Hyperion Records

Piano Sonata in G minor
spring/summer 1890; first performance given by the composer in May 1891; published in 2008

'Stenhammar: Piano Music' (CDA67689)
Stenhammar: Piano Music
Movement 1: Allegro vivace e passionato
Movement 2: Romanza: Andante, quasi adagio
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro molto – Trio: Meno mosso, un pochettino – Tempo I
Movement 4: Rondo: Allegrissimo – Sostenuto – Tempo I, ma più animato

Piano Sonata in G minor
At the age of nineteen, Stenhammar was certainly intent on composing ambitious works for the piano. The Piano Sonata in G minor, composed in the spring and summer of 1890, according to his own list of works up to 1891, marks a clear change from the childhood pieces. While an indebtedness to his predecessors is still obvious—Schumann’s Sonata Op 22 in the same key seems to have served as a particular inspiration—so are to an even larger extent the first occurrences of many of his own musical trademarks. Here we encounter the introspective lyricism so often associated with the Scandinavian Romantics; even more striking, though, is the passionately dramatic and rather severe side that defines Stenhammar among his contemporaries.

The Sonata follows the traditional Romantic four-movement scheme, but the youthful exuberance that Stenhammar infuses into the textbook model becomes apparent from the very opening of the first movement. The dynamic spectrum of this Allegro vivace e passionato, as well as the technical demands it makes on the pianist, make the composer’s intentions clear: this is music intended for the concert hall rather than for domestic music-making by amateur musicians, a fact that puts the work in a unique place in the history of Swedish music. The nocturne-like second movement, and the folk-tune-scented Trio section of the Scherzo, might have a more typical Scandinavian flavour with some (for Stenhammar) unusual echoes of Grieg, but with the finale we return to the emotionally charged atmosphere of the beginning. The Prestissimo double thirds of the highly strung coda, find Stenhammar increasing the virtuosic demands on the pianist, and one can not help wondering whether these passages were within reach of Stenhammar’s own technique. Even if they were, they were certainly far beyond any other contemporary Swedish pianist’s ability, and since Stenhammar never performed the Sonata after giving its premiere at a charity concert in May 1891—and since it remained unpublished until 2008—the work was forgotten, and remained so until the manuscript was rediscovered in the 1940s. The autograph has the character of a fair copy, complete with a title page in the composer’s own hand, written in German, a sign that he had intended to present it to a foreign publisher—an important step in the career of a young composer.

from notes by Martin Sturfält © 2008

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