The Art of Marc-André Hamelin Episode 7

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On this episode: Marc-André Hamelin performs piano sonatas of Eckhardt-Gramatté and Dukas.

Marc-André Hamelin: Eckhardt-Gramatté The 6 Piano Sonatas

English: To identify and illustrate Sophie Car...
English: To identify and illustrate Sophie Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté (1899–1974) in article Sophie Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Piano Sonata No. 1, E. 45 (1923)

I. Allegro moderato [0:00]
II. Andante [3:39]
III. Allegro [8:53]

This sonata was Eckhardt-Gramatté's first large-scale piece for solo piano. At this stage in her career, Eckhardt-Gramatté had not pursued any significant training in music theory or composition (this did not occur for another fourteen years); but despite her lack of formal instruction, this sonata contains many interesting contrapuntal and harmonic devices. A bright, confident and highly spontaneous work (despite the despair expressed in the composer's letters at the time), the sonata displays Russian and French influences, and its contrapuntal texture is derived from the Baroque two-part invention. Despite its heritage, the sonata unmistakably belongs among the piano works of early twentieth-century modernism. Eckhardt-Gramatté's unconventionally fluid conception of harmony and tonality is evident from the numerous modulations and shifts in key signature - in the last movement alone, the key signature changes sixteen times. The sonata demands vast technical abilities, with numerous hand-crossing arpeggios, leaps, scales in double thirds and similar techniques developed by the virtuoso pianist-composers of the 19th century.

Piano Sonata No. 2, E. 46, "Die Biscaya Sonate" (1923)

I. Landscape: Lento ma non troppo [0:00]
II. Storm: Allegro risoluto [5:22]
III. Lonesome Biscaya after the storm: Andante [11:27]
IV. Final (El Puerto): Allegro [19:08]

The second sonata by Eckhardt-Gramatté has four programmatic movements. The first, "Landscape", is a calm opening which increasingly becomes punctuated by dissonances and surges. The turbulent second movement, "Storm", is probably a reflection of the troubles the composer experienced with her husband living as artists in inter-war Berlin. This is followed by a serene maritime vision, which was most likely conceived during Eckhardt-Gramatté's travels in northern Spain. The jubilant, exotic "Final" depicts a lively Spanish seaport. Eckhardt-Gramatté performed the sonata in Berlin in October, 1924 at a concert sponsored by Steinway, which was attended by many of the leading German musical luminaries. Hugo Leichtentritt reported in the 'Musical Courier', "The piano sonata shows Sonia Fridman in the full possession of all modern achievements, but besides she has the precious gift of melodic invention, freshness of ideas, and outbursts of passionate energy which inflames the listeners. She is the exact counterpart of Krenek, and, in my opinion, incomparably stronger musically."

Piano Sonata No. 3, E. 52 (1924)

I. Lento - Allegro ma non troppo [0:00]
II. Ländlicher Tanz (Rondo): Vivo e marcato [11:38]
III. Krönung: Largo sostenuto [17:06]
IV. Spanischer Tanz "Villa rosa": Lebhaft rhythmisch [22:46]

In January 1925, Eckhardt-Gramatté's husband Walter Gramatté described how his wife began working on her third sonata: " our little house [here]. Sonia got a Steinway put in her room immediately and away she went. From the very first day on she worked like a slave, I can hardly understand that. She gets up at 6.30 a.m. when the milkman comes, by 7 o'clock she is already at work, and she works until 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. She has written a very beautiful new piano sonata, and now she has a concert programme in her fingers..."

The lengthy first movement is the longest in Eckhardt-Gramatté's piano oeuvre. She develops and works over musical ideas comprehensively and persistently, focusing particularly on the ends of musical phrases, which become unraveled and stretched to their limits in a highly original manner. Although she usually disdained displays of virtuosity for its own sake, within the free, impulsive structure of this sonata, Eckhardt-Gramatté allowed herself to explore the distant reaches of her giant technique. This is particularly evident in the dazzling second movement rondo, which Eckhardt-Gramatté occasionally used as an encore or stand-alone concert piece (calling it a "Polish Dance"). The middle section of the rondo contains a solemn, somewhat nostalgic Mazurka, but the movement also has music in Spanish and Russian styles. In fact, for a 1935 performance Eckhardt-Gramatté programmed the sonata as a "Russian Suite", omitting the final movement and switching the places of the second and third. The dramatic slow third movement, marked "Krönung" ("Coronation"), is followed by a vivacious, highly rhythmic Spanish dance.

Piano Sonata No. 4, E. 68 "Die Befreite Sonate" (1927-31)

I. Allegro agitato e con fuoco [0:00]
II. Nocturne "Hommage à Chopin": Lento [12:35]
III. La Corrida de ratas del campo: Prestissimo e molto preciso [21:20]
IV. Preciso [24:24]

The Fourth Sonata, also called "Die Befreite" ("The Liberated") or "Meine Hulele Sonate" ("Hulele" was a sobriquet of Walter Gramatté, the dedicatee), was composed at the height of Eckhardt-Gramatté's concertizing career, when she performed with Leopold Stokowski in America. At the same time, her husband suffered a long illness and died an early death from tuberculosis. Accordingly, it encompasses a remarkably vast range of emotions. Its rich harmonic palette and mystical atmosphere was undoubtedly influenced by some of the darker works of Alexander Scriabin. The stormy opening of the first movement is immersed in angst and pain, and it leads to a slower development section that is no less tense and anxious. The delicate second movement nocturne, an homage to Fryderyk Chopin, maintains the passion of the first movement throughout its lightest and heaviest textures. The remarkable third movement called "La corrida de ratas del campo" ("The rats race in the field") begins as a toccata for the left hand alone, with the right hand joining the left only on the last page. The finale, marked "preciso", retains the dark harmonic palette of the previous movements, but stylistically it resembles the early Romantic piano works of Carl Maria von Weber.

Piano Sonata No. 5, E. 126 "Klavierstück" (1950)

I. Mässig, jedoch lustiges Tempo, grotesk, rhythmisch [0:00]
II. Ruhiger, frei fantasierend, klangsinnlich und nicht schleppend [4:18]
III. Vivo ma non troppo [8:13]

Eckhardt-Gramatté's Fifth Sonata, composed on commission from the International Society for Contemporary Music, was premiered in Vienna in January, 1951. It was a breakthrough for the Eckhardt-Gramatté - her first solo piano composition to be widely performed by multiple pianists of international reputation. The sonata was primarily constructed around a twelve-note theme; the work represents one of the composer's first essays in a new more formal, partly serial technique. Later, she described her new approach as "intervalist", explaining: "We know that an interval is the space between two given notes; all notes found, heard, played in between that interval are so-called 'filler notes' [...] and which should never be rhythmically stressed." Although conceived as an atonal work, the chromatic contrapuntal lines in the sonata are constructed as a linear succession of vertical polytonal harmonies. There are three distinct movements demarcated in the score, but the sonata is effectively continuous, with material from the first movement reappearing in the third, resulting in a "ring form". The first movement is built around a tonal "main" theme and a twelve-tone "side" theme, which are reworked and woven together in a dense and highly contrapuntal development section. The development of initial musical ideas is interrupted by ponderous bell-chime effects leading to a free, somewhat unstable, chorale-like section where bar-lines have been entirely abandoned (Eckhardt-Gramatté used to tell her students that bar-lines often interrupt musical phrases). New, more tonal thematic material forms the basis of this slow second movement. The final movement is effectively a set of brief variations with a finale, based on the "side" theme of the first movement, with the finale serving as a miniature recapitulation of the whole first movement.

Piano Sonata No. 6, E. 130 "Drei Klavierstücke" (1951-52)

I. For the left hand alone: Prestissimo, e molto preciso [0:00]
II. For the right hand alone: Lustig und mit Witz [3:36]
III. For both hands: Vivo assai e marcato [8:20]

Apart from an abandoned first movement of a projected Seventh Sonata, this is Eckhardt-Gramatté's last piano sonata. The American pianist Andrew Heath approached Eckhardt-Gramatté in Vienna in 1951 about including one of her compositions in a recital. For a number of years, at the suggestion of pianist Robert Wallenborn, the mostly left-hand third movement from the Fourth Sonata (called "La corrida de ratas del campo") had been paired a piece for right hand alone. Jokingly, Heath suggested that she superimpose the two pieces, combining them as a single work. Eckhardt-Gramatté took him at his word, composed a piece for the right hand to pair with "La corrida", and created the present sonata. (In the end, Heath decided to play the Fifth Sonata at his recital instead.) Eckhardt-Gramatté undertook this project partly to prove that she could compose a piece for the right hand alone, which is considerably more difficult than writing for the left hand because of the absence of the thumb in the top voice. The first movement is a perpertuo mobile toccata in F sharp minor for the left hand alone, which creates a rather grotesque, macabre impression, and the second is an even more bizarre and impulsive free atonal fantasy for the right hand alone. In the third movement, Eckhardt-Gramatté successfully combined the two contrapuntally by slightly extending one measure to allow the other hand to catch up, or almost imperceptibly shifting a few pitches to maintain the desired harmonies. The sonata is brought to a close with a tumultuous coda, which combines the final bars of the first two movements with the effect that both hands move apart symmetrically until they reach the topmost and lowermost notes of the piano (the low A and high C).


Born Sonia Fridman-Kochevskaya in Moscow in 1899, Eckhardt-Gramatté quickly displayed prodigious musical talent as a child. She enrolled in the Conservatoire National in 1908 to study piano, violin and composition (her teachers included Vincent d'Indy and Camille Chevillard), eventually moving to Berlin to study with the Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman. In 1920, she married the German expressionist painter Walter Gramatté, with whom she lived in Spain for nearly three years, taking the name Sonia Friedman-Gramatté. Her experience in Spain profoundly affected her musical development. After the death of her husband in 1929, which was quickly followed by a successful concert tour in America with Leopold Stokowski, she returned to Germany and devoted herself entirely to composition. In 1934, she married the art critic Ferdinand Eckhardt, with whom she moved to Vienna in 1939. From then on, she took the name Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté. In 1950, she was awarded the Austrian State Prize for Composition. Three years later, she moved to Canada with her husband, who was appointed Director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Increasingly successful as a composer and performer of her own piano works, Eckhardt-Gramatté was honoured in 1974 by a two-hour CBC radio documentary about her life and music. Her death occurred on December 2, 1974, while on a trip to Stuttgart, and she was buried in East Berlin.

Marc-André Hamelin: Paul Dukas's epic Piano Sonata, Live.

English: Paul Dukas (1865-1935), French composer.
English: Paul Dukas (1865-1935), French composer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Marc-André Hamelin says: "The style in itself is very close to Franck's harmonic and emotional world, but it is much more extended than anything Franck ever wrote for the piano. We should feel lucky enough that Dukas gave up this really wonderful edifice of a work. I really see it as a cathedral, almost. It is quite long - about 45 minutes - and it could be thought as the first great piano sonata of the twentieth century.

The first movement is a very brooding Moderato in E-flat minor - dark writing devoid of optimism.

The second movement is in simple ABA form, although the development is quite extensive. There's more and more ornamentation and filling out of the texture as the movement progresses. It starts in quarter notes, moves to triplets, and graduates to sextuplets at the recapitulation. It has a beautifully harmonious texture. Someone once characterized it
 as being something like a man gathering
experience throughout a lifetime.

English: Paul Dukas - Père Lachaise - Paris Fr...
English: Paul Dukas - Père Lachaise - Paris Français : Tombe de Paul Dukas - Cimetière du Père Lachaise - Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Then we come to the Scherzo, also in ABA form, which features an alternating-hands martellato technique in the A section. This movement contains not only the most remarkable part of the work, but also one of the strangest passages in the entire piano literature. The music slows down in the B section; the trio, a fugato, is sempre pianissimo. It is so tonally tenuous as to strongly suggest atonality, and it is terrifying, macabre music. I really find no equal to this passage in almost the entire literature. Then, reassuringly, the A section comes back.

The fourth movement has a lengthy introduction, briefly quoting the Hammerklavier Sonata. The grand, heroic finale has many beautiful and memorable themes that bring the work to a close in an optimistic blaze of glory."

Previously on The Art of Marc-André Hamelin:
Alkan Sonatine Ep.6
Alkan Symphony for solo piano Ep.6
Alkan Adagio, Op.39 No.9; Live in New York. Ep.6
Alkan Allegretto alla barbaresca, Op.39 No.10; Live in New York. '96 Ep.6
Alkan Allegro Assai, from the Concerto for Solo Piano Op.39; Live '96 New York. Ep.6
Alkan Concerto da Camera in A Minor, Op. 10 No. 1 , BBC Scotish Symphony, Martyn Brabbins. Ep.6
Alkan Trois morceaux dans le genre pathetique, op. 15. Ep.6
Alkan Concerto for Solo piano Mvt. 3 Ep.6
Alkan 3 Grandes Études, op. 76 No. 1, "Fantasy in A flat major" for the left hand alone. Live  Ep.6
Alkan 3 Grandes Études, op. 76 No. 2, "Theme, Variations & Finale" for the right hand alone. Live Ep.6
Alkan 3 Grandes Études, op. 76 No. 3, "Rondo Toccata in C" for hands reunited. Live Ep.6
Alkan Nocturne in B major, op. 22, performed by Marc-André Hamelin, live in Paris, 2008. Ep.6
Alkan Sonatine Mvt. 4 Ep.6
Alkan transcription of the Andante from Haydn's Surprise Symphony Ep.6
Bach Gigue from French Suite 5 Ep.4
Busoni Piano Concerto in C Major, Two Performances. Conductors: Osmo Vänskä, Mark Elder Ep.2
Bach-Busoni Chaconne Ep.2
Bach, C.P.E. Sonata in A, W.55 No. 4 Ep.4
Beethoven Piano Sonatas 31 and 32 Live Ep.4
Beethoven/Alkan Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor Ep.6
Berg Piano Sonata Op 1 Ep.4
Bridge, Frank 3 lovely Poems for piano Ep.4
Catoire Cinq morceaux op. 10 No. 1 'Prelude' Ep.5
Catoire Cinq morceaux op. 10 No. 2 'Prélude' Ep.5
Catoire Cinq morceaux op. 10 No. 3 'Capriccioso' Ep.5
Catoire Cinq morceaux op. 10 No. 4 'Rêverie' Ep.5
Catoire Cinq morceaux op. 10 No. 5 'Légende' Ep.5
Catoire Poeme, op. 34 No. 2 Ep.5
Catoire Prelude, op. 34 No. 3 Ep.5
Catoire Valse, op. 36 Ep.5
Catoire Vision 'Etude' op. 8 Ep.5
Chaminade, Cécile Theme and Variations Ep.5
Chopin Ballade No.1 in G minor Op.23. Rec.1997 Ep.5
Chopin Ballade No.3. Les Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad, Switzerland. 2009. Ep.5
Chopin Ballade No. 4, live in concert. Ep.5
Chopin Souvenir de Paganini. Fabulous live performance. Ep.5
Chopin Triple Etude Ep.5
Chopin-Godowsky Studies 3/14. Nalen, Stockholm, Sweden. 2003. Ep.5
Chopin-Godowsky Study No. 1 in C major from Op. 10, No. 1 Ep.5
Chopin-Godowsky Study No. 13 in E-flat minor for left hand from Op. 10, No. 6 Ep.5
Chopin-Godowsky Etude op. 25 No. 12 'Ocean' for the left hand alone Ep.5
Chopin-Godowsky Etudes (Selections) Ep.5
Chopin-Godowsky Nouvelle Etude No. 1 (for the left hand alone) Ep.5
Chopin-Godowsky Nouvelle Etudes, No.2 in E-major Ep.5
Confrey, Zez  Kitten on the keys, live at Husum festival. Ep.3
Copland Piano Variations Ep.6
Debussy Preludes Book II, No. 6 "General Lavine", Live Ep.6
Debussy Reflets dans l'eau ("Reflections in the Water") Ep.6
Gershwin Songbook, 18 Songs Live. Transcribed for piano by the composer himself. Ep.6
Godowsky The Gardens of Buitenzorg Ep.3
Godowsky Symphonic Metamorphosis on Die Fledermaus Ep.5
Godowsky Prelude and Fugue on B.A.C.H, for the left hand alone Ep.5
Godowsky left-handed study on Chopin - Etude Op.10 No.6 es-moll Ep.5
Gnattali, Radamés 3 Chorôs Ep.3
Grainger Fantasy on Gershwin's Porgy and Bess Ep.4
Grainger Colonial Song,  Live concert recording. Ep.4
Grainger Country Gardens Ep.4
Grainger Irish Dance No. 1, March Jig 'Maguire's Kick' Ep.4
Grainger Irish Dance No. 4, 'A Reel' Ep.4
Grainger Ramble on Love from Rosenkavalier Ep.4
Grainger Scotch Strathspey Ep.4
Grainger The Gum-Suckers March Ep.4
Hamelin, Marc-André: Supervirtuoso, Documentary Ep.1
Hamelin plays Hamelin Ep.1
Hamelin plays Hamelin: Etude No. 11 'Minuetto', Etude No. 2 'Coma Berenices', Etude 7, Live Ep.3
Korngold Piano Concerto for the left hand, Osmo Vänskä, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Ep.5
Liszt Recital, New York Ep.1
Liszt Hugarian Rhapsody 2 Ep.3
Medek Battaglia alla turca Ep.4
Mozart Sonata in C major K. 545 Ep.3
Ravel Scarbo from Gaspard de la nuit Ep.2
Saint-Saens Africa Ep.2
Saint-Saens Piano Concertos 2,4,5; Conductors: Yan Pascal Tortelier, Steven Sloane Ep.2
Saint-Saens-Godowsky The Swan. Nalen, Stockholm, 2003. Ep.5
Schnittke Concerto for piano and strings, Hamelin/Scott Yoo Ep.2
Solfeggietto a Cinque, for player piano Ep.3
Strauss Cello Sonata, Hamelin and Rolland Ep.2
Strauss-Godowsky - Symphonic Metamorphosis on "Wine, Women and Song" Ep.5
Villa-Lobos Rudepoema Ep.2