frank stemper

PIANO SONATA NO. 2 (2013)
        I. Sonata Allegro - L'inizio della fine                      
       II. Minuet and Trio - Scherzo: Musica da ballo           
     III. Andante e Improvvisazione                                  
      IV. Sonata Rondo - L'ultimo allarme        


 




NOTES

This music was written specifically for Junghwa Lee, a pianist who combines brilliant technique and artistic esthetic with a meticulous attention to detail and nuance.  She is both a performing artist and an engaged scholar.  This 35-minute piece could only have been written, knowing that Ms. Lee would go to any length to not only absorb and understand the music and clearly interpret its web of sonic activity, but then add what only a serious performing artist can add — herself.  I knew that she would fine tune my ideas and add to them that spark makes the music come alive.  

Some of the technical/interpretive demands of my second piano sonata include:


  • Abundant and precise pedaling, using both sustain and sostenuto, to create: asymmetrical gestures and phrasings; an overly sustained sound that intentionally becomes too cluttered; and frequent sympathetic overtones, finessed and meticulously calculated to ring as a sort of ghost counter theme.
    (Ms. Lee must coordinate 10 fingers and both feet, with her ears and intellect, and the ability to react to the immediate sound.)


  • Excessive use of irregular, unpredictable repetition, which: develops but also stays the same; multiplies and expands to form larger musical ideas; and tries to shake itself but always seems to return like compulsive nagging or a recurring dream.
    (During performance, such repetition could easily derail the performer, who might understandably take the wrong path, which might end up a couple of minutes behind or ahead.)

  • A more overt reference to Jazz, in terms of cliché, phrasing, and character.
    (Ms. Lee, a Korean native, is asked to perform passages that, in addition to harmonic and rhythmic nuance are completely dependent on a stylistically “jazzy” pianistic touch and rhythmic distinction – certainly well outside a Classically trained pianist’s comfort zone.)

  • Continuous use of the entire piano, by not only using all registers equally, but often exploiting the less frequently used highest and lowest registers of the instrument for lengthy passages.
    (This music is physically demanding for Ms. Lee – not only to stretch her hands to execute chords written by a 6’3” composer with considerably larger hands than her own, but her arms as well, as she must often perform passages that are simultaneously at these extreme ranges, for lengthy periods of time, and often at a loud dynamic level.)


  • All of the above is combined throughout with more traditional pianistic technique, such as lightly executed rapid passages, considerable variation of articulation, huge chordal sections, and almost always thematically independent left and right hands.
    (Although, these more normal practices are Ms. Lee’s forte, it is a great challenge, both technically and interpretively, to combine them with the more foreign techniques found in this piano work.)


In composing a large work for my own instrument, I felt a bit of the epic was needed – so I went for it.  This music is about death.  Or perhaps it is about life, for I am an optimistic fellow.  The narrative is quite simple: It begins at that final point, as life winds down and concludes.  What follows may be thought of as either “after-death” or a flashback to life.  Either is valid.  The music drifts through energy, pathos, fun, romance, more energy, pinnacle, and then alarm – signaling the end once again: what we all know, what this will all lead to. 

That I have taken on life’s greatest mystery seems humorous to me, if only because every narrative of every kind has, at its nucleus, various attempted explanations of this universal mystery.  And, because this is such a universal subject, and so inexplicable, trying to deal with it on a serious level is also very funny, because I can only fail, and I can only appear trivial, sophomoric, or even puerile in the process.  I would gladly play the silly fool, but I am not really trying to explain it, I’m just trying to face it.  To Live with it.  Finally, as all of us must deal with it.  And whether we can come to terms with it, before its reality comes knocking at our door or simply wait until the darkness appears can only be humorous:  It has to be – the joke of life.  Where cruelty meets wonderment. 

 

  • 2nd Sonata I. Sonata Allegro - L'inizio della fine9:51
  • 2nd Sonata II. Minuet and Trio - Scherzo: Musica da ballo6:45
  • 2nd Sonata III. Andante e Improvvisazione7:41
  • 2nd Sonata IV. Sonata Rondo - L'ultimo allarme 8:30