The Long Road To Writing A Sonata
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
It had never been on my radar to write a sonata, but back in July 2021 I had an idea for a little ditty for my beginner piano students, and was at the same time listening to many Beethoven sonatas. They were very inspiring. But did this little ditty have the potential to become a sonata, or at least a sonatina? And was I naïve enough to think this could all be achieved in a couple of weeks?
I decided to give it a go. Within a week the basics of a first movement were formed. But it took until August to add a slower melody as a separate prelude/introduction to the first movement.
After a month, the first movement was finished.
I was really enjoying the journey of crafting this piece, but did I want to spend more months writing a second or even third movement?
While deliberating my options and playing around with ideas to make another movement, I wrote the little children’s song ‘Can’t Go Out… Until Lockdown Ends’ using a little snippet of one of those ideas. It was a bit of a diversion! (You can hear where it came from by looking at the music starting at bar 9 or 45 in the second movement).
The actual idea that 'got the ball rolling' on the second movement was a bright scherzo motif using triplets. I was really keen to include something like this, as Beethoven was famous for his use of scherzos.
There was another significant idea that was quite a bit slower, majestic and a little like a hymn. I was really taken by it, and it was a high point in the creative process for me. It really affected me. Part of it was reminiscent of the wonderful old hymn ‘And Can It Be, That I Should Gain’ and for me, it had a spiritual dimension.
Was it possible to combine the scherzo and hymn themes into the second movement and finish there, or would I need a third movement? By using a repetitive passage that slowed the scherzo down and segued into the hymn theme, I fortunately found a way to join them in the one movement.
It now seemed like a great idea to return to the scherzo theme in the new key of Bb major as an ending to the second movement. But I just couldn't make it work. I was determined to get to that new key somehow, so after much experimentation and sifting through past ideas, a previously discarded idea was used to transition to the new key (bars 105-113).
Magic! This time it sounded great and opened up more possibilities for the movement. It allowed my much-loved hymn theme to be re-stated and played in a more majestic way (from bar 138).
All that was needed now was a closing section. I often find this hard to write, and this time was no exception!
The answer was found by varying the right hand chords over a left hand pedal point to produce a slightly mysterious effect (from bar 114).
Also the key of Bb provided a strong Bb chord low down the keyboard to produce the sound I was after for the final chord.
Even though the sonata was basically finished on 26 September 2021, there were a few more refinements to make. I was only able to do this properly by practising the whole work through from beginning to end, and so was able to hear things in context and get a sense of the flow from section to section.
Deb, my wife, after hearing the piece so many times in many variations, played an important role in offering suggestions and ideas to improve it in various ways.
The notes of the composition may have been finished, but the hard work of recording, scoring, and naming the piece was still to be done. The score was updated and improved many times, and numerous drafts of the recording were done before the final version was produced.
And one more thing to do. The name. Deb thought it too bland to just call it "Sonata in D". She suggested that as it was written during the time of the COVID Delta variant, and in the key of D, a good name would be ‘The Delta Variations’. I liked this idea too.
And that was it. I had reached the end of a long road. My sonata was complete!
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