In the early 1780s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart came across the keyboard works by the Bach family and these had a tremendous effect on his own compositions. The opening of his Fantasia in D Minor reminds us of the Bachs’ improvisation tradition; two other episodes in it – melodramatically arioso-like and lively – hint at the intonations of Mozart’s own piano sonatas. Seemingly, the composer conceived this fantasia as an introduction to a sonata that was never written. In order for the fantasia to be performed as a stand-alone work, August Eberhard Müller added several bars to the finale.
Johannes Brahms’ Third Piano Sonata was composed in one fell swoop, though the movements “came to light” individually. On 30 September 1853, having recently met Schumann, Brahms performed for him the Andante of the as yet unfinished sonata. To this Andante he gave an epigraph taken from a poem by C. O. Sternau (the pseudonym of Otto Julius Inkermann): “Evening falls, the moon rises, two hearts are united in the grip of love.” In late October 1853 the sonata was completed and in February the next year it was published by the Barthold Senff Verlag in Leipzig with a dedication to the Countess von Hohenthal. On 23 October 1854 Brahms performed two movements in Leipzig (the Andante and the Scherzo) and only in early December in Magdeburg was the sonata performed for the first time in full.
The sonata is very large in scale, somewhat resembling Beethoven’s late sonatas. The idea of the “superfluous” fourth movement – an Intermezzo with the secondary title “Rückblick” – could have been hinted at by Schumann. In general, however, the sonata written by the twenty-year-old composer is absolutely of Brahms himself. At an age when many are only just beginning to find their own style he was creating music that cannot be compared with anyone else.
Sergei Prokofiev’s Tales of an Old Grandmother was composed in 1918 in the USA for American publishers who had shown an interest in his music. The composer first performed these pieces at a concert of his own in New York in early 1919. However, the author’s fee offered by the publishers was so miserly that Prokofiev refused to be published in America. The Tales were printed in 1922 by the Moscow publisher Gutheil, which in reality had long belonged to Serge Koussevitzky and was located in Paris. When the Tales were written, Prokofiev had already composed four piano sonatas, Sarcasms and Visions fugitives. The Tales aimed at American audiences are more restrained in style and technically simpler. All four pieces are composed in measured tepmi. The composer afforded them the epigraph “Some recollections had become half-erased from her memory; others will never be erased.”
The Eighth Sonata concludes Sergei Prokofiev’s trio of “war” sonatas, composed in the first half of the 1940s. This is the composer’s longest sonata. It differs noticeably in structure from Prokofiev’s previous works in this genre; alongside the virtuoso piano technique, lyricism plays an important role here. For the first and only time, Prokofiev opens a sonata in a slow tempo. Prokofiev borrowed the theme heard at the start of the sonata from music from the unfinished film The Queen of Spades. In the development there is swift and perturbed movement, and the themes of the exposition take on an incredibly evil character. The growth of the tension leads to the culmination which is ensued by a return of the initial tempo and the main themes. The brief second movement enacts the role of an intermezzo. The music of this passage is linked with yet another unrealised Pushkin idea: it is based on a melody from the music for Alexander Tairov’s Chamber Theatre’s production of Eugene Onegin which was never actually staged. The first theme of the finale reminds us of Prokofiev’s early piano opuses, filled as it is with youthful passion. The expansive episode at the centre of the finale begins as a dazzling waltz, but soon it becomes an infernal dance. It is interrupted by the introduction of the second theme in a high pianissimo register. The exultant and joyful moods return in the reprise and the coda.