• Justin Connolly
  • Sonatina III, Op. 46 (2015)
    (Sonatina Scherzosa)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • pf
  • 12 min

Programme Note

Justin Connolly wrote three sonatinas for piano, spanning a period of more than 50 years. In this respect they form one of several series of similarly titled works, linked by conception, instrumentation and compositional considerations (Triad, Tesserae, Obbligati), which occur throughout his output. Sonatina III – Sonatina Scherzosa, Op. 46 was Connolly’s last major work, and was composed in 2015 for Chisato Kusunoki, to whom it is dedicated. Connolly had heard Kusunoki performing his Sonatina in Five Studies, Op. 1 at the Purcell Room, London, in 2007.

Sonatina III comprises a five-part structure, in which the first, third and fifth sections are clearly linked in mood and material (each is marked Sostenuto q = 48), as are the second and fourth, which most obviously promote the scherzando quality indicated by the subtitle. They are however of notably unequal length, with the shortest (third) functioning as little more than a bridge to the longest (fourth), which considerably develops and expands the mercurial, tripping jig-like material of the second section into an expansive, exhilarating musical argument, in which rushing groups of semiquavers and free-wheeling patterns are punctuated by staccato chords, syncopated rhythms and offbeat accentuation. The third section makes use of prominent melodic cantabile, while the last, while combining elements of the two previous slow movements, introduces (for really the first time in the work) a hint of menace, with darker sonorities evident. The first, second and fourth sections each start with more ‘contained’ material which develops, through accumulated energy, into a freer, more rhapsodic form, and in the latter two cases, a climactic apex, giving the work a satisfying psychological shape and drama.

The harmonic language, although fundamentally atonal, incorporates elements of modality and diatonicism. In a letter to the dedicatee, Connolly wrote:

I have used a new technique in this work – the idea is to give a kind of “tonality” or colour specific to the piece. The only major thirds are inside chords which also contain the triadic element. I am trying to create a substitute for tonality by “saturating” the music in a bath of similar intervals in a way analogous to the way that whatever happens in a piece in C major is related (however distantly) to the C major scale.

The use of small motifs, which continually re-appear in varied form (often inverted) is apparent throughout: Connolly referred to having resolved ‘the problem of obvious repetition’. Texturally, there is a feeling of lightness, with much of the musical argument proceeding in two parts, and extended sections sitting well above middle C: although challenging, the work is not virtuosic, and is eminently ‘pianistic’ in the way it lies under the hands. Its graceful elegance is perhaps best summed up by Connolly’s comment that ‘for once, I wrote it quite easily, so I have a certain affection for it’.

The work was first performed on 8 April 2022, at the Unitarian Church, Brighton, UK, by Chisato Kusunoki.


Programme Note by Andrew McBirnie