Sonata for Two Pianos (Homage to Schumann) (2007)

Arrangement of "Quintet for Piano and Strings" (2006)

Publisher: Bardic Edition

Score BD in preparation

Duration: 21 minutes

Programme note

The idea of writing a piano quintet was proposed by the Fitzwilliam’s violist Alan George a few years ago. After the initial performances of my First String Quartet (In memory of William Burton) — in South Africa, Europe and the USA in 2001/2 — I mentioned that I had an idea for a second quartet. But Alan thought I should do as Shostakovich had done before and write a piano quintet next — and also as the Russian composer had done, I should play the piano in it myself. I warned Alan of the dangers of closely following the Shostakovich model: there could be not one more, but maybe another 14 string quartets!

While the piano quintet tradition does not go back as far as the 18th century, it includes at least half a dozen landmarks, the first of course being the Schumann with which the composer single-handedly “invented” this medium. So in my piece I chose to pay homage to Schumann and his Piano Quintet in E flat Op 44 of 1842 in particular. While his piece does not challenge the conventions of the form too much, he creates moments — for example harmonic passages and textures — that are outside the conventions of the time. In a sense, therefore, I am paying homage to the creative impulse to break away from tradition.

My Piano Quintet, completed in the first six weeks of 2006, is in only three movements — a substantial first movement based on the rhythmic proportion of 4:3 — a particularly African one, a gentle restless Adagissimo and a very short crazy Scherzo — with a total playing time of about 21 minutes. As Shostakovich did before when he worked with the Beethoven Quartet of Moscow, I wrote the string music with the individual members of the Fitzwilliam Quartet very much in mind. And as Schumann did to Clara before, I have dedicated the piece to my wife, Christine Lucia, whose research interests serendipitously include the chamber music of Robert Schumann.

I gave the first performance with the Fitzwilliam Quartet in the concert hall of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge on 30 April 2006. A year later I decided to follow Brahms’ model, but in reverse, and transcribe the piece for two pianos.

The score is prefaced with a poem by W G Sebald:

my friend
wrote Schumann
are stars
which guide us
only under
a dark sky



Piano music