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sonata in three movements

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John Alexander writes: "It's been a long time in the making; some of the material for 'sonata in three movements' had begun to take shape over a 6-month period around 45 years ago. I was then writing a viola sonata at the end of my time studying composition with Edmund Rubbra at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London. That work was not composed for anyone in particular, was never spoken of as something to be performed and was put away unfinished. I came across it again five years ago and decided that, with a lot of work, it could adapt well to become a sonata for double bass and piano, something I'd wanted to do for a while. But I did nothing about this endeavour for another 3½ years or so. Then, I started working hard on this projected composition, re-shaping, discarding, re-inventing and extending this 'sonata in three movements' into its present completed form; a summation, perhaps, of my path to date as a composer. The whole composition is in memory of Edmund Rubbra (1901-86), a kind, thoughtful teacher and a very fine composer – if you're not aware of his music, I recommend you listen to his 4th Symphony.
Unusually, for a piece of mine, the 'sonata in three movements' has no programmatic narrative or any extra-musical concept behind it. All its ideas and deliberations belong firmly in the domain of just music. The opening 4-note motif articulated by the bass appears in many guises and transformations throughout, helping to bind the three movements – each of which has a distinctive character and mood – into a cohesive whole.

The first movement is full of majestic passion, rhythmic drama and contrasting changing dispositions. It is with friendship and sincere gratitude that I am pleased to dedicate this opening (exposition/development/recapitulation) to David Heyes, always generous with his time and valuable guidance.

The second movement has winsome, yearning attributes of slow, meandering lyricism and mellow counterpoint. It is with delight that I warmly dedicate this middle component to both Thierry Barbé and Dan Styffe.

The third movement has a touch of Latinate warmth and flair running through its contrapuntal dance-like verve and melodic contours via its intense driving rhythm. After so many premieres of my work that have been given by Marco Antonio Quiñones Martinez and Patricia Miravete Mora in Mexico, I am happy to affectionately dedicate this finale to them.

One last analytic note I'd like to include, is to contrast the very opening low octave F sharp, sounded by the piano, with the concluding low octave C, also sounded by the piano but at the very end of this piece. Harmonically speaking, the one is as far as you can be from the other: a tri-tone (augmented 4th) apart. Traditionally, it could be assumed that a sonata might finish in the same tonality with which it began. I wanted to go against that assumption in this particular work, in an attempt to signify – given the above history – how far I had travelled compositionally."

"US PREMIERE: Double bassist Michael Cameron and pianist Evan Mitchell premiered the new double bass sonata by John Alexander (b.1942) on 7 June 2017 at 5.00pm in Nabenhauer Recital Hall on the campus of Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, USA. In his opening remarks, Cameron described the piece as "romantic" with a "short dip into modernism" and referred to its English flair, knowingly, perhaps with air quotes, due to the subjective nature of such characterisations. After one piece scheduled for this programme fell through, Cameron remarked that he was relieved to discover that this piece was completed and could be prepared in time for the convention. The piece never outstays its welcome at the tempi heard in this performance. The first movement, marked Moderato maestoso e appasionato, has a rhapsodic initial arco episode, which is followed by a plummy pizzicato section in the middle register. This dichotomy reprises throughout the entire piece in a call-and-response, cross-rhythmic vein. An arco section follows in which the bass accentuates upper partial tones, such as sevenths and ninths, lending an impressionistic air to the underlying harmony. An episode in the lower, then upper registers provides a nice contrast, then the neo-romantic mode returns, and the movement ends with a final tremolo flourish. The second movement, Adagio cantabile espressivo, begins with a broad and slow but brief piano introduction. We hear the bass in a plaintive cantilena style in perhaps a nostalgic, even bitter-sweet mode in the upper register. After a call-and-response pizzicato reference back to the first movement, the bass sings again, this time in the middle register, adding to the melancholy air before ending softly on a high note. The bass begins the final Allegro not in a speedy way in the present performance, but rather light and quicksilver, and understated in a way that is perhaps respectful of the piano partnership. In turn, a repeated piano figure sets up the bassist both to sing and to alternate with pizzicato figurations. A humorous adjacent harmonic semitone in the middle register got a chuckle out of me before a more singing section found a temporary rhythmic cadence to rest. Following another alternation of higher melodic cantilena and pizzicato figures, we hear short bow strokes in the upper register, creating a dry effect as a contrast to the singing sections. Shortly after the repeated piano figure returns, so does the tremolando figure and a satisfying conclusion. Well done, Michael and Evan!" [Chris Clark]

John Alexander was born in West Sussex in 1942 and began to compose at the age of 20. At the time he discovered a fascination for art, literature, dance, architecture and sculpture and these topics, along with mathematics, have continued to have a bearing on his work. He studied composition with Edmund Rubbra at the Guildhall School of Music in London, and later with Jonathan Harvey and Peter Wiegold at the University of Sussex.

John Alexander has never been a prolific composer, but an impressive and growing body of work reflects a rare eye for detail and structure - each work beautifully crafted and reworked until every inflection, detail and nuance is perfect. Probably best described as a miniaturist, he writes in a fluent, independent and strongly personal style with an intense desire to create music which communicates to both performer and audience alike.

In 1999 John Alexander won the 1st BIBF Composition Contest and was invited to be a judge for several BIBF competitions. He was a featured composer at Bass-Fest 2001, was an spnm short-listed composer for three years, and was Composer-in-residence at the 2004 Rotterdam Conservatoire Double Bass Weekend, Bass-Fest 2006 and 2007 Wells Double Bass Weekend. His works have been performed and broadcast throughout the world and he was written an impressive and unique body of work for double bass.

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Cat No. RM563
Supplier Code RM563
Price £16.50
ComposerJohn Alexander
CategoryDouble Bass & Piano
PublisherRecital Music
Difficulty level8, Advanced
ISMN 979-0-57045-563-8
EAN-13 9790570455638
Weight 182 grams
Published 19th December 2016
Availability 2 in stock
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