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Sonata for Viola and Double Bass

Instrumentation: viola, double bass
Duration: 14:00
Year Composed: 2010
Commissioner: Elanée Ensemble (Hobart, Australia)
  1. Vivace furioso
  2. Adagio doloroso
  3. Adagio cantabile*
  4. SCHERZO. Allegro vivace.

* This movement may be performed independently.


Audio Samples

I. Vivace furioso (ending)

II. Adagio doloroso (middle)

III. Adagio cantabile (opening)

IV. SCHERZO. Allegro vivace. (opening)


Program Notes

This piece was borne of the Internet age. From the other side of the planet, the Elanée Ensemble of Australia stumbled upon my website, and after listening to some of my work, invited me to compose a sonata for viola and double bass. I initially viewed the prospect of writing for this unusual combination with a degree of skepticism. But after hearing the duo’s rendition of Glière's "Cradle Song", I was immediately won over by the dark, blended sonorities that projected a unique warmth tinged with melancholy. The contrapuntal clarity of their version of a Telemann canonic sonata sealed the deal: I became convinced that this little-explored pairing was capable of a wide range of expression, from the lyrical to the virtuosic.

And so I fashioned an extended work whose four contrasting movements exploit a considerable amount of the duo’s range, from brash to doleful to lyrical and, finally, to chipper. The disposition of the movements, with fast outer movements enclosing two slow ones, is, if not without precedent, certainly not the sonata norm. Nor is ending with a scherzo.

Yet to my ears there is a narrative logic to the unfolding. As an antidote to the furious—and often violent—opening movement, with its swirling, interlocking parts, comes a sparse lament that seems to reckon with the pain inflicted. Here the viola resonates in its sonorous, low register against the bass's ethereal harmonics. The wounds now healing, warmth emerges in the lush third movement: the bass rises up from its depths to cantabile heights against elaborate figuration in the viola. The stage is now set for a bit of humour in the last movement, a playful romp, enlivened by frequent alternation between pizzicato and arco, whose only recollection of the first movement's fury is in its mischievous tone. —R.R.


Performances

  • Apr 3, 2016—Matt Heller (db) & Michael Bursey (va)
    Instrumental Society of Calgary, St. Stephen's Anglican Church (Calgary, AB)
  • Aug 16, 2014—Matt Heller (db) & Liza Scriggins Lowry (va)
    Mountain View Festival, Christ Church, Elbow Park (Calgary, AB)
  • Jul 1, 2011—Elanée Ensemble: Jo St Leon & Stuart Thompson
    Tasmanian Conservatorium (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia)
  • May 19, 2011—Elanée Ensemble: Jo St Leon & Stuart Thompson
    St. David’s Cathedral (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia)
  • May 15, 2011—Elanée Ensemble: Jo St Leon & Stuart Thompson
    Performing Arts Centre (Lilydale, Tasmania, Australia)
  • Feb 20, 2011—Elanée Ensemble: Jo St Leon & Stuart Thompson
    Kilburn Institute (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia)

Reviews

"An attractive and concise four-movement work, it opens with a swirling ostinato with later allusions to Shostakovich. The sad and dirge-like second movement has some difficult high harmonics for both instruments; a second adagio is more song-like while the finale is contrastingly jokey."
— Peter Donnelly (The Mercury, Hobart, Australia)

Score Perusal & Parts Rental

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