The Origin of Themes (Piano Sonata No. 4)

My Piano Sonata No. 4 is a single-movement work, a little over 26 minutes in length, in sonata-allegro form.  Within the development, there is some suggestion of incipient additional movements, including a lyrical slow section, a march, a diabolical waltz, and a climactic fugue.  Yet there is a unity to the whole sequence, achieved in part through the device of thematic transformation.  All the significant themes derive from a germinal phrase stated in the first four bars, which starts with a distinctive chromatic rise from A through B-flat to B-natural, then rises upward by two more steps and then a skip, and finally descends to form an arch shape.

At the conclusion of the dark, brooding, and increasingly turbulent D minor introduction, the principal theme emerges in a passionate, joyful D major at bar 31 (around 2:10 in the score video at the bottom of this post), and its initial phrase is a major-key variant of the germinal arch phrase.  Note that the skip up to the top note has now expanded to a fifth.

This theme is repeated in a quieter, lyrical guise at bar 40 (around 2:57).

The exposition closes with a capriccioso section (bar 66, 4:48) whose theme is a playful version of the germinal phrase.

The beginning of the development (bar 184, 6:10) uses material from the sonata’s introduction, eventually ushering in a cantabile melody (bar 215, 7:58).  In this melody the germinal phrase is inverted into an upside-down arch that begins with a chromatic descent instead of an ascent.

Beginning at bar 237 (10:08), the original arch shape reappears, and the two shapes vie for dominance.  The germinal phrase appears in several more guises, including a march theme (bar 253, 11:50)…

…a fantastical waltz (bar 340, 14:37)…

…and the subject for a fugue (bar 441, 16:43)…

The fugue rises to a dramatic climax at bar 510 (18:25).  Beginning at bar 516, material from the introduction reappears in a crescendo to the recapitulation, with the principal theme returning triumphantly at bar 529 (19:43).

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