Program Notes for Piano Sonata No.5 in A :
I have always been fascinated with the observation that one's life exists in memory as a series of strong images which appear to be independent in importance from real time. In Citizen Kane, Bernstein recalls a distant memory of a girl on a ferry that has persisted in his memory into old age.
My scenario for this piece employs a similar but more elaborate program: a lonely piano player becomes infatuated with a strange but extraordinarily beautiful woman who has just entered the bar where the protagonist is employed. His passion in inflamed by her touch on his shoulder, before slipping $10 into his jacket pocket to play her (and coincidentally his) favorite tune. As he plays, the man whom the mysterious woman is about to meet enters the bar, and the two embrace tenderly; the piano player is inwardly crushed, but he continues playing with greater and greater ardor. In his fantasy he can make love to this woman from his keyboard: his "affair" lasts but a single song.
At this point the listener might ask if the Sonata is program music and if the little story above must be known to understand the piece. My answer is: no, with an explanation. I remember seeing a striking photograh in which a small child reaches up, seemingly to touch a narrow vertical shaft of light projected on a wall. How my reaction changed after reading the caption: the child was blind and was feeling for the warmth of the rising sun, the only way that he could perceive the coming of day.
For some time I have felt that almost all music written since World War II is boring, ugly, and incomprehensible, largely because of a refusal by composers to acknowledge how broad a base the musical experience has. In this piece most materials come from popular or jazz roots or distant classical associations. While the structure of the four movements follows the dramatic scenario outlined above, the recurrence of materials obeys rather more abstract precepts of balance and pacing (such a simulaneity is not unknown in opera).