Prelude and Fugue no. 22 in B flat minor from Part I of the Well-Tempered Clavier   Bach



This Prelude and Fugue come near the end of Part I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, published in 1722.  Throughout the collection, Bach seeks to demonstrate the practicality of adopting the then still novel system of tuning the clavier (a generic term for keyboard instruments) into twelve equal semitones.  Each book consists of a set of 24 Preludes and Fugues exploring alternately each of the twelve major and minor keys.   The atmosphere of B flat minor, with its five flats, is dark and melancholy, and the Prelude is full of dissonant tension in the harmony. The five voices of the Fugue interweave and overlap (in stretti) until the final climactic moments when only one beat separates each statement of the fugue subject.                                                                   First ACMC Performance

Sonata in F, K 332                                                                                                           Mozart

Allegro                                                                                                                           (1756–1791)


Allegro assai

Mozart had a profound influence on the development of the piano sonata form.  This Sonata in F was the last of three sonatas, K 330, K331, K332, written together in 1781−3 and published in 1784.  The first and third movements are in classical sonata form, and the second is slow and melodic.   The first movement opens with a wonderful melody in F major before an abrupt and surprising key change to D minor. After a flurry of arpeggiated chords, the second theme is almost choral.   A short development section then leads us back to the recapitulation.  The second movement presents a slow and beautiful melody, first in B flat major and then in B flat minor, ending in the major. The third movement begins with a bang, moves through a quiet melodic section and then a multitude of scale runs and melodies before moving to C minor for the development section and back to the home key of F major for the recapitulation.  It ends with a very subtle and quiet cadence.                         First ACMC Performance


Sonata in E minor op. 90                                                                                         Beethoven

Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck                                                         (1770–1827)        

(With animation, and always wit feeling and expression)

Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutragen

(Not too fast, and with a very vocal style of playing)

This sonata was written in the summer of 1814, during Beethoven’s late Middle period, and was dedicated to Count Moritz von Lichnowsky.  Unlike a typical sonata in three or four movements, it consists of just two highly contrasting movements which are loosely joined together. Beethoven seems to be adopting a new musical language, and is innovative also with his use of German, instead of the traditional Italian, for the movement headings.  The first movement, which sounds agitated and restless, was described by Beethoven as “a contest between the head and heart”, based on the situation of the Count deciding whether to marry a young Viennese dancer. It begins with powerful chords, answered by more subdued material.  The second movement, a rondo in E major, is a beautiful melody in 2/4 rhythm.  It has been suggested that the two movements could be entitled “Lament” and “Comfort”.                                                                                       First ACMC Performance



Sonatina in A minor op. 58 no. 2                                                                                    Hans Gál

Allegro con fuoco                                                                                                               (1890–1987)

Arioso: Adagio

Scherzando: Andantino capriccioso, un poco sostenuto


Although more than half of Hans Gál’s works were composed in Britain where he was exiled from 1938, he  remained deeply rooted in the Austro-German tradition.  The piano Sonatina no. 2 in A minor was composed in 1949, two years earlier than its companion Sonatina no. 1 in C major.   Despite their diminutive title of Sonatina, both pieces are substantial works whose individual movements are fully developed.  Compared to Gál’s earlier piano works, the Sonatinas have a greater transparency.  His compositional style was moving towards a form of modern classicism, characterised by the use of traditional forms and a predominantly contrapuntal style, though without the ironic distancing of Stravinsky.  In contrast to the Sonatina no. 1, which we heard during the Hans Gál weekend in March 2016, this Sonatina is much stormier in mood.                           First ACMC Performance

Sonatine                                                                                                                                 Ravel

Modéré                                                                                                                                (1875–1937)

Mouvement de Menuet


This Sonatine is Ravel’s homage to late eighteenth-century musical elegance and classical structure.   The opening movement was originally composed for a competition sponsored in 1903 by a magazine called TheWeekly Critical Reviewwith a prize of 100 francs on offer.  The rules required a movement no longer than 75 bars, but Ravel exceeded this by 3 bars.  As the only entrant, perhaps he would have won anyway, except that the magazine was on the verge of bankruptc, so the publisher decided to cancel the competition.   Two years later, Ravel finished the second and third movements, and the entire work was published shortly afterwards.  The first movementis in sonata-allegro form, and its opening theme is recalled in the later movements.   The second movement, though entitled Mouvement de Menuet, is condensed in keeping with the abbreviated form of a sonatine,and lacks a trio section.  Although Ravel imitates the structure of a minuet, he uses accents and tempo changes to prevent it from becoming just a simple dance in triple time.   The third movement has been called a “virtuosic tour de force”.  It is the musical descendant of the works of Rameau and Couperin, to whom Ravel felt a special connection.  It is also similar to Debussy’s Toccata from his suite, Pour le piano (published 1901).

Last ACMC Performance (arrangement for flute, viola and harp): Wakeford Trio, February 2007

Four Pieces op. 119                                                                                                              Brahms


These are the last works which Brahms composed for piano.   The first three pieces of op. 119, entitled Intermezzi, are lyric character pieces.  The first, in B minor, is a short, tender Adagio, similar in mood to the nostalgic, autumnal Intermezziof op 117, which Brahms himself called “lullabies of my sorrow”. The second, in E minor, is more agitated, but has at its heart a tranquil middle section.  The third, in C major, is graceful and playful, almost like a dance, and is reminiscent of the style of Schubert.  By contrast, the final piece in the set, the Rhapsody in E flat major, is bold and impetuous.

Last ACMC Performance: Peter Wallfisch, February 1994

Sarah Beth Briggs – 7 October 2019: Programme Notes