• David Blake
  • Sonata alla Marcia (1978)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 02002000str
  • 12 min

Programme Note

David Blake completed his Sonata alla Marcia in January of this year. His first intention on receiving the commission from the English Chamber Orchestra Music Society had been to write a piece for solo horn and strings; this plan was soon abandoned however and the eventual scoring was for strings with two each of oboes and horns. The Sonata is cast in a single movement. Blake likens the form of the work to that of Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony Op. 9, although in no way did he use the earlier work as a model. Both enfold slow and scherzo movements within the structure of a traditional sonata-allegro: here a Larghetto separates exposition and development and a 'hunting' scherzo development and recapitulation. But Blake has overlaid this scheme with the gradual emergency of a march; it is first heard distantly and gradually becomes more evident until its complete statement in the closing pages of the work.

The opening of the Sonata - the exposition of the sonata form - gathers together the first theme in the lower strings over a pedal D until it eventually achieves a more coherent shape in the oboes and strings. The second subject, for strings alone, offers the classical contrasts of mood and shape before a return of the first subject's semiquaver figurations leads into the Larghetto. This contains the only traces in the whole work of Blake's original conception: it opens with a long-limbed melody for solo horn on a cushion of divisi strings but later yields the first hints of the march in a fragment given to the two horns. The two themes of the opening allegro are treated simultaneously in the development section which follows; more extended references to the march are heard on a string quartet. The Scherzo, in a predominantly 6/8 rhythm, is interrupted by a reminiscence of the slow-movement material before a varied recapitulation of the allegro eventually integrates the march for its grand peroration before the coda.

To anyone who heard David Blake's large-scale opera Toussaint, the Sonata alla Marcia might seem a surprising successor. The generous dimensions and polyglot musical idiom of the opera are here replaced by a formal conciseness and direct harmonic language (all themes and tonal polarities well defined) which are clearly intended to make their point with the maximum of effect and the minimum of rhetoric.