• Ross Edwards
  • Piano Sonata (2011)
    (Solo Piano)

  • Wise Music G. Schirmer Australia Pty Ltd (World)

Programme Note

I seem to have composed quite a lot of music for solo piano over the years, mostly short pieces, many of them for children. A commission to help celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Sydney Conservatorium gave me an opportunity to compose a more elaborate and extended keyboard work and to collaborate with the distinguished pianist Bernadette Harvey, a member of the Conservatorium faculty, whose performances and recordings of my works have been particularly illuminating.

My Piano Sonata has three movements. The first, which uses some of the devices of the classical sonata-allegro, opens with pounding earth rhythms punctuated by joyful outbursts that sound like birdsong. The jagged shapes and pulses of this material persist throughout much of the movement in various guises, sometimes directly re-stated, sometimes modified, transformed or merely hinted at. A delicately textured pentatonic episode provides a central moment of inward reflection, characteristic of my music, but in this case perhaps unconsciously influenced by the wind chimes in my neighbour's garden.

As slow and sad as anything I've composed, the second movement – a simple three-part song form - flares briefly, and with a force that took me by surprise, into the Sancte Spiritus from my Dawn Mantras (which also marks the climax of my Third Symphony) before resuming its song of heartbreak. The last movement, I decided, needed to be cheerful. On a whim, I began by quoting one of my own children's pieces, the last of the Five Little Piano Pieces, composed thirty five years earlier in 1976. Piano teachers, my wife among them, have long reprimanded me for making this piece too hard for little fingers and it seemed fitting that I should now further elevate it into the realm of virtuosity by increasing the tempo. Composed in the Indonesian pelog nem scale, its heterophonic interplay of voices suggests a toy gamelan playing with impossible velocity. Its child-like optimism shines through, however, and I tried to sustain this in later sections by preserving its spirit and momentum and echoing some of its rhythms. Following a wild introductory birdcall, textures recalling the playful Bach of the Two-Part Inventions are immediately established: Western polyphony here supplants South East Asian heterophony but a common musical purport creates a link between the cultures – or at least it does for me. The children's music theme is reinforced by a fleeting but obvious Bach allusion.

My Piano Sonata was commissioned by the University of Sydney and Professor Kim Walker, Dean and Principal of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, under the Vice-Regal patronage of the Governor of New South Wales, Her Excellency, Professor Marie Bashir, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. It was premiered by Bernadette Harvey on 9 May 2012 at a retrospective concert of my work in Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney.

Ross Edwards