Wednesday, March 27, 2013

RC One-Off: Volfgangs Dārziņš's Piano Sonata no. 2

This post is the first in an ongoing series of "one-off" articles for Re-Composing, meaning short pieces on single works rather than full pieces on composers.  For these pieces either they are the only work I can find easily from a given composer or they are the only work I particularly care for by said composer.  In the case of today's work I think it's the strongest piece on YouTube, and I've been unable to find good information on its author, Volfgangs Dārziņš (1906-1962).  The most that I know of him is that he was the son of Emīls Dārziņš (1875-1910), an important figure in Latvian music and a late Romantic composer with nationalistic tendencies.  The Balkans have an interesting relationship to classical music, whose composers run the gamut from folk-inspired (Jāzeps Vītols) to the ultra-minimal (Arvo Pärt) and the eclectic (Pēteris Vasks), and largely operates on its own terms.  The piece here by Dārziņš bespeaks an impassioned and cosmopolitan sensibility which is always nice to see in a random encounter.

Set in three movements, the Piano Sonata no. 2 starts on a declamatory note with a rich Ionian chorale, letting planed fifths bring the piece into a dark, pinging ostinato supporting a flowing sopranino melody.  These two memorable ideas are then cast against each other in expansion, setting up a simple structural rhythm and the kind of harmonic sonorities to expect for the rest of the piece.  The ostinato section is written without barlines, a practice dating back to the piano works of Erik Satie and one that makes me smile.  The running sixteenths also allow for the melody to maintain rigor but still surprise in its flexibility.  The second movement is more Iberian in nature, with a roving, sunbaked ostinato leading into a brightly sung, octaved melody.  The writing here is modal, focusing on a Lydian/Ionian split mode worthy of Debussy.  The performance here doesn't do the dynamics justice, as following them would have been more exciting and subtle.  The third movement is the most violent and Eastern European, but not before executing an entrancingly simple chorale reminiscent of Stravinsky (in his primitivist chamber miniatures).  The Eastern flavor is felt in a rhythmically jerky theme cast in planed diminished triads, along with an octatonic countermelody; the violence eventually gives way to a rich, major bridge.  The violence returns and crashes on, morphing through another declamatory, octaved theme and receding like a death knell.  The chorale returns, making a bittersweet coda to a powerful work.

The piano writing here is very effective, fully understanding the capabilities of the instrument and how performers will interpret the notes.  The performance here is one of many of  Dārziņš's pieces by pianist Andis Sinkevics, and from my limited information he seems to be the only pianist performing this music.  He has a channel of his own (  if you're curious.  I'm no expert on Balkan music, so if anybody recognizes any Latvian folk influence on this piece I'd be interested to know what they are and how extensively they dictate the music.  Anyways, thanks for reading and I'll see you next time.


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