Discussion of Shostakovich Piano Sonata No.2. Comparing it stylistically to Shostakovich Sonata no.1, as well as to war period sonatas of Prokofiev that were written at the same time
The Sonata genre started in Russia mainly with Michail Glinka who was the leading composer of Russian opera in the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Almost all the composers of this generation were educated under German tradition so that the style of the sonata was mixture of late classical and romantic style. Some of the most contributors of the genre are Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. Shostakovich’s Piano sonata no.2 in B minor, op.61 was influenced by news of the death of Shostakovich’s teacher Leonid Nikolayev at Leningrad conservatory. Leonid Nikolayev’s piano lessons were beneficial for Shostakovich’s knowledge of western european music. Outside of class, Nikolayev was able to give Shotakovich useful advice on his compositions. The Sonata is considered as his best “piano symphony” work and was completed in March of 1943, between the Leningrad Symphony (7th) and the Eighth Symphony. The Sonata is the only a multi-movement sonata cycle and belongs to a period of maturity in Shostakovich’s distinct style. The Sonata consists of three movements that composer’s s dramatic, lyrical and tragic aspects revealed. The Sonata’s stylistic characters are: In the first movement, use of diminished tetrachords, non-stop development of the main theme, contrast of the first and second thematic material, chromatic melodic, combined themes of recapitulation, dynamic contrast and use of church mode; In the second movement, Impressionism-like melody with soft passagesthat functions as ornaments of the main melody; In the last movement, variations cycle based on perfect shaped main theme that reaches the climax almost at the end.
In the first movement, the most unique stylistic element of this sonata is use of diminished tetrachords, which establish the introduction. There are two different diminished tetrachords, the first noted as Eb-D-C#-B, and the second noted as Bb-A-G- F#. These two tetrachords will later be used for the theme of variation in the last movement.
Both diminished tetrachords later establish the model for the third movement of the sonata. For performance practice it’s very challenging with its different colors and tones of notes connected through each other in piano dynamic.
The actual theme starts from the 3rd measure with semplice melody in the left hand. This theme passes the thematic idea along to the right hand, which is a clear repetition of it. The main motive originates the intensive development that reaches the climax of the section shortly. In this section the texture becomes thicker by the additional layer. This non-stop development takes a transition to the secondary theme of the exposition, which is an absolute contrast from the primary theme.
The secondary theme contrasts to the melodic first theme with its march-like theme in all aspects: tempo, register, texture and key changes. The tempo is faster than the beginning tempo, marked as piu mosso. Shostakovich favored using a higher register that is written in homophonic with ostinato accompaniment in this section. The B minor key changes to E flat that makes the significant difference to the form.
The closing theme brings a new contrasting image with a chromatic melody. This chromatic melody tends to reach the climax of the melodic line, but it keeps pushing back to the lower register and needs to step up again. At the last time when it reaches the climax of the melodic line, it echoes before the development section is announced.
The development section is quite shorter and in E minor which is subdominant in relation to B minor like the typical classic sonata. Shostakovich used a modulation as a bridge from the exposition to development that is E flat major to E minor so that this tonal relationship exhibits the post-romantic musical language.
Another stylistic character is Shostakovich’s frequent use of counterpoint in thematic development. It’s notable in the recapitulation of the first movement in which both the secondary theme and the primary theme are combined.
Shostakovich’s orchestral works influenced the Sonata in terms of texture. The texture is marginal that the distance between both the top and the bottom registers reach intervals of five and octaves. In some cases the distance stands with the middle register when both themes are combined.
One of the stylistic elements is Shostakovich’s extensive use of church modes over the regular major and minor scales. For example: In the first movement, the secondary theme is in Lydian major and the beginning of the development section is in Phrygian minor.
Shostakovich uses significantly different dynamics in the Sonata. For instance:
Fortissimo at the end of the first movement instead of diminuendo.
The second movement is a perfect example of Shostakovich’s melodic style. Shostakovich’s theme in the sonata is built from short motives which is consistent throughout the entire movement. In this case, Shostakovich uses three notes of motives with his favorite intervals perfect fourth and minor seventh. This motive creates a broken melodic line which deeply impresses and exhibits an impressionistic picture.
In the recapitulation, the main theme is later improved by very soft (ppp) quick passages all performed with pedaling before each main note.
In the final movement of the sonata, Shostakovich created a perfectly shaped variation cycle that is based on the singular melody of the main theme. The main theme consists of 30 bars of three-part structure. The first part is the exposition of the mainmotives of the theme (bars 1-9). The second part is a development (bars 10-22). The third part is a modified recapitulation reaching the climax in bar 28. It is exciting that the climax of the variation theme occurs in bar 28 in a 30-bar theme. This variation cycle consists of nine variations and coda for the entire three-movement sonata cycle. For the variations, Shostakovich used stylistic effects such as an orchestral effect in the C major episode of Variation 5 and a trembling effect by dotted rhythms in Variation 6-9.
Shostakovich composed only two piano sonatas that are seventeen years apart from one another. Both Sonatas were critically acclaimed and represent his early and mature style difference, nevertheless, both sonatas are evident of the German classic tradition. In the early 1920s, two different ideas about music had arisen. Though, experimentation within modernism was encouraged at that time. Shostakovich’s compositions in general were influenced by modernism.
Piano Sonata No1., Op.12, composed in 1926, may be the most insistently modern of Shostakovich's early works. Compared to his Second Sonata, the First Sonata is shorter, the tonal center is not clear, the development section is two episodes long and the last episode is complex recapitulation.
Shostakovich’s First Sonata inspired ‘abstract experimentation’ that was seen in his earlier symphonies. Scriabin’s example in writing single movement sonatas followed Russian composers of this period. The opening motifs are subjected to a process of continuation which is the form of construction.
This one-movement sonata consists of five different episodes but to the listener it sounds like three-parts, fast, slow and fast. There is not a clear sense of tonal center although beneath all the chromatics is an insistent tonal center in C. The tonal scheme nolonger plays role for the structural function. The first and the last notes of the chromatic piers framework each episode. The first episode introduces the first thematic material and the second episode establishes both the second and the third thematic material. Both the third and the fourth episodes function as the development section of the sonata. The last episode is the recapitulation, which is also the climax of the piece. Note that Shostakovich’s climax occurs later in the material.
Shostakovich creates multiple layers in expanded form in the First Sonata. In the expanded form, he composed three individual voices that have their distinctive sound.
This style of writing is related to Prokofiev’s polyphony. Prokofiev’s polyphony focuses on the independence and the freedom of each individual voice, which results in tonal unification. The polyphony in Shostakovich’s piano sonata delivers the same characteristics but without intense tendency to create any unifying tonal center.
In terms of harmony, the First Sonata is more Scriabin’s modernist work. Though, Shostakovich improved harmonic method by pointing out significant notes in order to make the structure of form clear.
When Shostakovich’s two sonatas were composed in different times and styles, Prokofiev’s “War Sonatas” Nos. 6, 7 and 8 were all being worked on simultaneously in the 1940s. Prokofiev left Russia for the United States in 1918 and returned permanentlyback to Moscow in 1938. The First Sonata of the War Sonatas was completed in 1940. “War Sonatas” is Prokofiev’s greatest example of his late style was written as a classically–structured piano sonata in 20th century sensibility. Prokofiev and Shostakovich are two prominent 20th century composers to come out of Russia. Prokofiev was introduced to a number of young Leningrad composers including 21-year- old Shostakovich who played for him his First Piano Sonata. Prokofiev approved Shostakovich’s First Sonata. Shostakovich praised Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata. Prokofiev embraced Soviet ideology and attempted to juggle both the realism and the formalism. On the other hand, Shostakovich criticized by Soviet authorities for his music.
Shostakovich was persecuted by authorities, but managed to fight back by weaving hidden meanings into his music. In Shostakovich’s works neo-classicism is evident. The classicism is found in the genre and the form, lyricism in the slow movements and Stravinsky’s influenced harmony and rhythm throughout Shostakovich’s music. Prokofiev’s style is his use of octatonic, diatonic and chromatics. Prokofiev was victimized by Soviet authority as well, but Prokofiev had a "business-like" attitude and was unconcerned with political and social concerns. Shostakovich can be characterized as having a more serious tone with darker and more introspective elements.
Sonata No.6 in A major, op.82 composed in 1940 before the World War II happened in Russia. He was working on the both ballets, Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. In the Sixth Sonata, the opening is one of the most ferocious, the second movement is a scherzo in E major featuring dance within tonal framework, the third movement is slow waltz in ABA form in C major, and the fourth is in sonata-rondo form with Prokofiev’s toccata-like display. This Sonata has turbulent energy in well-balancedform that Prokofiev introduced into his twentieth-century music style.
Sonata No.7 in B flat Major, op 83 completed in 1942. While the Sixth Sonata reflects nervous anticipation of the war the Seventh displays struggles of the war years as experienced in the real life. Its tight structure and complex development of material made it one of the most successful works of Prokofiev’s. The first movement is the most extreme of Prokofiev’s sonata. The second movement is emotional expressivity that extended from single person’s feeling to beyond. The last movement is a toccata based on repeated short motive influenced by American blues and jazz.
Sonata No.8 in B flat major, op.84 is composed between 1939 and 1944. Some of the material was conceived earlier unfinished works and Prokofiev intended the sonata to consist of four movements, not three. By the time it was completed the outcome of the war had become clear and the Eighth Sonata looks back to those terrible moments. The first movement is in a slow tempo the only first movement in his sonatas written in slow. It delivers both tenderness and regret. The second movement is a shorter and described as brief relief. General tone of the movement is determined by an indication sognando (dreamily). The last movement is in sonata-rondo form with victorious coda.
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