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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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Hi David,

I liked the 3rd mvt. best of all.

The first was too sweet for my ears and I felt it was a little cliched at the start, especially harmonically. However, if your aim is to appeal, then of course it does that easily enough  - btw, I do not mean that as a criticism, just my poly/atonal ears thirsting for something else!  However I did like the writing around b90, would have liked more of that. I'd need to listen to it a bit more before I know how I feel about your chromaticism.

A tiny tempo tweak on the big rh leaps in bars 27+28 will make the performance a little more convincing. Those rh 3rds are just on the cusp of too fast as you have realised, but I bet someone could play them. Chopinesque methinks in terms of pianism.

The second was more interesting, even with harmony that has been heard many times before.  It did create a nice gentle mood and had nice pianistic writing. I think at b116 the D natural might have been more correctly spelt as a C double sharp, but I am being pedantic, although you did chose a bugger of a key to mooch around in :-). A slight rall. from b126 might have made the enigmatic ending a little more 'placed'.

The 3rd had more gravitas for me and was consequently my favourite. At b186, transfer the last 2 beats to the left hand so that the right can get up to the E at b 187. A good satisfactory reprise of material, with an ending that arrived home. I detected Beethoven in the pianistic writing here.

It's interesting to note following on from your earlier thread about Beethoven and Chopin, that you (as indeed all of us to a certain extent) too have echoed a previous work. B5 in the 1st mvt is exactly the notes used by Bernstein for his song 'Maria' in West Side Story - specifically on the lyric "and it's almost like praying" (even the harmonic movement is close!).  

Please don't let it bother you or make you change anything, we are all guilty of this unconscious borrowing, especially when writing in a popular mode using everyday material from a common stock of technique. It's actually hard not to echo previous ideas without sacrificing some immediate appeal, so this is no criticism, just a curious coincidence.

I can see you put a lot of work into this.  There are lots of melodic, rhythmic and harmonic complexities, and I'd probably have to listen to it again to fully grasp all that's going on.

But as far as first impressions are concerned, I found the 2nd mvmt most pleasant to listen to. I felt the textures were very well put together, quite intricate and complex yet doesn't sound busy. If I had to choose a favorite movement, this would be it.

Overall, I liked the sudden contrasts you put in to keep things interesting.  The chromaticisms complement the diatonic passages very nicely, I felt.  I did find the overall mood quite melancholy -- and struggled a bit with reconciling that with the title and subtitles, though it does match your descriptions of the movements.  I'll have to listen to this again to get a better feel for it.

One thing I found odd was that the dynamic range of the recording seems quite limited; I'm not sure if this is merely an artifact of your recording setup, because in the score you clearly have a wide range of dynamics. Or perhaps it's just my classically-biased ears craving for some Beethoven-style crashing chords, which isn't the point in this piece. :-P  Perhaps things will become clearer when I listen to this again.

In any case, good job!  I think overall this sonata is very well-crafted. Thanks for sharing it here!

David,

Just wanted to say that the reference to West side story I made is not really significant, so don't read too much into it. The fact that you came up with a similar phrase  is just a result of common practice. But your context is totally different (as is the order of the g and a), which is a very important consideration.  I thought I should just reassure you in this as the motive is developed considerably.

Mike, your comment gave me an interesting thought.  What about writing a piece where the motif actually doesn't matter? Where the "point" of the piece lies in how the motif is treated, the overall structure, etc., and where you can substitute the motif with just about anything else and the piece still "works"?

David,

I'm not a fan of piano music, so please take that into account. The only thing that really bothers me about this piece is that, for the most part, It's left hand accompaniment, and right hand melody. There's so much more to music than accompaniment and melody. That may sound funny, but I think it's true. You are good enough that I think you could really write something dynamic. 

 

I agree with Bob that more interest could be generated by varying from the conventional RH melody + LH accompaniment texture. But that may or may not be David's intended style for this piece. It would certainly entail more polyphonic handling of the themes, which would then edge dangerously closer to being fugue-like, which David is averse to. :-P

HS,

The only technique I can think of  that could be considered close to what you are suggesting was used by Bernstein in his 2nd symphony, 'The Age of Anxiety'. He uses a form of variation technique in the first mvt.,whereby there is not a single theme that is developed, rather he has an initial idea, then the next variation takes a snippet of this, develops it and during that development, he  finds another interesting idea that becomes the basis for the next variation and so on. It's a kind of rolling variation that is not tied to a structured theme and has immense potential when it comes to symphonic developmental processes.

H. S. Teoh said:

Mike, your comment gave me an interesting thought.  What about writing a piece where the motif actually doesn't matter? Where the "point" of the piece lies in how the motif is treated, the overall structure, etc., and where you can substitute the motif with just about anything else and the piece still "works"?

David,

Took another listen to the 1st mvt.

I particularly like the music from B118 to the end, there is a rather beautiful fluidity in it and  the harmony doesn't bother me as much - in fact I like it. The fact that I like it here is probably because of where it comes in the piece.

A word about my aversion to your harmony in the first few bars, because I know you are a better composer than that and have proved it in this piece.....

It is all too easy to use stock material and a lot harder to dig a bit deeper, improvise a bit more and be a bit more adventurous. It's in that searching and not being satisfied with what let's face it, is an easy (and appealing) way out, that you may well find a real truth of utterance that is uniquely personal. That will give your music more individuality.  David, I'm an old (ish) fucker and prone to speaking opinionated nonsense (although I try not to!) , but I really do believe you can push a bit more because as I've intimated a lot of this is good. And, I am only talking about the first 3 bars! A million pop/show songs could start out like those first 3 bars, not what I'd want for a serious sonata.

Of course I accept that you have a programme in mind and the contrasts between the opening statement and the more chromatic moments are intentional, but at the moment, to my ears at least, the consonant/dissonant divide is too great, ie, the consonant is too consonant and the dissonant therefore seems too much of a shift the other way.  Again if this is your programmatic intention then great, it works. I only offer up my impression of the overall effect as a foil for you to see how your calculation of effect works on different ears. Incidentally, re the chromatic bits, whilst not sure about the context, I do like the piano writing which is imaginative and certainly helps to disorientate the listener.

I do like the way you twist and turn your motifs and they are often not predictable, which to me is a good thing - I don't really feel the pull of regular 4 - 8 -16 bar phrasing, which is another destroyer of original thinking in some respects.

I agree with Bob and HS about adding some inner voice work occasionally, maybe an inner theme or counter motif at the top of an arpeggio or some such just to relieve the basic monophony now and again. But I also take HS's point that it was perhaps your aesthetic intention to do it this way.

Thank you all for the valuable feedback. Criticism goes down a much longer road than praise, I say. In my heart I *think* this piece is 'good', at least to my personal bias or I'd never have written it, right. Maybe? Ah well, moving on - 

Mike, I do not perceive you to be an 'oldish fucker', I have a great deal of respect for your comments actually because I know that you know what your doing. So that being said, I do take your comments to heart. Where things get interesting is it seems in your recent years you've developed a rather atonal taste, and an interest in dissonance. And here I am puttering about with my very consonant taste in music, which to a true and well developed musician, is, for lack of better words now- BORING! I get it. I think you've seen, probably written, and certainly heard it all by now- so you are on a road to see if there is anything new out there. I haven't quite reached that stage yet as I'm still studying harmony, and well actually still studying music composition in every aspect. 

Moving on to address your concerns on the consonant/dissonant divide in movement 1- it was my intention to catch the listener off guard, yes- moments of beauty (or boring consonance as you'd call it- just teasing) only to be met with moments of going off the rails. I really wanted the listener to think "WTF, what happened?" - buuuuuut, not in a bad way. In a way to keep them engaged. If I missed that mark, I accept that- it is a huge contrast to the mood the opening gives, and it is not going to work for every listener. But I did want the piece to be emotionally misleading in the first movement. The ultimate opinion that matters though is from the listeners perspective, so unfortunately I have failed in that aspect, at least in your opinion- I will need more honest feedback beyond the "It's great!" I receive from most of my friends/family to personally decide if it is a success or not. (They never tell the truth hence the need to scout out strangers online)

I did wonder if while writing the chromatic passages that I may have stumbled on a different idea, but maybe being too inexperienced, or anxious, excited, whatever it is- I rushed into using the material just to get it out there and heard. 

I also think it is good feedback to understand the melodic material should not always fall into the right hand. I openly accept that this was a major oversight in the writing of the entire piece- there's no reason or creative excuse I have for this. Just un-creative writing- again, another reason I value these thoughts because those are ideas I can put into future writings. Oh yes and B118 as you mentioned is my personal favorite part of the entire work, I agree- it just worked out well. 

Bob- I appreciate you taking the time to listen, especially when piano music is not your first choice of what to sit down and listen to. Especially for making it through 20 minutes worth of a MIDI piano rendition (Albeit I did play many parts vs a computer playing- but I did let the computer play the harder parts though- who has time to learn their own material anymore??) 

If your only critical comment is passing melodic material to the left hand, or straying away from a melody vs accompaniment pattern, I suppose that is a win in my book. 

Hs Teoh- thanks for listening, and I am glad overall you seemed to enjoy the piece. I also like the 2nd movement the most. I completely agree with you on the dynamic range of the recording. I blame a few things for this- MIDI piano and not using a real instrument, the performer himself not being dynamic enough in the passage he recorded himself, and the mix overall - I struggle with piano, because it is so dynamic it is a monster to capture a really good, clean, upfront recording (in my opinion) 

I also had to laugh for a second, we have Mike thinking the contrast of consonance vs dissonance was too much, and we have you enjoying the 180 that occurs- just goes to show how subjective music can be, even for people like us who are analyzing it as we listen. 

I have accepted a polyphonic texture would have benefited the piece a lot more- this is a lesson learned and probably a way I can challenge myself in future writings. NOT saying I will need to write a fugue to try this out, but... it certainly would be a way to do so. I am tiring of piano pieces for the moment, maybe a 2 voice fugue for something like Cello and Viola would be fun, and would force me to explore melodic material in lower registers. 

Nikola- Thank you for taking the time to listen, and it always makes me happy when someone enjoys a piece of music I've written. That's the ultimate goal. 

Sorry to be long winded, but, when others give me time, they get time back on their thoughts too. 

 

Listened to the 1st mvmt again.  I somewhat agree with Mike that it sounds a bit too generic, and could potentially be the opening of just about any pop piano piece. However, I'd like to emphasize that from my POV, what mattered more was how you developed it afterwards. Now that I have a chance to revisit this movement, I really liked how the apparently generic, innocent opening theme suddenly dissolves into a dissonant chromatic passage, where, if I'm not mistaken, I hear scraps and strains of the theme getting chromatically mutilated. Very powerful effect, IMO. Now I can see the allusion to the title of the movement.

After that, though, I found that on the second listen to the 3/4 passage (mm.38-56), it sounded a bit long-winded. Perhaps some of those repeats could be removed, or perhaps written out with variations the second time round, so that it doesn't begin to sound monotonous. I did quite like the way you segued from 3/4 into 6/8, though, through what in you called temporal modulation. That's quite a clever idea, and skillfully executed IMO.

The return to the opening theme (m.73) could perhaps be made a more dramatic moment; perhaps if you added a quick modulation immediately after the 6/8 passage so that the opening theme appears in another key (maybe even the home key), then its reappearance would be much more dramatic.  Right now, it just kind of sneaks up almost unnoticed on the listener. Perhaps that's intentional, but it also causes the dramatic arc of the movement to be somewhat deflated.  There are probably other ways of making this transition more effective, but upon listening to that passage a few more times, a key change before the reappearance of the opening theme seems to me like the most obvious solution.

Anyway, now I'll listen to the 2nd mvmt again...

Listened to the 2nd mvmt again.  The opening theme is very reminiscient of the famous Swan Hymn passage in the finale of Sibelius' 5th symphony (the 2nd subject, if interpreted according to the traditional sonata form formula). Perhaps that subconsciously contributed to my liking this movement. ;-)

Overall, I found it, as before, very pleasant and relaxing to listen to.  The contrasting passage in mm.45-63 was very effective; adding a sudden moment of terror to an otherwise peaceful and calm atmosphere (though not without its own undercurrents of dissonances). And I liked the dissonances you worked into the themes here, btw, I felt they were just the right balance between being diatonic overall, yet with just enough unrest to hint at an inner turmoil without disrupting the overall quietness.

Now on to the 3rd mvmt again...

And now the 3rd mvmt again.  Now that I hear it again, I'd say this is the movement the suffered the most from insufficient dynamic contrast in the midi rendering / playing.  What I hear sounds rather flat, whereas what I see in the score is much more dynamic.  I don't know how feasible it is, but perhaps if you could find a way to increase the volume contrast between pp and ff, and re-render this movement, I think the result could be much more satisfying.

I did find that in the first half of the mvmt, it seems that the ominous mood the mvmt opens with didn't really live up to its promise; the mood turned sweeter a little too quickly IMO, perhaps it would have been better to have a stronger, more tragic climax developed from the ominous opening before moving on to the less severe mood in the middle / latter part of the mvmt.  OTOH, perhaps my perception is colored by the insufficient dynamic contrast that I felt hurt this mvmt the most.  That's why I suggested to perhaps re-render this mvmt with higher dynamic contrast, because judging from the score, it should have sounded better than it did.

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