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For a long time I was reluctant to compose anything substantial for the piano, preferring to write for instruments I cannot play at all rather than the one I play very imperfectly myself. But eventually William Howard persuaded me to compose this Sonata, which he performed for the first time at the deal Festival in 1989, and which is dedicated to him. Because William is such a fine Schubert pianist I had the sound of the Schubert sonatas in mind while I was writing the piece; not that my Sonata sounds much like Schubert – perhaps distantly in a few places in the slow movement – but I was aiming at the clarity and relative spareness of Schubert’s textures. There is a lot of two-part writing, and sometimes a big space between the treble and the bass. There are also a great number of rests: the dramatic use of silence is an important feature, especially in the first movement. The Sonata lasts about fifteen minutes and plays continuously. It may be heard either as three consecutive movements – sonata allegro, slow movement, scherzo plus coda – or as a piece in fifteen sections each lasting roughly a minute, which is how I originally conceived it. Each section is based on a different tonality, beginning and ending in A. In the opening allegro the emphasis at first is on rhythm, but at its central point – the moment of recapitulation – there is a sudden irruption of melody, which then becomes dominant. Eventually the melodic line overflows into a three-part slow movement, almost all quiet and lyrical. Then comes a miniature scherzo and trio, with jazzy triplet rhythms before a return to the music of the opening and an exuberant coda. Sonata for Piano was commissioned by William Howard.
© David Matthews