Imaginative
Masumoto Herd: Multimedia Arts and Design
Effective
Music
| HOME | BLOG | PORTFOLIO | ART FURNITURE | VIDEO PRODUCTION | MUSIC | ABOUT US | CONTACT US | LINKS |
MUSIC SUBMENU
| PIANO SONATA | ORCHESTRAL SAMPLER | FILM SCORES |

PIANO SONATA IN A MINOR

(2016; HD; 14 min 38 sec)

In 2014, I composed my first piano sonata as a birthday present to myself. How to explain?

Since my teen years, I had tried to compose a classical piano sonata, and failed; I just hated everything I wrote. I composed many operas, but something essential about traditional sonata form eluded me. Of course I understood the external rules... but rules alone are insufficient to create a cohesive, individual work.

Due to major health problems, I then suffered from a compositional dry spell which lasted more than 20 years. Ill health and a crisis of confidence crippled me.

In 2010, my health problem was finally diagnosed and treated; as I recuperated, I found my life transformed. My genetic condition had affected my work. Now that I was healthy (really for the first time in my life), I could handle things which had seemed insurmountable before... including sonata form. The relief! But also... what a very weird experience.

I felt like I had had a stroke, only backwards. I became inexplicably more capable, in subtle ways that are hard to describe. Whereas previously I had felt frustrated and artistically sterile, suddenly, my work began to flower. Incredible! But I had to get to know myself and my limits all over again.

My piano sonata ended up being about the emotional experience of going from disability to ability, from muteness to having a voice again. It also became my love song to conventional Western harmonic practice, from a Jazz/Swing and Late Romantic perspective.

TECHNICAL NOTES ABOUT MY SONATA

Because I'd never composed a sonata before, I decided to use Beethoven as a model. Sensible, right? Well, I chose the first movement from opus 101, one of Beethoven's weirder late sonatas; this sonata does something harmonically that Beethoven never repeated anywhere else, as far as I know. Having composed my sonata utilizing this quirk, I now understand why Beethoven only did it once: it makes the sonata composition process almost impossible. What was it? Beethoven had his main theme modulate from I to IV... then, he avoided resolution to the original tonic of the home key until the end of the movement. So, why is that crazy?

If you never resolve to the tonic in your home key until the end of the movement, the listener loses track of what that home key is supposed to be. Like Beethoven did, you have to keep your movement very short, before all orientation disintegrates. A-B-A is about as far as you can go. You can never embark upon an ordinary sonata development, because development sections modulate too much.

I cheated a little. I allowed V - i cadences to occur IF they were dissonant, if the tonic didn't sound quite resolved. And, much to my surprise, that worked, more or less. But it put the sonata into a very abstract sound space. I was never able to just end a phrase normally and move on. It gave the piece a restless quality that is difficult to interpret. It prevented genuine changes of mood: you're caught in the middle of an eternal run-on sentence.

But I didn't understand all that when I embarked upon the composition. I discovered how impossible the challenge was after I'd gotten halfway finished and nothing was working. By then, I was so in love with my thematic material, I reconceived everything I'd done and found a way to make the piece work. But I was intensely dissatisfied. I wanted greater contrasts and couldn't have them! I wanted nothing more than to start over... but that would have made an entirely different composition. And what I'd accomplished was worth sharing.

This sonata is all about the drive to modulate, i to IV, i to IV, i to IV... and periodic failure to do so. I was depicting that miserable period in my life when I wasn't quite well but I kept pushing forward, ever forward, working to create projects but not being able to complete them. A very depressing time! I really should have called it "Sonata in Any Key But A Minor." In order to keep the piece sounding A Minor-ish, I kept stating V to i in A Minor while music was happening in other keys, or modulating to A Minor and never quite resolving. With a climax all about stasis and banality and creative stagnation that then magically leads to release and resolution (which was pretty much the story of my recovery from illness), the whole work is just very personal and peculiar. I tried to compose something beautiful and entertaining that depicts a positive emotional journey... and, in that, I believe that I have succeeded. As a sonata qua sonata? It's strange.

Last Updated: June 15, 2016
COPYRIGHT © 2010-2016 MICHAEL MASUMOTO

Imaginative
Welcome to Our Website
| HOME | BLOG | PORTFOLIO | ART FURNITURE | VIDEO PRODUCTION | MUSIC | ABOUT US | CONTACT US | LINKS |
Effective