Hyperion Records

Piano Sonata No 4
1983/4; first performed by Paul Crossley in 1985

'Tippett: Piano Concerto' (CDA67461/2)
Tippett: Piano Concerto
Buy by post £20.00 CDA67461/2  2CDs  
Movement 1: Minim pulse medium slow – crotchet pulse medium fast
Movement 2: Crotchet pulse medium fast
Movement 3: Slow crotchet pulse
Movement 4: Crotchet fast
Movement 5: Crotchet slow

Piano Sonata No 4
The first performance of the third sonata was given by Paul Crossley—who also gave the first performance, in 1985, of the Piano Sonata No 4, just after Tippett’s eightieth birthday. This sonata is indeed a ‘late’ work, a product of the last years of his composing career, when the rigorous dialectic of earlier works was giving way to a style more relaxed and harmonically opulent, if no less inventive. In writing the sonata Tippett was helped by Crossley to find new ways of creating piano resonances, particularly those concerning the use of the middle pedal, which accounts for an abundance of three-layered textures only possible through this ‘sostenuto’ pedal. Tippett was also stimulated by a visual image—of Glenn Gould’s flamboyant crossing-of-hands while playing Bach on television. Within a few bars of the opening movement both these features are in evidence. His original plan was for a collection of bagatelles, like Beethoven’s Op 126, held together by balancing contrasts of tempo, style and key. The pithy miniature was however never a natural mode of expression for him. It was only when he accepted that the imposing opening sounds of his Symphony No 4 would not stop clamouring at the gates of his imagination until he had, so to speak, let them in again that they now became the source of the new work and the reason why it changed from bagatelles to sonata.

The opening bars of the symphony had already launched one work and could hardly serve the same function again. Tippett put them in the centre of the sonata—adapted as the core of a five-movement design which by its nature was more sectional than the organic processes of a classical sonata and so a reflection of his original idea of bagatelles.

The first movement is a form of prelude, a huge improvisation uncovering sections of starkly contrasted character, another reflection of the original idea. In the second movement Tippett returns to a favourite form of his earlier music, the fugue, when its concentration on a single theme was often used as a foil to movements with several themes, as it is here—even though it does not really sound like a fugue. After the ‘exposition’ there is a ‘counter exposition’, the theme in progressively longer notes with extended episodes between its three appearances. The last of these is in extremely long notes in the bass, thus setting up the central movement whose opening section is built on another set of long pedal notes, and the quotation from the fourth symphony. This movement, like the whole sonata, is in five sections, here a mirror shape ABCBA. The C section is again based on a sequence of pedal notes (the same in fact as had appeared at the very beginning of the sonata) while the tuneful lines of the B sections provide relief from their neighbours’ eruptions and hammerings. There follows a scherzo and trio, the scherzo reminiscent in its fierce appropriation of the extreme ends of the piano in the third sonata and also, unexpectedly, of Chopin.

This richly complex sonata was not Tippett’s last work, though at the end of it, when its finale’s theme returns home after four distant variations, it is difficult not to think of it as a poignant farewell.

from notes by Ian Kemp © 2007

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