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Gwyn Pritchard: Sonata for Guitar 

(Not a programme note, but a text written in response to a player’s request for details of the Sonata’s background and form)

I have always been interested in the way that music communicates itself in a ‘relative’ not an ‘absolute’ world. For the composer this produces many fascinating paradoxes related to nearly all aspects of music. For example, it is significant that, if composed appropriately, a work for string quartet or even a solo guitar can sound conceptually louder than an amplified rock band!! Similarly, extremely fast music composed or played without any rhythmic constraint to the material can sound less fast, less energetic, than music which is in reality of a slower tempo, but which contains something that reveals the energy driving that speed. In other words loudness and speed mean very little in themselves; what matters is the deeper intensity that generates these qualities.

In the Sonata for Guitar I attempted to write a piece which does not in any way suffer from compromise to allow for the natural limits of the instrument, most obviously its limited dynamic range. Conversely, I wanted to write a piece which explores the sort of paradoxes referred to above in order to create a large scale piece which should seem effectively to be as varied in its materials, its nuances, dynamics and so forth, as if it had been written for a much more powerful medium such as the piano or an inherently more texturally varied one such as an instrumental ensemble. At the same time I wanted to create a piece that is in every sense guitaristic, exploiting the natural qualities of the instrument to the full.

Structurally the piece is in four relatively short movements welded into one continuous movement. It starts with agile material in restless motion, mostly withheld but punctuated by sfz chords – music looking for a place to go to, perhaps; never settling into anything fixed. This nervous movement is broken up by intrusions of  slower material, very brief initially but getting more extended as the movement progresses. These reveal themselves to be anticipations of the slow section that follows.

This slow section consists of two materials: firstly a broad lyrical, almost cantabile melody accompanied by unsettling harmonies, generating a rather rhapsodic character, and secondly an ambiguous, questioning figure based on triplets. The section ends in fragmentation, having not completed itself as an entire movement.

A brief bridge passage leads into a scherzando movement that requires great rhythmic precision and definition from the player. The material is playful but also a little sinister, having a rather ‘demonic’ quality about it. As with the first movement the flow of the music is constantly being broken up as the music seeks a direction. This process is stopped abruptly when the second (slow) movement suddenly returns in a very assertive, self-confident manner. However, this uninvited intrusion cannot sustain itself for long and soon gives way to a new movement marked Tempo giusto, which makes use of repetitions of both individual pitches and of short rhythmic patterns. This section of the Sonata is characterised by a steady but persistent, even relentless forward thrust, as if the music were trying finally to anchor itself in some way, to find a point of focus. As with the previous movements this one also ends with a failure to complete itself - the material retreats to the extreme registers of the instrument, and can do no more.

At this point an extended bridge passage starts, making use of questioning fragments interspersed with quotations from many earlier sections of the Sonata, but significantly not from the second (slow) section. But when that slow material finally does return it is in the most extended form yet, making considerably more use of that ambiguous triplet figure. This closing section might be understood as a second movement revisited; or perhaps more correctly, the so-called ‘second’ section was never a movement in its own right; only a prefiguring of this section, which is in fact the last movement of the sonata, not just a recollection of earlier material. The gradual emergence of this material throughout the sonata can now been seen (with the benefit of hind-sight) as the process relative to which all other events, materials, even movements, have taken place. The music can therefore conclude in a state of repose.

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