Sonatas for Piano

Piano and two channels of tape playback (1987) 

Commissioned by Eric Parkin with funds from Greater London Arts


"The instinctive and progressive interest of every man in art will go on and on……until the day will come when every man while digging his own potatoes will breathe his own epics; and as he sits of an evening in his backyard...watching his brave children in their fun of building their themes for their sonatas of their life, he will hear the transcendental strains of the day's symphony resounding in their many choirs”

Postface to 114 Songs by Charles Ives

In the sense of that quotation, Sonatas for Piano is about memories both recent and distant. It requires two channels of tape playback made by the pianist beforehand. In the Prelude, alternating legato and staccato textures are closely echoed in both tapes, leading directly to the longest section called Trance. Self-contained pieces of music filter in through the speakers - first a low sustained Dirge, then - high up - a quasi-Mozart piece which was part of an actual dream I had in 1979. These are followed by a blues transformation of the Dirge, over a staccato bass, and a transcription of the Dream piece in the style of the British novelty pianist and composer Billy Mayerl. These different layers are superimposed in various patterns to reach a climax in the third section, Confrontations. The tapes now take over the decoration which the live piano had developed during the Trance section high up at the top of the keyboard. The live player comes to terms with these memories at first violently and gradually softer. Finally, in the slow Epilogue the tapes have disappeared and the Dirge and the Dream are superimposed live.

Sonatas was premiered by Eric Parkin at the Wigmore Hall on 26 June 1987 and recorded by him on Peter Dickinson: Pianos Voices and Brass (Albany TROY760, 2005) – taken from a BBC Radio 3 broadcast from St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, on 4 October 1988.

© 2008-24 Estate of Peter Dickinson