Piano Sonata #8

in

f# minor

Instrumentation:
Date of Completion:
Description:
Solo piano
Sonata in three movements

The subject of my eighth piano sonata is a gentleman I'll call Ned. My husband met him in a swimming pool when we were attending a gay nudist gathering in Southern California. Without going into detail, let's say we all quickly got to know each other. We stayed in touch, and in 2018 my husband and I went to visit Ned in his hometown of Sacramento, at the start of a month-long road trip we took up the Pacific coast to Seattle. While we were staying with Ned, he drove both of us from Sacramento across the Central Valley to Yosemite, where we spent three days exploring the astonishing scenery. (Incidentally, the photo on the album cover was taken on that trip.) During the trip Ned spoke freely about his life experiences. He was raised on a small dairy farm his family owned in rural Idaho. They were pious Mormons, and Ned's childhood was not an easy one. The family finances were precarious, his father was physically abusive, and his religious upbringing left no room for him to express his sexuality, or even reconcile himself to it. As an adult, Ned married a Mormon woman, became a bishop in the church, and raised several children. By the time he reached his fifties though, he felt he could no longer live a life of deception, hiding his sexuality from everyone he knew. Accepting excommunication, he left the church and started to build a new life from scratch.

After hearing these stories, I resolved to write my next piano sonata about Ned. The first movement is about his childhood, the themes expressing the various influences upon him as detailed above, and also his faith and sharp intelligence. The second movement is about his adulthood before he left the Mormon faith. His repressed desires are expressed in the motive that starts the movement, almost a bird call (the call of nature, as it were). This call keeps popping up throughout the movement, often while something else is going on. The main theme is a slow, somber, deliberate, almost funereal march, while a lyric theme expresses his love for his family. The last movement is a complete contrast. It expresses Ned's various experiences in the gay world after coming out. In form, it's a theme and four variations, the theme being a ragtime tune I've had bouncing around in my head for some time. The theme and the variations (mostly) follow a strict form: four bars of vamp, eight bars of tune, repeat the vamp, repeat the tune, eight bars of a different tune in the relative minor key, then the first tune again. Each variation follows this overall pattern, but within the variation the tune and the vamp are altered somewhat when they repeat. So there are variations within the variations. The lyric theme from the second movement makes an appearance as the third variation, while the bird call creeps into the vamp sections. I'm particulary pleased with this movement, as is one of the few upbeat ones I've written. I'm not usually driven to express satisfaction or contentment in my compositions, but I was inspired by the thought of Ned finding the happiness he has always deserved.

 © 2020 by Robert Lawrence Cohen