• John McCabe
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano (1999)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • pfvc
  • 14 min

Programme Note

This Sonata was commissioned by the 1999 Presteigne Festival, and was written for Alice Neary and Gretel Dowdeswell. The material of the Sonata is drawn to some extent from the music for the ballet Edward II, in which at two important points the cello becomes, as it were, the "voice" of Edward, but the relationship between the music of these sections and this Sonata is more complex than is usually the case with a concert piece deriving its fundamental ideas from a music theatre work.

The essence of this lies in the fact that the opening idea of the Sonata occurred to me some years before the ballet was even thought about, and both the cello line and the tortuous piano counterpoint gave rise to separate themes in the ballet (one of them for characters other than Edward himself). In addition, it should be mentioned that, during the composition of the Sonata (which in itself was the fulfilment of a long-held ambition), I became aware that other themes heard in the ballet have themselves strong connections with the very opening of this chamber work. So there is a strong familial relationship between the two pieces, and the flow of ideas goes back and forth between them.

This Sonata is not, therefore, a straightforward rearrangement of ideas from another piece - indeed, anyone who has heard the ballet score might well miss altogether most references to it. It is in two movements, the first full of intense and often dark-toned struggle, with a contrasting lyrical tune, and the second faster and more dance-like, the themes being for the most part further variants of those from the first movement. Though this quick movement (which follows the first without a break) is lighter and very rhythmical, it never completely banishes the sombre mood of the first, and the underlying sense of upward striving that colours the opening returns at the close, with a high, quiet reference to the opening and then, confirming the overall turbulence of the work, a final brusque reference to the cello's opening gesture.

© 1990 John McCabe