Hyperion Records

Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op 12
composer
1895

Recordings
'Stenhammar: Piano Music' (CDA67689)
Stenhammar: Piano Music
Details
Movement 1: Moderato, quasi andante
Movement 2: Molto vivace – Trio: Presto – Tempo I – Coda: Presto
Movement 3: Lento e mesto
Movement 4: Allegro

Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op 12
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In the Sonata in A flat major Op 12, composed the same year as the Fantasies, Stenhammar seems to have turned to the German masters for inspiration, although not Schumann or Brahms this time, but Beethoven, whose piano sonatas would frequently feature in Stenhammar’s piano recitals later in life. To infuse his own ideas into an external framework appears to have been a deliberate strategy in several of Stenhammar’s early works, and the Sonata Op 12 has both structural and rhetorical similarities with Beethoven’s Sonata Op 101.

The lyrical first movement uses two time signatures—3/4 and 4/4—and although it incorporates elements of sonata form, Stenhammar once again keeps the themes static. Instead he lets the music move through three tonal centres: A flat, C and E (where the recapitulation occurs combining the 3/4 and 4/4 meters!) and back to A flat major. The only motif that undergoes any development at all is the chorale-like theme (foreshadowing the opening of Stenhammar’s Piano Concerto No 2) which introduces each tonal area and which evolves into an extended coda. The Scherzo that follows is the most Beethovenian movement of the Sonata with its dramatic use of dynamics and registers as well as its use of short thematic cells. Stenhammar once again changes the metre to triple time in the restless and eruptive Trio section, a reminiscence of which returns in the coda. The slow and sombre third movement has the character of an intermezzo which leads, via a dramatic transition, straight into a highly energized finale, whose daring chromatic modulations juxtaposed with diatonic passages look forward to Stenhammar’s later works.

Stenhammar performed the A flat major Sonata twice—the second time as a mere twenty-eight-year-old—and for the remaining half of his life, his career as a pianist was largely given to playing other men’s music. There is little evidence as to why Stenhammar the composer abandoned his own instrument (with the exception of the exquisite piano parts for his lieder) after 1907, but certainly a few intensive years of counterpoint studies begun around the same time gave him new means of expression, well suited to writing for orchestra and string quartet. By the early 1920s Stenhammar’s physical as well as mental health started to deteriorate, and although he carried on touring as a performer he had lost the energy to compose.

from notes by Martin Sturfält © 2008

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