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Sonata No. 1 in C Major "Summer Love"
1. "Origin of Ambivalence, Chaos" (Allegro leggiero)
2. "After the Coma" (Lento e placido)
3. "Summer's Valediction" (Presto)

This came out to be one of my favorites, and whilst it has been a heap of work, it has been very fun and I learned so much. I present for critique and analysis my first true Piano Sonata, Number 1 in C, "Summer Love", and I ask for 20 minutes of your valuable time to listen. Of course, as many here can probably understand, I suggest you listen through in one session if time allows, as the movements relate to one another, and the entire composition tells a story (much like a movie, it is frustrating to only watch half, right?)

Unlike the last work I posted (A rather simple, not very contrasting Sonatina in the style of mood/relaxing music) this is meant to be a full blown composition, with movements contrasting one another whilst complimenting one another. My Sonatina was geared towards the lower intermediate level, this would certainly be more on the advanced level. The piece is intended to be a true (hopefully good) sit down and really 'listen to' work of music.

I don't have a lot else to say other than to provide a brief summary of the movements. I've intentionally left the movement's titling a little vague and open to interpretation, but there certainly is a story being told- it could be your story too.

1.The first movement is meant to be unstable not only in the emotions it conveys, but also musically and most importantly harmonically. Moments of beauty, only to be met with moments of going off the rails. From a composition standpoint, I really tried to challenge myself by constantly modulating (I think the movement explores 7 key signatures) I also challenged myself by changing the time signature often, but not in a way that makes the rhythm hard to interpret- and hopefully not in a disjointed way either. Much like a key signature modulation, I tried to 'modulate' time signatures by keeping the transitions smooth.

2.The second movement represents more stability- and a certain 'calm after the storm' of the first movement. There are subtle hints of the instability of the first movement but overall the piece tries to remain calm and collected. The movement explores 64th notes that are very tricky and some unconventional rhythms (in my opinion)

3.The third movement nods farewell to the calm, explores the future, and acknowledges (and almost accepts) certain change and a wailing despair- only to be met with these sudden, recurring moments of beauty and passion ( similar to a Rondo form) There is a struggle of clarity over chaos. The entire movement as a whole is almost a recapitulation of all the ideas presented in the first two movements, but it also tries to present them in new forms.

There's always room to improve, all comments welcome. 

Youtube allows you to listen without having to switch between the movements, however, Soundcloud offers better sound quality. The choice is yours!

First movement soundcloud

Second movement soundcloud

Third movement soundcloud

Full Sonata Youtube

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H. S.

You said, "I care to write good music." Exactly! How many times have I said that?

There is the case of a composer who isn't on the forum anymore. He wrote music that was very well crafted, playable, and really very good. But it seemed like every melodic and harmonic device, every cadence, every turn of a phrase,and modulation technique was borrowed from other composers. I felt like I was listening to a conglomeration of every early classical composer that ever lived. I made the mistake of saying that his music was very good, but didn't have an original idea in it. I can't blame him for not taking it very well. I wouldn't have, either. He explained that it was the kind of music he liked to play so that's what he liked to write.

I agree that we already have our own voice. That voice can change over time.


That voice has to change or you're pushing up daisies before your time.  Your criticism of that composer was probably justified in that he continued to write in the same style without progression.  I certainly noticed a progression in the symphonies of Beethoven.  It is obvious that he went from relatively simple to complex, from short melodies to longer ones.  But is increasing complexity a sign of maturity or improvement?  In this computer age we could make the opposite argument. In fact is too easy to load a score with all types of trills, turns, impossible riffs an unplayable rhythms  which add nothing and indeed distract from the experience of music.  So many scores would be improved by simplification not added complexity.  So what does finding ones voice really mean?   Maybe it's separating the chaff from the grain, sifting the sand from the gold and knowing which is which.

It's funny how we mainly only laud the composers who do have an original voice, the ones who sum up the zeitgeist in their own unique way and pass it on to the next generation, thereby starting the process over again and ensuring the art does not stagnate.

Having said that, HS has hit on a truth in that the greats are just being who they are, which is how we all should be. Uniqueness, if it's there, will be inevitable.


I didn't realise 'Jeremiah' had the same technique, I'll look out for that next time I hear it. That's a good symphony too, especially the moving soprano lament.

HS said;

I find this common thought of "I want to find my own voice" and "I want to be different" and "I want to be unique, just like everyone else" (har har) rather silly and quite irritating, in fact, and IMNSHO a sign of weakness and insecurity.  Why can't I just be who I am without fearing that I might just happen to be the same as others? 

@Lawrence: In my younger, megalomanic days, I strove for complexity -- the more complex the better, the more inscrutible, the better, and so on.  Needless to say, the kind of music I wrote in those days wasn't very good.

These days, I've come to realize that less is better. Quite often, implied harmony is far better than overly filled-out, spelt out harmony. (That's not to say there isn't a time and place for that, of course; climactic tuttis obviously want the chords all filled out. But this should be the exception rather than the norm.) A fugue that has moments where less than all voices participate in the texture is far better than one where every voice wants to play contrapuntal gymnastics with every other voice, all the time.  Sometimes, a solo melody is just the thing you need, where no amount of cleverness in writing the accompaniment would work better.  Often the best way to orchestrate a passage is to do it with the minimum number of instruments, rather than trying to find a role for every instrument even when they really would be better off being silent. Sometimes the best chord progressions are "boring" old I, IV, V chords -- skillfully sequenced -- rather than fancy overly-elaborate modified jazz chords that only tire the ear out. And so on and so forth.

Of course, this doesn't mean that simplicity is necessarily better; an amateur can write simple stuff too, which is also boring and not of much interest.  There is a great difference between an amateur writing simple stuff, and a master writing apparently-simple, but actually highly skilled and finely crafted stuff. And there's also a great difference between amateurish "complex" music that contains everything and the kitchen sink thrown into it (and which is rather ineffective for all the effort put into it), vs. complex music in the hands of a master, who knows exactly what to put in, and when.

How to measure progress? Who knows... who cares! The important thing, to me, is to always strive to go beyond what you have already accomplished, to improve upon what you feel you have already mastered, to tackle new aspects that you have never fully explored before. As soon as a composer stops honing his craft, he starts churning out boring, cookie-cutter stuff of not much value.

David, I listened to this twice and enjoyed it very much. The 2nd movement is probably my favorite as well. You definitely have an interesting and engaging chromatically tonal style and a good sense of structure and counterpoint.

You've said you are looking for critical feedback, so just to build on what a few others have commented on, I do share Mike's slight allergy to the opening bars, though perhaps mine is a bit less acute. One thing I don't think anyone has yet mentioned is its use of parallel 6ths. IMO, these have such a strong association with easy listening-type piano music. There's something about this particular kind of parallelism that rings to me of a shallow complexity (i.e., trying to make a simple melody sound more *complex* by adding the 6th below it). I don't think that was your intention, of course, but I do think it's a large part of the reason why measure 5 (which is lovely) provides such relief. If I were to make a recommendation, it would be to play with just a few of those sixths in the right hand to give the lower voice an actual counterpoint to the top melody.... Brahms does this very well in his famous A-major Intermezzo:

Re: this consonance vs. dissonance debate, I tend to think of it in non-musical terms. What is the most compelling story? The story of a complete innocent who encounters chaos but remains unchanged at the end? The story of an innocent who encounters chaos and returns changed? Or the story of the mostly innocent who encounters the chaos that was in them from the beginning and returns changed by the wisdom of that revelation?

Here is a pedantic comment but important, I think. Composer's intentions be damned, but I strongly believe the opening of the 2nd movement (and its return) should be written in Db Major, not C# Major. Especially since this is a piano piece and there will be literally no difference whatsoever in execution. 5 flats vs 7 sharps is significantly easier to parse and will mostly help avoid those crazily-spelled double-sharp chords (e.g., m. 39). As Lawrence mentioned, I would definitely recommend spending time going through the whole thing to see if there are simpler ways to spell this all out. For example, you use measure 30 of the last movement to change keys from F-minor to the totally unrelated D#-minor/F#-Major(?), but the chord at this measure is an oddly spelled C major (the dominant of F-minor). The next several measures still belong to F-minor (and are even spelled as such). This section arrives quickly at a chord spelled as Eb-major at measure 45, followed by a cadence on a written A# at m. 50. Only then does a new section finally begin that is obviously in F#-Major (m. 51). Should maybe this whole transition passage maybe just have stayed in F-minor and been spelled enharmonically?

Finally, I would always put in metronome markings, even if they are just approximations and delineations of For example, an "Allegro leggiero" in 12/8 that accelerandos to a "Presto" in 4/4, starting again with "Andante scherzando" in 12/8 then "Scherzando" which passionately leads to an "A Tempo" marking is just leaving a whole lot to interpretation.

I agree with Driscoll's suggestion to score the C# passages in Db. No point making it harder for the pianist to read than necessary.

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