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The Great American Piano Sonata


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Author Topic: The Great American Piano Sonata  (Read 762 times)
Gauk
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« on: February 17, 2016, 05:22:24 pm »

I was thinking recently: suppose you were a US concert pianist, and you wanted to specialise in American piano music, what would you play? There doesn't seem to have been the same interest in piano music amongst the major names in American composers as in some other countries. The complete piano works of Roy Harris fit on one CD, and I don't think there is much by Schuman. Barber left a great piano concerto, but I don't recall hearing much solo piano music by him. There a few works of significance by Copland, and of course, the one stand-out masterpiece, Ives's Concord Sonata.

Otherwise, one goes down in the league for piano music by people like McDowell and Griffes, not forgetting John Powell and Philip Ramey. Perhaps the epitome of the American pianist-composer is Henry Cowell.

Am I missing something? Is there some reason for American composers not to aspire to writing The Great American Piano Sonata as they might aspire to The Great American Symphony? Thoughts, please.

 
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ahinton
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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2016, 06:13:23 pm »

I was thinking recently: suppose you were a US concert pianist, and you wanted to specialise in American piano music, what would you play? There doesn't seem to have been the same interest in piano music amongst the major names in American composers as in some other countries. The complete piano works of Roy Harris fit on one CD, and I don't think there is much by Schuman. Barber left a great piano concerto, but I don't recall hearing much solo piano music by him. There a few works of significance by Copland, and of course, the one stand-out masterpiece, Ives's Concord Sonata.

Otherwise, one goes down in the league for piano music by people like McDowell and Griffes, not forgetting John Powell and Philip Ramey. Perhaps the epitome of the American pianist-composer is Henry Cowell.

Am I missing something? Is there some reason for American composers not to aspire to writing The Great American Piano Sonata as they might aspire to The Great American Symphony? Thoughts, please.
What you are missing - no doubt among many other things - is the Barber Sonata, the Carter Sonata and the three by Sessions.
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mjkFendrich
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« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2016, 04:08:57 am »


... and of course you are missing the 'Bad Boys', Leo Ornstein and George Antheil !

While it is true, that Griffes is not in the top league, his piano sonata is certainly one of his best works.

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autoharp
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« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2016, 06:20:17 am »

There's plenty of Ives besides the Concord. How about Gershwin, Cage (not just for prepared piano), Feldman, Ruth Crawford, Dane Rudhyar . . . Yes, there's tons of Cowell.
Composer-pianists? Those still with us include Rzewski and Riley.

Adams, anyone? (Not for me). Wuorinen? Noooooo!

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calyptorhynchus
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« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2016, 06:50:16 am »

There are two piano sonatas by David Diamond, but I don't think there are any recordings (as with a lot of Diamond).
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« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2016, 02:11:50 pm »

Beyond those composers already quoted, Hovhaness and Persichetti (12) wrote many piano sonatas. Then there’s Benjamin Lees (4), Arnold Rosner (3), Ross Lee Finney (3), George Walker (4), Charles Wuorinen (4) Ezra Laderman (3), George Rochberg (2), John Harbison (2) and George Perle (albeit a  ‘short’ one!), so the form is out there amongst fairly well-known names – it just depends on which of these, if any, you consider great. I haven’t heard many of these, but I think many are otherwise great symphonists!

Figureheads of British music like Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton and Britten never wrote any, with Bax leading the way for the important single contributions of Bridge, Bliss, Ireland, an equally impressive one by Wordsworth, and then Scott’s 4 and later Tippett’s 4. I guess Truscott’s 22 and Hoddinott’s 13 are the major most recent British cycles. Bax and Bridge stand out for me, but does anyone actually play them? Many recitals rely on the Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Schubert as a base, with shorter works by others.
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tapiola
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« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2016, 05:50:51 pm »

Try Harold Shapero's Sonata in F minor on Toccata Classics.  Beautifully neo-classic and much admired by Stravinsky.
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autoharp
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« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2016, 08:37:02 am »

I guess Truscott’s 22 and Hoddinott’s 13 are the major most recent British cycles. Bax and Bridge stand out for me, but does anyone actually play them?

Apologies for off-topicness, but I would say that John White's 177 is the major British cycle. I played five of them myself a couple of weeks ago. Jonathan Powell plays many of them (another of his CDs of them is imminent). He also plays the Bax and Bridge, the latter in London a few months back.
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northern
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« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2016, 02:21:40 pm »

yes, I overlooked him, and, talking of Jonathan Powell's repertoire, the composer at the other end of the duration scale- Sorabji!!

and back to the USA, I think the Persichetti  cycle shows a definite serious commitment to the form, rather than just a brief excursion, although generally numbers doesn't, of course, mean greatness.
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ahinton
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« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2016, 03:34:48 pm »

yes, I overlooked him, and, talking of Jonathan Powell's repertoire, the composer at the other end of the duration scale- Sorabji!!
Indeed (albeit well off topic here!); of the six ("0" and 1 - 5), he plays nos. 1 and 4, of which he recorded the latter some years ago and is very soon to record the former from an edition that he will prepare himself.
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chill319
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« Reply #10 on: February 29, 2016, 01:03:23 am »

The Great American Fill-In-The-Blank is a middle-class dream from the first half of the twentieth century, back when the middle class still felt (though to a lesser degree than is seen in James's "Daisy Miller") that part of being upwardly mobile was aspiring to the putative tastes of the upper class. The dream stars that white kid who writes tunes any palooka can understand but who also wows the highbrows. The important thing is he's not hanging out at Big Sur composing for the starry sky. On the contrary, he's urban and hits the big time and, most importantly, gets rich.

If anyone still alive has lived that dream, it's Paul McCartney, starting with "Yesterday." He certainly has a pied-a-terre in the U.S., but I don't think he has written a piano sonata. Maybe Billy Joel has.  But nobody's interested in that dream anymore. Today's middle class aspires to street cred, not salon cred.
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« Reply #11 on: February 29, 2016, 04:58:48 am »

The Great American Fill-In-The-Blank is a middle-class dream from the first half of the twentieth century, back when the middle class still felt (though to a lesser degree than is seen in James's "Daisy Miller") that part of being upwardly mobile was aspiring to the putative tastes of the upper class. The dream stars that white kid who writes tunes any palooka can understand but who also wows the highbrows. The important thing is he's not hanging out at Big Sur composing for the starry sky. On the contrary, he's urban and hits the big time and, most importantly, gets rich.

If anyone still alive has lived that dream, it's Paul McCartney, starting with "Yesterday." He certainly has a pied-a-terre in the U.S., but I don't think he has written a piano sonata. Maybe Billy Joel has.  But nobody's interested in that dream anymore. Today's middle class aspires to street cred, not salon cred.


Of course, Paul McCartney is a British citizen and still lives in Scotland.  Therefore, he fails under the classification of Great American Piano Sonata writers.... perhaps British??
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ahinton
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« Reply #12 on: February 29, 2016, 08:13:19 am »

The Great American Fill-In-The-Blank is a middle-class dream from the first half of the twentieth century, back when the middle class still felt (though to a lesser degree than is seen in James's "Daisy Miller") that part of being upwardly mobile was aspiring to the putative tastes of the upper class. The dream stars that white kid who writes tunes any palooka can understand but who also wows the highbrows. The important thing is he's not hanging out at Big Sur composing for the starry sky. On the contrary, he's urban and hits the big time and, most importantly, gets rich.

If anyone still alive has lived that dream, it's Paul McCartney, starting with "Yesterday." He certainly has a pied-a-terre in the U.S., but I don't think he has written a piano sonata. Maybe Billy Joel has.  But nobody's interested in that dream anymore. Today's middle class aspires to street cred, not salon cred.


Of course, Paul McCartney is a British citizen and still lives in Scotland.  Therefore, he fails under the classification of Great American Piano Sonata writers.... perhaps British??
But as even chill mentions, there appears to be no evidence that McCartney's composed a piano sonata (and I'm not aware that Richard Rodney Bennett or David Matthews was ever drafted in to help him write one)...
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Gauk
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« Reply #13 on: February 29, 2016, 09:57:14 am »

There is, of course, a piece actually called "The Great American Symphony" (or GAS) by Curtis Curtis-Smith. It's been recorded by Albany.
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ahinton
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« Reply #14 on: February 29, 2016, 04:48:25 pm »

There is, of course, a piece actually called "The Great American Symphony" (or GAS) by Curtis Curtis-Smith. It's been recorded by Albany.
That the American expression "running out of GAS" sprang to mind when reading this was perhaps inevitable...

I'll get me coat.
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