by Christopher Fulkerson

CF1 Page One

Page One of the Piano Sonata.

The score of this work, CF1, is available for purchase

This piece, my Opus One, is about twenty one minutes long, and was completed in its first version in 1974. I myself gave this version its first performance at my Senior Composition Recital at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music in 1976. Forty years after this Sonata's first version was composed, I revisited this piece in 2014 and with great pleasure gave it a thorough revision, which involved extensive development and expansion of the piece, especially of its finale, resulting in a twofold increase in work's overall duration. The Sonata's three movements are:

1. Majestic and vigorous
2. Adagio
3. Fugue: Ossessionato

In its first version this piece was an important piece for me and I felt good about listing it as my "Opus One" (Though since I keep my own index I have listed my pieces with my initials, and therefore list this piece as CF1). When revisiting the piece I made shameless use of knowledge gained in later years, but I did not add and techniques I did not basically know when the piece was conceived. These revisions are the most extensive I have yet done on a piece that I had previously published. I think there is no disputing that the piece is much the better for its present recasting.

As an undergraduate I was earnestly dedicated to the Modernist project of blending erudition about the best in the existing art of music with the newest adevancees in materials and methods. Of course, I keep up with this same general approach now, in the hopes of maintaining my status as a promising young composer. My Piano Sonata had a few ideas in it which, though not conscious quotations at all, admittedly have some similarity with ideas that other composers had had. The most real resemblance between this piece and another is between the opening idea of my Sonata and Beethoven's Bagatelle Opus 33, #7. Discovering this fact only recently, I would now suggest that the Beethoven might make a good recital companion to my Sonata, especially if the Beethoven were played first.

The slow movement of my Sonata is in Ternary form, with some harmonic surprises that are later taken up in the FInale, which is a massive fugue, with some spiritual resemblances to the fugues Beethoven wrote in his fifties. The cyclic relationship between the second and third movements existed in the earliest version of the Sonata. The fugue is an extensive and searching essay arriving at and sustaining a heroic and mysterious character after thoroughly exploring its opening polyphonic material and bringing in ideas from the second movement, in the context of sonic designs apparent since the beginning of the sonata. The finale systematically earns the right to use polyphonic inversion, and does so in ways I hope are interesting and poetic. Eventually these discoveries develop into ideas with driving symmetrical motivic shapes that bring the texture to suggestive motives, some subtle, some dramatic, in a return from the outer fugal realms, back to the types of textures of the first two movements.

I won't argue that there isn't a similarity between a few passages in this composition and others which the astute listener should not hear as due to a quotational design or made in homage, but rather as the result of my willingness to develop existing ideas that originally had only a nascent similarity to one or two other familiar pieces into workings-out that allow for similarities to be noticed. Even these, however, were already in the first verions of second movement, where they appear boldly enough in forms that indicate their independent status. There are a few sly references to other, more recent pieces of mine; this is typical of me nowadays. I didn't shy to use a grace-not idea in the first movement, allowing the similarity of some ideas there to be heard to those in my more recent Reacital Aria, KUBLA KHAN. The shaping of ideas in the extended fugal finale, which I do admit I was thinking of the designs, though not the details, of various fugal finales of Beethoven, accrues little by little some similarity to ideas only nascent in the second movement. It would be more accurate to think of these as an unapologetic return to a mode of discovery in the composition of a piece than to actual deliberate quotation. The material seemed to suggest its direction and realization. I will leave it to performers and listeners to hear what I am referring to, and to do determine whether the process of discovery is not too distasteful. As an advanced undergraduate I think I should be allowed some slack. Certainly I believe in the psychological profile of the ideas I have employed.

The first movement is in a variant of Sonata form, which I had studied extensively, especially in the Beethoven String Quartets; thanks to Professor George Nemeth, my Undergraduate Musicology Advisor, I knew most of them before graduating. The Charles Rosen study The Classical Style had recently been published, and I read this book, not least because it was dedicated to Helen and Elliott Carter. The enormity of the significance of Rosen's book was not in the slightest lost on me. I knew I was reading real progress in the the history of the articulation of understanding about the art of music and read the book carefully. I date the beginning of my real understanding of composition from my reading of Charles Rosen's book, arguably, and as I believe, the single most important book ever published about music. Interestingly, I finally got around to my project revisions of this piece a year or so after rereading Rosen's book. As an undergraduate trying to write Modernist music blending the past and the present, I also studied the music of Bela Bartok in my Composition adviser Dan Beckler's encyclopaedic class about his music (I was a double major in composition and music history), and had gone over Hindemith's Mathis der Maler Symphony and many neo-Classical pieces, as well as the occasional Harris or Schuman symphony. I felt I was ready to attempt an actual piano sonata that worked within this newer tradition.

Writing and playing this piece was a milestone for me; the know-nothing would-be guitar-playing Rocker in garage bands who, in High School, never once played a single song through with another person before attending college actually did a serious composition recital and played his own Piano Sonata.

An inspection of the program will reveal that the renowned Wagnerian Soprano Linda Watson sang in the chorus which I (and not as published my roommate Steven Skinner) conducted on the program. However, none of my professors attended my recital, not even the one who promised to be in it.


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First posted 1/11/2010. Last Updated 12/1/2014.