Orchestration: Solo Piano
Commissioned and first performed by William Howard at the 1996 Brighton Festival
Looking back over my work to date I find that every recent piece stems in some way from a direct 'outside' inspiration - a painting, a poem, a ballad, a story.
In writing my first large-scale work for piano, I set myself the challenge of returning to purely abstract musical ideas - something I used as a child, but somehow haven't had the confidence to use since. My first instrument was the piano, and it was always been closely bound up with my composing, so I feel with this piece that I am returning 'to my roots.'
The sonata is in four movements, each of which reflects a different aspect of pianistic technique: Andante (counterpoint); Lento (harmony); Presto possible (dexterity); Adagio molto espressivo (melody).
However, having completed the piece, I have to admit, in spite of my resolve, to certain outside influences. The third movement is inspired by a piece for solo side-drum by the Icelandic composer Askell Masson, and the last movement by birdsong.
I was about to embark on the last movement when the news came of the tragedy in Dunblane. I could not separate my work from my shock and distress. A few days before, I had been surrounded by a class of small children discussing birdsong in music. The movement somehow reflects both events, with austere, monodic calls surrounded by silence.