Second Movement: Scherzo:Vivace


The second movement of the Piano Sonata is instantly attractive. like a traditional scherzo the music contrasts with the often dense first movement, and takes shape from the start as a lively left hand solo which soon reveals itself as the lower voice in a rhythmic two-part invention, full of particularly jazzy cross rhythms and with a particularly strong modal feel. There are related tempo pulses switched between by means of subdivision, proportion and time signature. One of many things that the movement is is an exercise in tempo modulation, with the performer having an exacting rhythmic task, and the listeners expectations constantly wrong footed by the alternating apparent beats. This second movement is wonderful to play and is often the first part of the Maxwell Davies Sonata I would introduce to a student, or fellow musician, to demonstrate the pianistic accomplishment of the sonata.

The counterpoint is full of cross rhythms, reminiscent of the polyrhythmic virtuosity of a notable jazz drummer, and the medoldic lines full of leaps of sevenths and ninths. This two part counterpoint is a dance of reflections around the central pitches, achieving the kind of register and intervallic balance one might hear on the surface of a dodecaphonic movement by Anton Webern , though never straying too far from modal centres in the Maxwell Davies.

An enlightening analysis by Alecsandra Vojcic, of this movement is made in chapter 7 of her dissertation ‘Rhythm as Form: Rhythmic Hieracrchy in Later Twentieth Century Piano Music’ (New York City University 2007) and discusses the very interesting polyrhythmic structure. For those fascinated by the relationship of changing beat and tempo perception, brought about through playful compositional means this publication is excellent.

 For the listener the whole movement is thus winningly teasing and joyous, following a ternary shape with a skittish central ‘trio’ section which introduces trills and decorative runs mostly in a higher register, before two part cross rhythms reappear in the final part, with each descendant dancing phrase eventually settling gracefully via a perfectly balanced tritone interval of F and B.

…More to come….