Paul Dukas' Piano Sonata -- a testamentary work in the Grand Manner completed and first performed in 1901 -- looks searchingly back to Beethoven's last sonatas in seriousness and structure, though its richly textured, chromatically inflected writing is beholden to Franck, whose own great piano works were similarly Beethoven-inspired. To Vincent d'Indy, the preeminent inheritor of Franck's legacy, Dukas' sonata loomed as a stumbling block in an uneasy friendship, for, while always cordially correct in his relations with Dukas, the rabidly anti-Semitic d'Indy could not forget the former's Jewish ancestry. To accept the sonata, d'Indy strained, in his influential Cours de Composition, to find "cyclical" elements in it -- a claim refuted by examination. Eventually, Dukas' sonata came to require an answer, a chef d'oeuvre, exemplifying for all time a perfect model of organic development. The death of his wife in 1905, and the composition of his orchestral elegy celebrating their marriage, Souvenirs, delayed the project. His Sonata in E was completed in 1907 and given its premiere by its dedicatee, Blanche Selva, January 18, 1908. Critical reaction has been mixed, Cortot censuring it severely and Laurence Davies sounding the predominant view of the work as "Willfully erudite in structure...a system-built undertaking...." This applies, if at all, only to the first movement, an intricately over-rich set of four variations. A fanfare-like rappel à l'ordre ushers in an elaborate introduction, rife with teasing allusions to thematic materials later to blossom, before yielding simplement to the slowly arching and falling primary theme whose tortuously unfolding transformations end in a curiously wan mutatum restatement. Set off by the animated third variation, it has the effect of an intense meditation -- ruminative, memory-rife -- exercised with consummate contrapuntal art and rhythmic resourcefulness. The second movement, "Très animé," is a brief but volatile scherzo, with two trios, evoking a manic plein air frolic. Fronted by yet another pithy but seemingly distracted introduction, the third movement recasts the materials of the foregoing in sonata first-movement form to reveal them in their most Romantic guise -- playful, passionate, dovetailing with a loving allusion to the Waldweben of Wagner's Siegfried, and soaring Très large et puissant to a grandiose affirmation sweeping the melodic oddments of the work together in large strokes, concluding in an elegiac afterglow. D'Indy's elaborately articulate writing calls for a pianist of the first rank. If his unique melding of the sensuous and cerebral continues to appeal mainly to connoisseurs, his sonata is nevertheless a worthy rival to Dukas'.
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Description by Adrian Corleonis
- Très animé