Hyperion Records

Piano Sonata No 1
1936/8, revised 1942

'Tippett: Piano Concerto' (CDA67461/2)
Tippett: Piano Concerto
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Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andante tranquillo
Movement 3: Presto
Movement 4: Rondo giocoso con moto

Piano Sonata No 1
This work, completed in 1938, was written against a background of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Nazism. Its invigorating exterior represented, however, not English indifference to events on the Continent but, on the contrary, a calculated attempt to offer vitality and optimism to anyone with ears to hear. This is already clear in the opening movement, a theme and variations, whose elaborate rhythmic and textural transformations are arranged in a sequence of two fast variations, a slow variation, a scherzo variation in a contrasting key, a minore variation in the style of a cadenza, and the final variation, a restatement of the theme. Tippett later revised the minore variation because its improvisatory character had lost direction and its rhythms discipline. This last consideration was crucial in a variation which marked the culmination of a process subjecting the 3+2 construction of the theme to continuous expansion and contraction.

The slow movement is built around two elements, a folksong and a two-part invention. The folksong yields somewhat, being a paraphrase of ‘Ca’ the yowes’, the beautiful Scottish tune with words by Burns (which Tippett was to use again in his next work, the Concerto for double string orchestra). The invention also yields somewhat, being based on motives from the folksong. But the contrast remains extreme, an index of Tippett’s compositional daring.

The Presto scherzo is equally daring—a sonata-form based on the dynamic material appropriate to a ‘first subject’ and lyrical material not appropriate to a ‘second subject’, that is, another folksong (on this occasion newly invented) and thus another clash of styles. The use of folksong of course reflected the prevailing climate of English music; but Tippett’s juxtaposition of folksong with the procedures of the great classics reflected something else, the challenges he set himself in the pursuit of technical proficiency. The most ambitious feature of the movement was his decision to place the sonata-form movement, the weightiest of all the movements in a sonata, third; it usually came first. This altered the balance and thus presented a further challenge. His solution to this particular one was an easy-going finale, couched in the argot of the music-hall but with incongruous intrusions from the well-bred language he had just abandoned—the first example of Tippett’s instinct to avoid pomposity and be inclusive, here with the cake-walk, in later works with jazz, spirituals, blues and boogie-woogie.

from notes by Ian Kemp © 2007

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