Six Neoclassical Sonatas

For Recorder and Piano

Per mia carissima sposa

The origin of these six sonatas goes back to March 2020, the outbreak of covid, and my wife`s and my confinement to our home. We had become a bit tired of playing baroque music and – in view of her birthday five months later – I decided to write a sonata for her. This completely private motivation explains the character of the pieces as to their affectionate tone, reminiscences of former compositions, harmonization, difficulties etc. ... and lack of “showiness”. A great effort was applied to the interlude of the partners and to variety and consistency ... and, in fact, as to the two of us at least, these six sonatas have proved to be quite resistant to wear and tear.

The overall character of these sonatas could be described as “epic”. This does not only refer to the number of movements, which is four instead of the traditional three, but also to their relative lengths.

“Epic” in so far as the first and last movement of these sonatas do not develop motives or themes dynamically, full of conflict and drama and so are aiming at an impressive conclusion (though much care has been given to creating memorable codas for all movements). They resemble rather voyages through a gentle, rolling countryside where the travel itself is the “destination”, bare of extremes, but rewarding through their many colourful variations and rediscoveries.

In this line the third movement of each sonata is not the traditional Minuet with Trio but a Siciliano, otherwise called “Pastorale”, which means “Shepherd’s tune”, the instrument of which since baroque times is in fact the recorder.

Corresponding to the gentle mood of the composition the parts avoid extreme registers and extreme tempi.

The second movements are in so far exceptions as they present moments of rest, reflection and introspection. They are often transposed from my orchestral compositions, in order to “bring them home” to our music making, so to speak.

To those who are willing to “embark” on this music I wish pleasant and edifying “voyages”.

Hartwig Riedl

Sonata N° 1 in C-Major

Cover Design: Beate Riedl & Nicola Lee

This simple, tender and affectionate theme of I. Moderato  is meant to set the tone for the whole of these six sonatas and is much in line with the general remarks at the beginning: it does not crave for publicity but is happily content within its little world where its variant in minor does not mean drama but simply a nice little colouring.

The A-section of II. Andante  is a quite faithful replica of the slow movement of my suite for flute and strings, whose real origins date back to my late teens when I raved about Sidney Bichet and hits like "Petite Fleur" and "Autumn Leaves". I bought a third-hand clarinet taught myself a bit and and composed among others this piece in the same melancholic mood. The B-section is new. Apart from its “refreshing” change of key and into major, it is the descending bass in the piano which must be very dominant in order to give this interlude a bit more character.

After the melancolic second movement, III. Siciliano  reverts to that positive C-Major of the first movement with an innocent, easy-going little theme, which soon, mischieviously, turns into E-Major which, for a recorder in F is a bit of a challenge. But the pianist, too, must sort of wake up here to master the counter-rhythms in both hands. Soon these "dire straights" are overcome and we return to the initial idyllic "pastures". A gentle coda where recorder and the piano’s right hand descend in sixths ends this bucolic movement.

After the “sprightly” (thanks for the term, dear Wordsworth!) beginning of IV. Capriccio, the Ab-Major episode should be played very legato  and possibly a bit slower.

The F-Major section meno mosso  must be played in a complete new, very slow tempo so that its harmonic “bliss” can be fully enjoyed. The ensuing piano solo is a cheeky new interpretation of the sprightly theme, but here in 6/8-time, where the quavers (eighth notes) have the same tempo of those from the theme at the beginning.

The coda features a short allusion to a nostalgic German good-night-and-fare-well song and needs “space”. It ends with a hint at a well-known children’s song about that iconic bird announcing spring.

Sonata N° 2 in D-Minor

Cover Design: Beate Riedl & Nicola Lee

Set in sober D-Minor, I. Allegro  starts with a resolute marching theme, whose short extension into its major (!) subdominant adds a slightly archaic modal connotation. After a sequential repetition of this theme in the corresponding major the piano throws in a rather gruff sequence, gruff because of its obstinate pedal-point in the treble.

As an answer, the recorder repeats the marching theme in a dotted rhythm thus interpreting it more positively. Follows a repetition of the gruff interjection plus another one joined by the recorder. It is sequentially developed and leads to the sonata's second theme in the traditional major parallel key (C).

Follows the idyllic central episode in crystalline A-major. The reprise then presents the acquired material in changed constellations mainly in the key of C (major or minor), in which this movement ends.

II. Andante  in sweet B major is literally taken from the Latin pop-cantata "Copa Surisca" (text after Vergil), which I (then 18 years) composed at public school for my final musical examination. It is a tenor solo accompanied by a guitar and a recorder. It goes. "Sunt et(iam) Cecropio violae de flore corollae sertaque purpurea lutea mixta" , which is: "(Here) are wreaths of violets from Athens and garlands of mixed lilies and roses". The recorder introduces the melody and when the tenor begins (i.e. the piano's right hand) it enters a lively counterpoint. The B section in transparent D-Major is new. It wants a clearly accentuated left hand in the piano.

III. Siciliano  starts with an introductory quite fluent Andante which ends in G7, the dominant of C in which the proper Siciliano, a cheerful pastoral, is set. The B section is a variant in C-Minor which only slightly tinges the general cheerfulness.

With IV. Allegretto  do we return to D-Minor. The theme consists of nervously insisting ascending repetitions of the recorder, countered by a descending line of thirds in the piano, this line is harmonized in the traditional Spanish "Flamenco-way" and - in different variations - is the dominant element of this movement. The coda comes as an increasingly aggressive variation of the first bar - appeased only by the final chord in D-Major.

Sonata N° 3 in C-Minor

Cover Design: Beate Riedl & Nicola Lee

The three opening chords of I. Largo - Moderato  echo the closing chords of the preceding sonata and introduce a melancholic introduction – as befits a piece in this dark-hued key. The ensuing Moderato part then surprises with a lively, cheerful section – to put it metaphorically: morning mist has risen and has given way to a sunny day represented by an ascending, light-hearted theme. At bar 56 a rude motif in D-Minor cuts in – only to lead to a seraphic middle section in pure D-Major. Then things become rude again, are followed by a reprise of the light-hearted beginning. Since bar 169, a substantial coda closes this movement.

The intimate, meditative II. Nachtlied  (Nightsong) is a challenge for the flutist's breath control and demands utmost delicacy from the pianist. It is a piece about doubt, insecurity, introspection and consolation. Since bar 23 the slower(!) tempo per crotchet (quarter note) assures that the appearance of semiquavers (eighths notes) does not lead to the impression of double tempo, which would be far too fast. As to harmonization, compare bars 21 and 79: the change from a  to g#  must be most prominent. In the end the recurrent motive of doubt is enhanced by "brutal" rests and must not be softened in any way. The final Larghissimo, un poco forte  is constituent for a positive conclusion.

III. Siciliano  comes as a cheerful relief from the preceding movement; only the piano seems again and again sick of mimicking a lively brook in this pastoral idyll. The other-wordly middle section in E-Major needs space and may well be introduced by a general rest.

Formally the beginning of IV. Finale  echoes the first movement. Whenever we play this sonata, my wife and I take great delight in the swinging, "bluesy" middle section, whose last part in treble C-Major needs a hearty forte  in the piano. The coda is set in powerful C-Minor. The "iconic" three chords conclude this sonata in soothing (not more than
mezzoforte !) C-Major.

Sonata N° 4 in A-Minor

Cover Design: Beate Riedl & Nicola Lee

Within this cycle of six sonatas, N° 4 with its five movements may be regarded as the most substantial one, not only for its length but also for its emotional content.

The first two bars in I. Andante - Moderato  are set in archaic pure minor; an upward scale in the recorder is countered by a fully harmonized descending scale in the piano's right hand. The next two bars echo this motive in harmonic minor. A third apparition of this linear motive changes into G7 and thus leads to a cheerful Moderato  in C-Major with frequent detours into A – minor or major. In the middle of this movement we find relief in the recorder's home key F and though the constructive descending linear motive re-appears the general character is completely different. The reprise consists of Moderato  and Andante  in inverted order. The dramatic coda confronts descending and ascending scales, but ends in a "whimper", that is piano and reduced to the first tonic tone in unison – plus its melancholic harmonized echo.

II. Andante  with its gentle theme in C-Major starts as a pure duet whose repetition then is fully harmonized as a trio. The piano shades the theme by a repetition in minor, counterpointed by the recorder. The middle section is more lively in bucolic thirds followed by a varied recapitulation.

With III. Siciliano  do we return to the recorder's home key and pastoral spheres. But the middle section, starting surly in A-Minor, is harmonically extremely dense and conveys an uncanny shifting between minor and major keys.

IV. Intermezzo  has a shade of other-wordly bliss about it because of its pure harmonies, its passages of suspensions in the recorder's low register which demand extremely delicate pianissimos in the piano and its ever so sweet seventh chords.

In V. Finale  the sonata reaches the realm of so many classical dynamic interpretations of A-Minor: a lively beat (12/8) and a resolute syncopal accompaniment in the piano. The centre is an "alpine" yodelling idyll played by the piano with echoing contributions by the recorder, first in mezzo voce in D-Major, finally in the treble in forte C-Major. The coda consists of a dramatic interpretation of the first movement's descending minor scales. Two largo bars close the sonata in reconciliatory A-Major.

Sonata N° 5 in Eb-Major

Cover Design: Beate Riedl & Nicola Lee

With this sonata's key we enter the sweet realm of Eb-Major, the traditional "key of love". Accordingly I. Moderato 's name-giving tempo demands a gentle, never speedy flow of its counterpoint between triplets and duplets which reaches its apex in the passage when the piano's right hand is topping the treble voice of the recorder. The coda is one of my favourites when the music labours through heavier harmonic clusters only to end in triumphal, pure Eb.

II. Andante, basically in the same tempo, comes as a contrast with its sobering C-Major, square motifs and even a cheeky middle section which is promptly called to order by a stern passage in G-Minor. The coda echoes, on a less grand scale, the structure of its preceding sibling.

Set in friendly F-Major III. Siciliano  is meant to delight by its charming, slightly mocking simplicity. Thus, the overall volume is mezzopiano  and the touch of the piano should be very light. The tempo is reduced and could be sometimes provokingly hesitating – but do not exaggerate!

IV. Finale  begins as a benign pure duet of the upper voices; to be then harmonically completed by the bass line. This bliss of pure Eb-Major is abruptly contrasted by a grumpy C-Minor motif which, in a dense sequence, is brought back to the original key. A gentle middle section in Bb-Major acts as a relief before the reprise. The coda comes as a surprise. A complex 6/8 against 12/16 metre in vivace-16th through Alpine harmonic changes serves as a brilliant final fireworks

Sonata N° 6 in C-Major

Cover Design: Beate Riedl & Nicola Lee

Closing this set of six, this last sonata carries the burden of being of a certain concluding substance: in fact, it took me a long time to write it. The choice of C-Major for I. Largo – Moderato  is self-explaining as a reference to the same key in Sonata N° 1. Nevertheless, as an opening, a bit in the line of baroque overtures, I chose A-Minor, the solemn parallel key, for a largo introduction leading to the appearance of "royal" C-Major for the central part. In its course we travel through various related harmonies in both major and minor. The coda in dark C-Minor comes as the typical closing return of the A section in baroque overtures.

A total change of scene is II. Cantabile, a gentle reminder of my first public "success", when – 18 of years at the time – I composed a parodist Latin cantata for my class at school. It was a solo for tenor, guitar and obbligato recorder. The middle section, though, is recent and is meant to be a tender flirting of the two instruments: it wants utmost delicacy in all respects.

I felt that there were too few semiquavers (16th notes) in these six sonatas. So I decided to make III. Siciliano  into a loving, slightly teasing fingering exercise for my wife, which she greatly enjoys.

IV. Finale  expresses simple joy of life with a return to the key of love in its centre – naturally in a more sentimental mood. The coda, consisting of sprightly dotted triplets seems, with its key F-Major, a bit off course; but a deceptive cadence in the end leads to a conciliatory, opulent C-Major chord.

Audio Samples, Preview Scores & Sheet Music

The Six Neoclassical Sonatas are published by Edition Svitzer. Follow the links on the cover photos to the product pages of each sonata where you can find audio samples, preview scores and the possibility to purchase the sheet music!