Hyperion Records

Piano Sonata No 2
1962; originally to be entitled Mosaics

'Tippett: Piano Concerto' (CDA67461/2)
Tippett: Piano Concerto
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Piano Sonata No 2
Tippett composed his second piano sonata in 1962, shortly after he had completed his second opera, King Priam, which marked a dramatic change in the substance and style of his music. The opera is concerned with the impact of war and malevolent fate on a sharply differentiated set of characters—quite the opposite of The Midsummer Marriage. Accordingly a composer who had spent most of his career writing music that flowed naturally from one thing to the next now wrote music of abrupt contrasts, often astringent harmonies and for idiosyncratic ensembles. Of course Tippett didn’t have to write like that. He did so, one may deduce, because he felt that he had exhausted the resources of his earlier style and that the idealistic spirit of the 1960s needed to be tempered with scepticism.

The influence of King Priam on his output was far-reaching. As far as the second piano sonata is concerned it extended to the direct quotation of motives from the opera and, more fundamentally, to the way the music behaves. Although the sonata includes passages of great beauty, in general it is arresting and uncompromising. There are spectacular glissando effects and it would have included the direction ‘strike wood of the piano with the fist’ (at three places, to imitate a bass drum) if Tippett hadn’t decided this was incongruous. It is highly sectional, short gestures being juxtaposed with other short gestures in a sequence of statements that makes it easy to understand why he originally planned to call the work ‘Mosaics’. He abandoned the idea when he realized that in essence his material was shaped to form a single-movement sonata, with passages in double and triple octaves between the sections: thus, a ‘first movement’ with dynamic and lyrical material, a ‘slow movement’ in which the motives eventually reach a state of inertia, a ‘development’ with interpolated ‘scherzo’, and a ‘slow finale’ with interpolated recapitulation of fragments from the whole sonata. There is a short coda returning to the beginning yet leaving the work hanging in mid-air, as if to say that positive conclusions are no longer possible.

from notes by Ian Kemp © 2007

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