Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Lento
Movement 3: Allegro energico
As well as listening to music Tippett liked seeing it being performed. The best evidence for this is the present sonata. The initial idea of the two hands playing independently of each other at the extreme ends of the piano, clambering about like overgrown spiders, gradually closing the gap and meeting in the middle, is an almost visual one. It results in a musical argument dominated by the various ways extremely unconventional textures contract and fan out again. This is clear at the outset and shortly afterwards, when a silence punctuates the process. The silence is also the point at which a ‘second subject’ group emerges, demonstrating that for all its radical surface the music is built on traditional lines. The exposition concludes, after another silence, with an alert codetta motive, thus preventing the second subject from languishing in its own warmth. As in the classical model the exposition is repeated, now varied and converted into the first section of the development. So the model is a source of invention, not a restraint.
In the second movement, by contrast with the first, the two hands combine—to create the ‘theme’, which is a sequence of chords. In their simplest form these would resemble the chords in the ‘slow finale’ of the second sonata but here, even in their initial presentation, they are spread out and elaborated. The first variation emphasizes the chords, the second the elaborations, the third a singing line and the fourth dissolves in a haze of trills, leaving a dreamy calm to be shattered dramatically, brutally, by the torrent of relentless activity marking the beginning and indeed all of the finale, which restores the gaunt two-part writing of the first movement. It is easy to describe this astonishing inspiration: a first section (ending with repetitions on two adjacent notes), a second section which is the first backwards, the first again, eventually wrenched away from its circular course into a headlong conclusion. Its origins might perhaps be found in the finale of Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ Sonata or in the jazz of a pianist like Art Tatum, but none of this accounts for a movement that is both wildly exhilarating and, as it were, held behind bars.
from notes by Ian Kemp © 2007