Piano Sonata Op.1

Composed: 1975, revised 1980
Duration: 20 minutes
First Performance: 26th April 2016 at the Concours Festival, Paris by Patrick Hemmerle.

Ian Venables’ Sonata for Piano Op. 1, was written in 1975, and is the earliest piano work in the composer’s output. It was written ‘In Memoriam D.S.C.H’ in response to the death of Dmitri Shostakovich. It was later revised in 1980.

It is cast in three movements and makes much use of Shostakovich’s own device, the D.S.C.H. motif (which forms the notes D, E flat, C and B natural).

The first movement is loosely in sonata form. After a slow introduction, a faster, more motoric section brings the movement to a central moderato. A return of the motoric section (only this time in a more elaborate guise) heralds the movement’s main climax: a passionate alternation of the D.S.C.H. motive in full chords. The movement ends ambiguously with an unusual cadence of E minor moving to C sharp minor.

The second movement takes the form of a scherzo and mirrors Shostakovich’s own ‘musical sense of humour’. Almost skittish in its melodic and harmonic writing, it abounds with offbeat rhythms, semiquaver accompaniments and various pyrotechnic devices, ending perversely in the key of C major.

In contrast, the final movement is a lengthy adagio which is sombre in mood, and is vaguely reminiscent of some of Shostakovich’s own Piano Preludes Op. 34. After a broad introduction, a melody of intense beauty leads us to a canonic idea. This brings the movement to an extended climax, where the main canonic theme is distorted, both harmonically and rhythmically, almost to the point of atonality. The earlier melody is restated, returning us to a more resigned mood. Two final statements of the D.S.C.H. motive reminds us of the sonata’s dedicatee, and ends the work in the key of F sharp major.