14 April 2017

Erkki-Sven Tuur: Piano Sonata

After a few manic weeks filled with a wedding, a 60th birthday, and a crazy number of hours in varying forms of transport I am back to being to write on the good ol' blog. So give to my cognitive muscles the chance to warm up again, and to look at something I have loved for a very long time, I decided to look at Erkki-Sven Tuur's piano sonata.

For the dedicated followers of this page, you will know I covered Erkki-Sven Tuur's string quartet about a year ago. For those curious, I definitely following this link to check it out. It is interesting to return to Erkki-Sven Tuur with this particular work, the piano sonata was written at almost the exact time as his string quartet and has many similarities in musical stance as his string quartet. There are, however, nuances that really make the sonata stand out as something rather remarkable.

The work was dedicated to Anne Tuur and was premiered in Tartu in 1986 by Kalle Randalu and within it the overall sonata shows a composer with a really unique ability to draw upon tradition and build something unique with it. Firstly the three contrasting movements have elements of the traditional piano sonata within them; the declamatory first movement which lays the foundations of the whole work, the still mysterious middle movement, and flying finale. But the connection goes much further than mere moods.

Within the first movement, we see the rolling harmonies building up gathering momentum before introducing a wildly contrasting still gesture. The two musical entities function as the A and B subject in the sonata, however Tuur takes it further than merely contrasting the opposing forces. The ultimate result is an extremely fluid juxtaposition where each gesture appears briefly before flitting off somewhere. The harmonic language and voice leadings ultimately clarify the nature of the different areas, as the mood of the whole sonata is extremely succinct upon itself. Like in the string quartet, this work has many similarities to minimalist music, but the brilliance of sound and repetitive gestures I believe are merely just a wonderful element of Tuur's music, regardless of the world around him. As the first movement moves along, the elements grow and lead to fascinating musical discourses between themselves, before calmly coming to a close in a rather serene manner. 

The second movement, is where the elements of genius begin to shine. The slow movement firstly begins by hammering out motivic fragments from the previous movement and allowing the resonance of the overtones to define the response. The musical material within the second movement are completely connected with each other simply by exploring the capacity of one modal area. The result is mesmerising, but for me what is of particular curiosity is the wonderfully Beethovian nature of the sonata. It begins to show itself within this movement, as upon listening you can instantly feel its connection to the first movement. From this we can also draw other comparisons, mostly through the connection of harmonic evolution and motivic composition. 

The finale flies. The rolling arpeggios, contrasted by the flourishes and fragments within the left hand produce an extremely intensive and powerful dialogue. The fluidity of the gestures continues from previous movements producing a truly liberating musical landscape. As the movement progresses the material evolves further and further, exploring whole new regions which previously had not been visited. The sheer might of the piano writing begins to come to the fore with the growing power of the material. The result is a truly magnificent finale. 

Overall the sonata is simply fantastic. There is a sheer brilliance to it which few other composers can muster. Erkki-Sven Tuur takes it all within his stride. The sonata has a wonderful ability to tap into the fertile ingenuity of the tradition, but managed to bring his own personal spin to it, in the only way Erkki-Sven Tuur can. Having looked on his website it is uplifting to see so many professional recordings of the sonata, because the work is a truly glorious work and really needs to become connected with the canon. You can listen to the work below. So sit back relax, and I'll be back with more soon.


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