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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Sonata K331
Theme and Variations
Minuetto e Trio
All Turca

Frank Martin
Preludes (selection)

Ludwig van Beethoven
Sonata Op 109

Vivace ma non troppo
Andante molto expressivo


Davide Verotta
Piano Sonata No.1
Quasi Dolente

György Ligeti
Etudes (selection)

Claude Debussy
L'Isle joyeuse

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The sonata K331 was composed in Munich or Vienna sometime in 1781-83 just at the beginning of his successful career as a freelance performer and composer. In 1781 Mozart resigned from his employer, the Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg, who first refused, and then granted the resignation. This step (quite revolutionary for the times: leaving a solid employment with the church or aristocracy for the unknowns of freelancing was still very rare) will greatly alter the course of his future life and music. None of the upheaval can of course be found in K331 which shows two of the great gifts of Mozart: his capability of building beauty out of very simple objects, and his musical playfulness. The sonata starts with a beautiful set of theme and variations, followed by a lyrical minuetto and trio, that together feel more like a small set of arias from an opera, and at the end one of his most famous piano pieces: the Marcia alla Turca (Turkish March), an exuberant example of 18th century piano virtuosity and wit.

Frank Martin, Preludes (1948). Born in Switzerland the composer Frank Martin later settled in Holland, while teaching composition in Cologne. He had earlier been associated with the Dalcroze Institute, while enjoying a career as a keyboard-player and teacher. His "Eight Preludes" composed in 1947-48 belong to is second and more important compositional period, one in which he rejects twelve-tone composition and finds his own language. In his own words: "I found myself very late .. it was only at the age of forty five that I discovered my true language. Before, certainly I had written some works but I have not developed a technique that was my own. I had found with Schönberg an iron jacket, from which I took only that suited me, that which allows me to fashion my own way of writing." The preludes, as most of the late period production, are strongly tonal using at the same time an occasionally heavily chromatic and dissonant idiom.

Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonata Op. 109 (1820). The serene, imperious and contemplative Op. 109 is associated with Antonietta Brentano one of the two most likely, if not the most likely, of the immortal beloved candidates. The association with Antonie Brentano,  is clear from the dedication of the sonata to her daughter, Maximiliane, in which we can certainly read may references, direct and indirect, to Antonie: “your beloved parents … and your most excellent and gifted mother … may haven bless your life and the life of all of you for ever”. For some commentators the sonata describes the transition from sentimental love, to crisis to sublimated love. Lenz for example saw the whole work as a single movement in several phases (or, we may say, psychological states): “one and the same idea stated in the recitative, teasingly alluded in the vivace, drained of its lifeblood in the prestissimo and achieving beatitude in the variations”. Following this  line of thought, it is a small step to associate the highly atypical first movement with tenderness and satisfied love. The movement is quite atypical,  composed as it is by the alternation, in an “approximate” sonata form, of two main groups, the first a simple floating melody in broken cords, the second that could be defined a “romantic” recitative. The second movement depicts a crisis, it is quite belligerent: something has clearly broken the serenity of the first movement, and again we could see in this depiction a shadow of what indeed went really wrong with the relationship with the immortal beloved. Finally the third, beautiful set of variations, based again on a really simple melody. The atmosphere is extremely rarified and the transcendental intention is quite apparent, and made even more clear by the repeat of the theme of the variations at the end: a reminder of the spiritual distance that has been traveled through the set of variations.

György Ligeti (1985). A short selection of Etudes from Ligeti's rather large set of "etudes" for the piano. Collectively named etudes for their uncompromising technical difficulty, these pieces are characterized by some of the most typical of his compositional techniques. An "algebraic" approach to writing, where rules are followed quite strictly without much deviation from a chosen path, a "tonal" attitude, where clear tonal centers are established throughout a piece, and the constant attempt to go around traditional approaches to harmonies, rhythm and progressions.The results can be quite daunting for the performer and for the listener!

Davide Verotta, Sonata No.1 (2008).   My first Sonata, hopefully the beginning of a cycle that will be with myself for a time. What to say, writing a Sonata is like writing a novel, with its characters and episodes, recurrences and changes, all hopefully conjuring up an ensemble that signifies something. This one deals with the alternation and combination of three main emotional moods: uncertainty, desolation, and expectation with addition with somewhat imperious ending which are not completely justified by the emotional landscape. It is divided in three movements: Presto, Quasi Dolente, e Deciso.

Claude Debussy, L'Isle joyeuse (1904). Composed shortly before the Images, L'Isle joyeuse was first performed in public in 1905 by Ricardo Vines and met with great success. It is written with concessions to a piano virtuoso style that is not so usual in Debussy. Debussy wrote about the piece: 'Heavens! how difficult it is to play ... This piece seems to embrace every possible manner of treating the piano, combining as it does strength and grace ... If I may presume to say so.' There is a possible pictorial inspiration for the piece: Waton's   painting 'Departure to the Island of Cythera,' which is the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. The painting is itself quite enigmatic in its literal interpretation, but its main motive is of three couples departing to (or returning from) Aphrodite's island. The piece is conceived as a dynamic crescendo from pianissimo to fortisssimo, from slow to fast. It starts with an introduction (an evocation, or summoning? or preparation for departing?), followed by the exposition of the main motive (a dance?), then it progressively builds momentum, which is interrupted by outspokenly lyrical and slower episodes, until the final exultant and ecstatic finale. It is a piece of rare balance and directness—refined, structurally complex and at the same time straightforward in its ultimate emotional goal.

Program notes by Davide Verotta



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