Piano Sonata, “Reflections on Exile” (2007)
Commissioned by and written for Katie Reimer
“Exile is life led outside habitual order. It is nomadic, decentered; but no sooner does one get accustomed to it than its unsettling force erupts anew”
— E.W. Said
Adagio doloroso 4/4
The opening is marked pp with the added freedom of “rubato.” Prevalent two-note slurs tug at us with a constant poignancy. At bar 8 “Adagio molto” reinforces an unhurried pace but the dynamics erupt into ff furioso at 9. At measure 10 a melody in forte is introduced by the left hand; highly accented. Besides dotted 16ths a pattern of an eighth and two sixteenths dances as it propels the music to an apex at measure 18 in ff. At 21 the mood mellows to “dolce cantabile” in piano; Andante and Adagietto signal a sweeter, easier flow of 16ths.
While there exists a Bach-like framework of four voices, at the same time one feels the presence of a singing quality, with a melodic right hand poised to take hold. A fugue opens to a melody; a melody dissolves back to a fugue. Bar 31 offers dramatic accents (sffz), staccati and more accents at a tempo of Allegro. At 42: (Bells) and the (echo) of bells.
Moderato at bar 55 begins a fugal section in mp which builds to mf and later f. The music is strict, contrapuntal, jaunty. 73: ff / Allegro- previous snippets of material and melody proceed in a tight rhythm, juggling between right and left hand. At 89 a molto ritardando slows to an Adagio molto e sentimento. This final section is a reminder of the dolorous quality of the opening and the stretches of sixteenths, once strict, are now expressively legato. ppp….
One achieves at most a provisional satisfaction, which is quickly ambushed by doubt and a need to re-write and redo that renders the text uninhabitable.
—E. W. Said
Adagio molto 6/8
A languorous opening melodic with starkly contrasting dynamics creates a barren quality to the music. One feels lost in middle earth, searching, uneasy, unsure. At measure 120 “on my illness” in parenthesis manifests in tied sixteenths against ominous eighths in the left hand within a large spans of interval. The effect is one of tortured longing as the pattern gradually builds from p to ff.
Measure 151: ff, subito p, crescendo to ff (violent)- this kind of marking and eloquently placed words throughout the work highlight the dramatic writing even in its smallest gestures of 16ths- some tender, others fiercely angry. The music is terse here and carries with it a large arc of emotional color and feeling. Sudden changes in sound and mood, large- spanned intervals in the bass, and at 198 (De Profundis) a complete slowing of the pace. Measure 202: (Better that, than the sleep of self-satisfaction and the finality of death). Finally the markings “molto ritardando and (very gentle)” prepare us for the approaching Scherzo, or third movement.
Lilting 16ths enter naively in staccato and then under slurs. They are the perfect organic outgrowth of the movement before. The mood is light but with the underpinning of seriousness to come.
Dynamics such as crescendo to forte/ subito p continue to shape the 16ths in motion, stretching and condensing, stretching and condensing. The voices and lines are utterly clean and unencumbered- taut, accented, dance-like, beautiful.
Measure 249: Adagio (on the tears of Basra) pp (poco rubato)
Here the music is programmatic with a mix of East and West, drama in sffz accents, the lines always as exposed as a three-part Invention. Again the abrupt changes of dynamics and tempi work towards keeping the listener rapt. There is an interesting clash of feeling and intent throughout the work that imbues it with duality and complexity.
At measure 298 the 16ths disappear as simply as they began, an ending that bespeaks cycles and reappearances, mystery and the unknown.
— Beth Levin (April 2010)