Author Topic: Hammer's Humble Piano Sonatas  (Read 3118 times)

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Offline Hammerklavier

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Hammer's Humble Piano Sonatas
« on: October 07, 2021, 02:32:09 PM »
Hello!

I’m a layperson who enjoys writing piano sonatas.  I have no formal training, or even any aptitude for music, just my own enthusiasm.

After years of writing sketches and short pieces in a variety of styles and picking up a bit of music theory on my own here and there, I completed my first piano sonata in 2016.  Seven piano sonatas later, it looks like this hobby is here to stay, at least for a while longer.  I’ve decided to create a thread where I can share these works and hopefully receive some constructive feedback from the wise and talented denizens of this forum.

My musical voice would be considered old-fashioned today.  I mostly write in a diatonic style while make use of traditional sonata, rondo and ternary forms.  Why?  I guess for all the advancements and new ideas that have emerged over the 20th and 21st centuries, I still have a strong attachment to the late classical and early romantic periods.

The more I compose, the more I seek to step out of my comfort zone and branch out into more modern sounds, hoping to discover my own idiosyncratic voice along the way.  In the meantime, you’ll almost certainly find me imitating some of the old masters (especially Beethoven) at times, particularly in the earliest compositions.

I greatly appreciate your feedback!  Just be sure to keep your expectations low.  ;)

My sonatas can be heard here, "performed" by the Garritan library playback feature in Finale: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847
« Last Edit: March 15, 2022, 08:03:23 AM by Hammerklavier »

Offline Hammerklavier

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Re: Hammerklavier's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2021, 02:51:51 PM »
I’ve recently completed a new piano sonata, my seventh.  It's my most ambitious sonata to date, clocking in at 43 minutes and containing seven movements.

With each new sonata I write, I try to explore some new ideas and take on different challenges to grow as a composer.  Here are some of the things I attempted for this sonata with this in mind:

  • Atonal harmony (first, sixth and seventh movements)
  • Polychords (third movement)
  • Octatonic scale (seventh movement, though I dabbled with this in the third movement of the fifth sonata as well
  • Sonata form with three subject groups instead of the more traditional two (third movement)

I have my own interpretation of what I’ve created.  Feel free to disregard and arrive at your own conclusions, since the music should speak for itself.  But for anyone who might be curious as to my intentions, here are a few “program notes” to help give some guidance as to my intentions.

  • Overall, I view the sonata as a meditation on death, and a reckoning with the fear of what awaits a person beyond the grave.
  • The first movement explores troubled thoughts about the prospect of death.
  • The third movement suggests, to me, two soulmates under a starry night sky pondering their place in the universe, contemplating the grim possibility that their love for one another will die with them someday, but ultimately choosing to be enchanted by the idea that their love will somehow transcend death.
  • The fifth movement is a scherzo.  I imagine it as the piano improvisations of a Liszt-ian pianist who took a few shots before sitting at the piano, but it must sound like complete madness to other listeners.  A moment of lighthearted relief in an otherwise brooding sonata.
  • The sixth movement begins with the “death” of our protagonist.  The triplet patterns of the first movement return with greater urgency as fragments of melody from preceding movements appear like memories as a person’s life flashes before their eyes.  Ultimately, our protagonist breaths their final breath and finds themselves at the gates of heaven.  A line of people stand before an angel behind a lectern as she reviews her book to see whether they are judged worthy of acceptance into heaven.  The protagonist, perhaps a decent enough person in life, but who did not identify with a religious faith, is left to speculate nervously as to whether their name will appear in the book.  After the first two individuals are both accepted into heaven and embraced by angels, the protagonist steps up to the angel to learn their fate.  The angel solemnly shakes her head.  The protagonist is not in the book.  A chasm opens up.  Demons swarm and violently drag the protagonist within.
  • The seventh movement continues without pause after the sixth movement, depicting the protagonist’s harrowing arrival in hell.  Winged demons carry the frightened protagonist into its depths.  The protagonist witnesses the hellfire and torture across the landscape.  A forced march at the hands of imps leads the protagonist into a circle of fire as the imps mock and ridicule, even doing a grotesque parody of a love theme from the third movement.  They proceed to brand their pitchforks with hellfire and torture the protagonist, who desperately and hopeless attempts to escape.  After a quiet moment of lamentation, the sonata ends in pandemonium, perhaps suggesting the onset of madness within our unfortunate protagonist.

 Though I’m not religious at this point in my life, I was raised as a Christian.  As a child, I was terrified of the concept of Hell and eternal damnation.  I wanted to end the sonata by essentially attempting to compose an old Christian vision of Hell that might have scared me as a child, even if it might appear a bit bombastic and over-the-top from an adult perspective.  The last couple of movements aren’t intended to criticize or parody any religion; I only sought to revisit some of those childhood feelings.

The individual movements can be found here:

Mvt. 1: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/piano-sonata-no-1-in-g-minor-6?in=user-871866847/sets/piano-sonata-no-7-in-g-minor
Mvt. 2: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/piano-sonata-no-1-in-g-minor-5?in=user-871866847/sets/piano-sonata-no-7-in-g-minor
Mvt. 3: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/piano-sonata-no-1-in-g-minor-4?in=user-871866847/sets/piano-sonata-no-7-in-g-minor
Mvt. 4: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/piano-sonata-no-1-in-g-minor-3?in=user-871866847/sets/piano-sonata-no-7-in-g-minor
Mvt. 5: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/piano-sonata-no-1-in-g-minor-2?in=user-871866847/sets/piano-sonata-no-7-in-g-minor
Mvt. 6: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/piano-sonata-no-1-in-g-minor-1?in=user-871866847/sets/piano-sonata-no-7-in-g-minor
Mvt. 7: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/piano-sonata-no-1-in-g-minor?in=user-871866847/sets/piano-sonata-no-7-in-g-minor

I hope to hear your feedback, even if just for a single movement!

Offline classicalgeek

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    Anything from Baroque to the present day - but orchestral music written after about 1870 is my "sweet spot"!
Re: Hammerklavier's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #2 on: October 07, 2021, 03:16:45 PM »
Thank you for sharing! To start, I listened to several moments from your Sonata no. 7, and I heard many influences: Ravel and Debussy in the first movement, Beethoven and Mozart in the second, Prokofiev in the seventh. I listened to bits and pieces of your others - in Sonata no. 1 I heard echoes of Beethoven's op. 10 no. 1 and op. 13 in the same key; in your early sonatas in general I hear a lot of Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert. It's apparent in your latest Sonata your style has evolved!

I don't know your background in music theory or counterpoint, but if you're interested in developing further as a composer, I'd recommend you pick up some books on both those subjects, just to deepen your knowledge. Alan Belkin (Canadian composer) also has a very helpful YouTube channel where he gives 'lessons' in harmony, counterpoint, compositional craft, orchestration, and other subjects:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUQ0TcIbY_VEk_KC406pRpg

I wish you the best of luck in your journey - keep on writing music, whether it's just for yourself or you hope to reach a wider audience. Thank you for sharing your work!
So much great music, so little time...

Offline Hammerklavier

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Re: Hammerklavier's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2021, 04:41:07 PM »
Hey classicalgeek, thanks for listening and for the encouragement!  You definitely live up to the name, as I would largely agree with the list of influences you provided.  When preparing to work on the seventh movement of the seventh sonata, I actually made a point of studying Prokofiev's Diabolical Suggestion (along with piano transcriptions of Stravinsky's Danse Infernale from the Firebird and Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, among a few others).

I'm always interested in growing as a composer, so I'll check out that Youtube link you provided.

Offline Hammerklavier

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Re: Hammer's Humble Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2022, 08:25:10 AM »
I've returned with a new piano sonata, my eighth!  [Cue the crickets and a few despondent groans]

This one is shorter and less programmatic than the seventh, as it contains two movements and clocks in around sixteen minutes.

While both movements are in the key of E Major, I sought to make them contrast with one another. 

The first movement is a passive, intimate, dreamlike rumination with sudden distant key changes and changing time signatures.  I was attempting to tap into something subconscious, like music one might hear as they're beginning to fall asleep.  Between the two movements, I think this one suffers the most from the Garritan library playback, as it would benefit from an actual human interpreting its sudden tonal shifts.  At least I like to think a human pianist could make it sound coherent to other listeners the way it does in my head, but it's much more likely that I'm just a bit screwy in thinking this is acceptable-sounding music.  It is in sonata form with three subjects (though the second subject is partially an inverted version of the first subject)

The second movement has more "flow" to it.  It is less meandering and uncertain, more grounded, more resolute and probably a bit more traditional in its compositional technique.

Here's the playlist for this sonata: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/sets/piano-sonata-no-8-in-e-major

Your feedback is appreciated!  I think I need to continue to improve at pretty much everything, especially forming good transitional passages between themes, writing interesting melodies and creating satisfying counterpoint, but feel free to suggest any other areas for improvement.

Offline krummholz

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Re: Hammer's Humble Piano Sonatas
« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2022, 07:08:17 PM »
I have to say that I didn't find even the sudden key changes in the first movement to be all that jarring, and quite in keeping with the rather Schumannesque, early to middle Romantic idiom. I'll let others more familiar with the idiom critique the compositional aspects, but overall it sounded quite traditional to me, and the harmonic language sounded quite reasonable and understandable. Some of the voice leading in the first movement in the more chordal passages sounded a bit eccentric to me, but otherwise I don't have much to say about it.

I agree that it would be nice to hear this played by an actual pianist.

Offline Hammerklavier

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Re: Hammer's Humble Piano Sonatas
« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2022, 05:49:38 AM »
Thanks for the feedback krummholz!  I may have oversold the "sudden key changes" a bit.  The exposition travels through a few keys that aren't particularly close to one another (E Major to A Minor to Bb Major and back to E Major) , but the music probably transitions between the key changes a bit more gradually in some cases than I actually intended when I began working on it.

Offline Hammerklavier

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Re: Hammer's Humble Piano Sonatas
« Reply #7 on: May 31, 2022, 11:05:10 AM »
My ninth sonata is now complete.  This is my shortest to date, clocking in at a little over ten minutes. 

I continue to work within traditional forms using a mostly classical/romantic diatonic language.  Despite this, I'm determined to avoid becoming too repetitive, and to continue smuggling in more 20th century concepts from time to time.

The first movement is in sonata form, with a gruff, agitated first subject and a more colorful and lyrical second subject.

The second movement is a lullaby in ternary form.

The third movement is in sonata form, returning to the Bb minor tonic of the first movement.  It is a sort of madcap dance: relentless, virtuosic and perhaps a bit playful in a grim sort of way.

As always, I'd love to hear your feedback!  What am I doing well (if anything  ;)), and what do I need to improve on?

Mvt. 1: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/sonata-9-mvt-1

Mvt. 2: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/sonata-9-mvt-2

Mvt. 3: https://soundcloud.com/user-871866847/sonata-9-mvt-3