Program Notes for Piano Sonata No.10

I first became aware of Astor Piazzolla's music in the Fall of 2001, when I purchased his 1986 album, Tango Zero Hour. At that time I began an early draft of Sonata Piazzollana, the tenth extended piano work in the sonata series. Simultaneously, I came to the realization of the dichotomy in the present state of concert music: the almost total lack of any defined tradition, paired with an embarrassing plethora of source materials. It is under this aesthetic umbrella that the direction of most of my later piano works was set. In general, they have been a test bed for structural and textural embarcations, which are later developed in other works. Sometimes the materials themselves show up in the new pieces (e.g. the coda of Movement I of the Dance Sonata forms the primary material for the Finale of my Piano Concerto No. 2). I know that using triadic tonal materials is risky because of the long tradition of tonality and its associated forms. However, the recent public success of works like Marquez's Danzon No. 2 and Golijov's St. Mark Passion may indicate some thaw in the persistent modernist freeze. In my own work, as in these pieces the use of accessible musics (popular and classical) is not a nod to the past but a broadening of how "classical music" might be defined today. In this age of stylistic pluralism nothing is really old fashioned.

Many times my piano sonatas themselves will take chips from the workbench or fragments from another composer's work, as in the one-movement Sonata Rochbergiana (Piano Sonata No. 4), which uses motives from that composer's Third String Quartet. Sonata Piazzollana (Piano Sonata No. 10) stands somewhere between this kind of treatment and the general stylistic grafting of gestures that I use in Sonata Brahmsiana (Piano Sonata No. 3). The basic materials of the new sonata use many stylistic calling cards of Astor Piazzolla: such devices as the relentless chromatic descending vamp in pieces like "Tanguedia III" or "Michelangelo `70" with its lush transposing sequences in the B section permeate all three movements of my sonata. "Alberto of Barracas," the title of the first movement, refers to Alberto Ginastera, one of Piazzolla's major influences. It was from Ginastera that he learned the renewing persistence of rhythm in musical space. The easy sentimentality of the slow section of Piazzolla's "Contrabejisimo" or the jazzy improvisatory character of the piano solo in the first section of "Mumuki" are suggested in the "Waltz" slow movement of my sonata. "Waldorf Astoria," movement three, suggests the essence of New York City sophistication. In the years before 1960 Piazzolla honed his style there.

I have featured jazz elements in many of my pieces, but here the jazz element is filtered through Piazzolla's unique rendering, richly embroidered with tango. I also have come under the spell of Piazzolla's piquant flavoring of harmony with unresolved dissonances and jagged syncopation, something that seems to bring out the best in his accordion sound. While no real quotations of Piazzolla's music are used, my new sonata attempts to summon up the special sound world of this hybrid musician: one foot in the popular milieu and another in classical tradition. In many ways, this synthesis represents for me the most optimistic future for concert music: some connection between popular and classical art so that both are mutually enriched.

Paul Reale, January, 2013.