Violin Sonata No. 3
Jasper Wood, Violin; David Riley, piano. Albany Records.
Program Note for Violin Sonata No. 3 (2011)
When I was nine or ten years old, I was introduced to the music of Beethoven, playing a simplified version of his Ode to Joy theme on the piano. I remember liking this piece very much, and I saved up my allowance money to buy a record I thought was the Beethoven symphony containing the theme. I ended up unknowingly buying the wrong symphony and the record I bought was a recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). After listening to the record I decided that I wanted to be a composer.
When Jasper, Dave, and I discussed the commission of this work, I felt tremendous pressure with this third sonata to try to produce a piece that would be substantial within my own body of work. The period of time in which I composed this work was simultaneously the happiest and most difficult in my life. It was the happiest because I was planning my wedding with my wife Rachel. However, I was also going through a period of extreme uncertainty in the quality and direction of my work. I even at times seriously considered quitting composition altogether. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that all I should care about is writing the music I wished to hear and to forget about anything else. Because of what I hoped to accomplish with the piece and the pressure I felt, this work took over a year to compose. Looking at the piece now, I feel it is my most optimistic work and my proudest achievement to date.
The first movement was the most difficult to compose. There were seven different versions nearly finished before the completion of the movement heard here. Originally I conceived the first movement of the sonata in classical sonata form. However, I found that the music I was writing sounded more like an academic exercise than anything else. Eventually, I scratched the original ideas and settled on the idea of writing a sort of chaconne based completely on major triads. My fear in doing this, however, was that I would end up with a work that would sound old. I hoped to produce a work that sounded fresh and new. I wanted to create music that sounded like a cloud of harmonies appearing from afar and gradually becoming grounded. Numerous canonic devices are employed so that only at the climax do the violin and piano come together harmonically and present the chord progression in unison, first in its original order, then backwards and modulated. In order to create more variety, the last third of the movement brings back the beginning of the work but in retrograde so that the music ends as it began.
The second movement was originally written as a wedding gift for Rachel and was played as the processional at our wedding. I took a chord progression the she really loved from my String Quartet No. 1, which I wrote for the New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute, and developed the material to a greater degree than I had in the quartet. Like the first movement, the second is also essentially a chaconne
For the last movement, I wanted to compose a highly virtuosic work that would end brilliantly. For this movement, I initially used Brahms’ last movement of his Piano Quartet in g minor, op. 25 as a formal inspiration, and simultaneously wished to emulate the fantastically exciting ending of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, one of my favorite pieces. Before writing it, I spent a great deal of time listening to both Hungarian gypsy violin playing (particularly the friss sections of a Csárdás) and American fiddle music, hoping to emulate the fast, exciting playing found in both idioms. That being said, I did not wish to copy the specific sounds of these idioms, but simply the type of violin playing. The movement, and the sonata itself, has gone through a number of revisions with the help of Jasper and Dave, and it would not exist in the state it is in today without the input from both of them.
Violin Sonata No. 3
Score and Parts