Sonata for cello and piano

for cello, piano
28 mins.

Programme notes

Sonata for cello and piano was commissioned by Beryl Calver-Jones and Gerry Mattock (to whom it is gratefully dedicated). It was first performed at the Cheltenham Music Festival by Robert Irvine (cello) and Fali Pavri (piano) in the Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham on 5th July 2006.

The old-fashioned title of the piece is appropriate: it inhabits a world which Beethoven and Brahms would recognise; but it does so, I hope, in my own voice. For many years I have used modes to create distinctive harmony and a sense of rightness. During the last few years I have been using eight-note modes made up of four notes from each half of the octave. These are inverted and transposed, so that sometimes all twelve notes may be in play – as they are in Bach, Berlioz or Wagner. But the underlying sound is always that of the mode; and since this only uses eight notes, it is clearly recognisable. This is also a means of renewing the traditional forms of tonal music, since the eight-note mode fulfils the function of a key – but without a key’s diatonic and cadential baggage – and can be transposed in the same way.

The first movement is a big sonata-form structure, complete with exposition repeat and recapitulation. Subtitled Turbulence, it has a troubled and restless feeling. The second, Rest, is extremely slow and calm, and leads without a break to the third, Child’s Play – a rapid scherzo-and-trio movement based upon a five-note tune which is universally familiar, since it is sung by children at play in many countries – until child’s play was made extinct by killer computer games. I have quoted this tune in earlier pieces: it punctuates the last movement (also called Child’s Play) of my first orchestral piece, Orlando’s Music (1974). The last movement, Threnody, is a passacaglia with seven variations which become proportionally faster. Variation 7 – a thoroughly evil three-part fugue which I privately subtitled Fugue macabre – is exactly three times as fast as the original theme.

Giles Swayne 2006


Giles Swayne: Music for cello and piano
Robert Irvine (cello)
Fali Pavri (piano)
Delphian: DCD34073
Four lyrical pieces
Canto for cello
Sonata for cello and piano
Suite no. 1