the character of the previous movement, and the classical rondo-sonata with its recurring theme-groups and development of motives. This movement fluctuates, sometimes wildly, in mood between the caustic and the sentimental, between earnestness and archness.
The sonata was first performed at Queens College by the composer and violist Carl Eberl in 1955. It has been recorded by the composer and clarinetist Edward Gilmore for Centaur Records (CRC 2156).
Review: "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." Lehman, 1993
"This three-movement sonata, scored for clarinet in A and piano, was composed in 1955 and then revised in 1967. The work's main interest, and difficulty, are a complex interaction of the rhythms of the clarinet and that of the piano. This, comnined with the technical demands of the first and third movements in both the clarinet and piano, leads to a high level of musical tension. The musical material is based on frequently changing tonal patterns with a range to a-flat3. A good choice for recital literature."
The Clarinet, spring, 1987
"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 to that of Hindemith, and Brings is likewise a convincing craftsman.
"All three works date from his twenties, and what's surprising, if anything, is the depth of feeling Brings communicates, especially in his slow movements. He acknowledges the 'brooding quality' reminiscent of Shostakovich in the clarinet sonata's adagio, which contrasts significantly with its brighter, optimistic outer movements. The violin sonata is a gutsy piece that occasionally wanders but ultimately finds itself in interesting places. Here, and in the piano sonata (in which the harmonic character and rhythmic vigor may call to mind Barber's sonata), he tends at his most introspective to stretch his material rather thin, though the line of thought is never broken. And while one may experience an echo of Bernstein or Prokofiev there, Brings's arguments are his own.
"Gilmore, who was featured on a previous disc of Brings's clarinet writing (see Fanfare 15:6), is a suave soloist in his sonata. Violinist Cirillo plays her piece with aplomb and never falters. Pianist Chinn, a doubles partner of the composer's, brings a lean tone and convincing advocacy to the piano sonata. The analog sound is fine. Recommended to all, save the most adamant avant-gardists."
Version: for viola or clarinet & piano
Year composed: 1955
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Keyboard plus One Instrument
Instrumentation: 1 Clarinet, 1 Piano, 1 Viola