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Revisiting My "Marian Sonata" for Violin and Piano (2005)

It is quite hard to believe, but today marks the 4th Anniversary of the premiere recording for my violin sonata. The Marian Sonata (2005) is a musical polyptych of the Life of Christ. So as we are here on the verge of the Lenten season, I thought it doubly appropriate to share the program notes for this work. The sonata was written while I was teaching at Tarrant County Community College (Arlington, TX) for Marion and Mary Nesvadba whose names and faithful dedication to students served as the basis of inspiration for the piece. It all began because Mary asked if I had anything for violin and I responded that I didn't but could come up with something. Within the matter of a few weeks, the whole work was completed and would be performed on campus in 2005,

I wanted to infuse the sonata with music that connected as well to the Nesvadba's faith tradition and so using Marian antiphons as one departure point made perfect sense. These chant melodies tend to serve as the linear ideas in each movement. The music's textual component also shapes the harmonic and structural aspects of each of these four "windows" on this musical journey.

Advent l’enfant,” utilizes the Advent antiphon, “Alma Redemptoris Mater,” it is melded with the French Carol, “Il est ne le divin enfant,” whose melodic idea is the basis for the celebratory opening of the piece. The two form a free fantasia of the two musical ideas.

Lento Doloroso,” reflects on the walk to the cross. The antiphon “Ave Regina Caelorum” merges with the hymn, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” meditatively. It appears as a condensed chordal form as well as laying out crucifixion motifs. The violin looks on these final moments with the piano seeming to connect to the great works of Bach in its accompaniment. The movement culminates with the dramatic pounding of the nails.

Resurrectio,” opens with deep rumblings in the piano representing the movement of the stone from the tomb. At some deeper level, I wrote these for descriptive intent and only later realized that the number of notes in the piano are “good” numbers in Christian theology: 7, 5, and 3. The violin outlines the antiphon, “Regina Caeli.” Excitement then follows running ascending figures sharing the news of the empty tomb. The hymn, “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” begins to appear enters into the fabric of the material. The “alleluia” becomes a sort of refrain as the movement progresses. (Interestingly, Vit and Lucie began recording this movement at precisely 5am Eastern Time!)

Jubillatio Spiritu,” celebrates the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the sending out into the world. A sense of uneasiness opens as we feel the Spirit blowing into the room--an effect made by strumming the strings inside the piano. The antiphon “Salve Regina” and the hymn tune, “Marion” (“Rejoice, O Pilgrim Throng!”) brings us to a close. The hymn’s text, written by Edward Plumptre in the 19th century, has one verse that sums up this sonata:

With voice as full and strong As ocean’s surging praise, Send forth the sturdy hymns of old, The psalms of ancient days.

The refrain of the hymn, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice, give thanks, and sing!” becomes the material that closes off each section of the antiphon quoted here.

While the commercial aspects of music like this are fairly low I suppose, the music here is perhaps one of my key arrival points as a composer. The quotation aspects provide an easy entry point into the music and the movements can essentially stand by themselves as a standalone offertory. The score can be found at JW Pepper.


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