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Sonata for Cello & Piano

Instrumentation: cello, piano
Duration: 14:00
Year Composed: 2019
Commissioner: Denise Djokic & David Jalbert,
with the generous support of
Scotia Festival of Music.
  1. Breathless, dramatic
  2. Adagio espressivo
  3. Lively, playful

Dedicated to Denise Djokic & David Jalbert.


Program Notes

The cellist Denise Djokic gave the world premieres of two of my early chamber works—String Trio and Piano Trio—in consecutive years at Ottawa Chamberfest (2004-05). Though our paths subsequently crossed, only recently did we contemplate another collaboration, the fruit of which is this sonata she and her longtime duo partner, the pianist David Jalbert, commissioned with the generous support of Scotia Festival of Music. Djokic and Jalbert make a marvelous musical pairing to which their several recordings attest. Jalbert complements Djokic's purity of tone, which swells into passages of smoldering intensity while retaining precision, with his characteristic warmth, fluidity and lucidity; they breathe and move as one.

While a good deal of my music tends on some level to be programmatic, I wanted this sonata, like my earlier one for viola and piano, to express whatever it had to say in purely musical terms, finding in this approach a refreshing challenge. To my ear, the common thread across the sonata's three contrasting movements is an exploration of rhythm. In the first, the layering of conflicting metres, unified by a quick pulse, along with fragmentation, variation and imitation of thematic material, suggest the quality to which the tempo marking alludes (Breathless, dramatic). A dance-like central section, and the coda's shift to the tonic major, offer limited relief. The second movement (Adagio espressivo), a lyrical outpouring punctuated by agitated outbursts, includes non-metred passages and, in the reprise, continually varying rhythmic figuration in the accompaniment. I had the most fun writing the concise and zany finale (Lively, playful), a percussive scherzo whose mischievous phrasing and rhetoric is underscored by strumming and pizzicato.

Though I hold no love for cyclic design, I did notice, in retrospect, a subtle motivic connection among movements. The work's stormy introduction outlines an ascending pentatonic minor scale; the finale's principal theme, mirror-like, traces a descending pentatonic major scale. Also, the insistent, rising minor-third that characterizes the slow movement's emotive explosions vaguely recalls the pentatonic minor theme's incipit. But let the listener decide whether such connections are of consequence.



  • May 28, 2019—Denise Djokic & David Jalbert, Scotia Festival of Music,
    Sir James Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre (Halifax, NS)


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