SONATE POUR QUATRE MAINS
Commissioned by Stephen Brown in honor of his mother, Rita Keely Brown,
on the occasion of her 80th Birthday, November 21st 2013.
The piano score is available for purchase - contact the composer for information! (Both the duet parts as well as a transcription for solo pianist are available.)
About the Sonata:
Each movement is taken as a moment in the life of Rita; all three movements share thematic material as a representation of the evolution of Rita’s life in 3 distinct stages.
Movement 1 - Bb Major – “L’Enfance” (“Childhood”)
The 1st movement is written as a quasi-palindrome, and stands out as the most “Classical” of the three movements; the form is as follows: A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, Bridge, C, B1, B2, A4, A5. This structure is designed to portray the idyllic simplicity of a day in childhood.
The A themes are innocent and song-like, and inspired by the sound of the “Lieder” (in homage to Rita’s German heritage). The B themes are a depiction of laughter and playing, but connects to a 4 measure Bridge ending in an abrupt Forte – depicting a little accident during the game; this leads into the C theme, which expresses the tears of the child who has gotten hurt. Then, entirely forgetting the accident, the child resumes playing with a return to the B themes. Finally another set of A themes shepherd the child into a quiet bedtime slumber.
Movement 2 - g minor - “Lamentation”
The 2nd movement carries the most complex form of all three movements: A1, A2, B1, C1, D1, C2, B2, D2, Coda. This chaotic structure represents the most difficult time in Rita’s life - raising 6 children while holding a full time job and caring for a severely mentally ill husband. The circular nature of the recurring themes in this form symbolizes the frustrating circle of problems that kept returning through her husband’s persistent relapses into illness.
This movement reiterates the A theme from the first movement but expresses that theme in the relative minor key – denoting the maturity and emotional nuances of adulthood. During the opening two A themes, Rita’s life seems perhaps a bit troubled but not overburdened - however things quickly complicate with new material expressed in the B, C & D themes. Each reiteration of those themes is presented with new voicing and even new harmonies built by combining countermelodies into a densely structured “Chorale.” Each voice in this Chorale (at the climax there are 6) represents the individual voices of her 6 children – each one contributing to hold the whole piece (and Rita’s life) together. The Chorale style pays homage to her faith which served to sustain her optimism throughout this challenging period. The Coda calms down the end of the movement as life gradually transitions into a more peaceful period.
Movement 3 - Db Major – “La Joie De Vivre” (“The Joy of Life”)
The 3rd movement is a celebration of the peace Rita enjoys in her older years, and is structured with a simple ternary form: A1, B1, B2, A2.
This movement reveals that the starting note (D) of all prior A themes was purposefully chosen; this final A theme is built on the four letters of Rita’s name (the pitches are: Db,Bb,F,Ab). This simple “R-I-T-A theme” is ornamented but full of simplicity and sweetness! The final movement is in a new key – suggesting that the difficulty of life’s prior struggles have moved Rita’s theme a half step away from where she began her life, but her essential identity of starting her theme on a D pitch remains intact.
In prior movements all phrases were 8 measures long – representing the 8 family members (6 children + 2 adults) in Rita’s childhood and 8 family members in adulthood. The simple A theme here is still in 8 measures, but then things expand; in this movement the B themes are both 16 measures long in order to depict the gradually growing family in Rita’s life. The jubilant quality of the B themes depicts her discovery of a thrilling new life-purpose as she builds on her past experiences and reaches out to the community as an author, public speaker, and mental-illness activist and mentor. The grandeur of these B themes is reinforced by a rich counter-melody duet in the bass which portrays the continued support of the many family members and friends that surround her.
The final iteration of the A theme evokes the sound of a music box playing a little lullaby for Rita – still a child at heart, filled with serenity.