Piano Sonata in B-flat Major

Piano Sonata in F Minor, Opus 57 "Appassionata"

Fantasy in F-Sharp Minor, Opus 28

Gaspard de la Nuit

By Lawrence Budmen

Four very different composers - Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Ravel, yet each produced music of great originality. Each requires the artist to display subtlety and musicality as well as pianistic power.

Musicologists have dated the composition of Mozart's "Piano Sonata in B Flat Major," K.333 to the period 1783-1784. While light in character, Mozart shows remarkable creative ingenuity in this work. In the beautiful second movement Andante Cantabile, the ornamentation of both themes is very operatic. The concluding Allegretto is in rondo form. At the movement's conclusion there is a cadenza - an extremely rare occurrence in a piano sonata of the classical period.

The Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Opus 57 "Appasionata", composed in 1804-1805, is middle period Beethoven. Classical restraint and moderation have given way to Beethoven's own compositional voice. In the outer movements, there are passionate outbursts of emotion and sheer intensity of musical expression. The pianissimo opening phrase spans a range of three octaves - Beethoven at his most original and bold. The middle movement is a set of subtly ornamented variations on a simple melody. This slow movement requires a long, arching lyrical line while the outer movements make increased demands on the pianist's technique. This is music that demands both emotional and intellectual commitment.

While Felix Mendelssohn's most frequently performed works are his symphonies and other orchestral scores, he wrote a large output of works for piano. Among these are two piano concertos, two concertos for two pianos, three piano quartets, two piano trios, the "Rondo Brilliant", "Capricio Brilliant", numerous "Songs Without Words", and various small scale solo pieces.

The "Fantasy in F Sharp Minor", Opus 28 is early Mendelssohn. Like Mozart, Mendelssohn had a mastery of musical form and was an inspired melodist. These characteristic elements of all of Mendelssohn's music are in evidence in this Fantasy. While Mendelssohn's piano music demands virtuosity, it also requires lyricism and an expressive musical imagination from the soloist. These works are often viewed as glittering showpieces, but they are also subtle and elegant.

Comparisons between Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy are inevitable. Both were musical impressionists, but while Debussy often wrote in delicate musical pastels, Ravel's writing is larger than life - musical Technicolor. This is evident in "La Valse" and even more so in "Gaspard de La Nuit." Ravel took up the tradition of virtuoso piano writing where Liszt left off and produced a showpiece that tests the very limits of the soloist's technique. This evocation of night has an almost frenzied ecstasy. While Ravel extends the musical boundaries of impressionism in the three pieces that comprise "Gaspard de La Nuit", this highly romantic music also calls to mind the Russian school of Scriabin and Rachmaninoff.

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