COMPOSER 1945–2013

Opus 89

Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, “La Divina Commedia” (1990)

for Cello and Piano

  • Adagio
  • Moderato, con rubato
  • Allegro

Duration: 17 min.

Recording: Toccata TOCC0408

Premiere: 1991; D. Lawson; E. Belli; New York, NY

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Rosner composed his Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, “La Divina Commedia”, in 1990. The work did not originally have a subtitle; the reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy was added several years later, but Rosner left no information explaining why he chose to add this subtitle, and so the listener is free to imagine what the connection might be.

The first movement, Adagio, is an isorhythmic motet. This is a musical form that flourished during the mediaeval period, and one that Rosner used in several of his works, most notably the second movement of his String Quartet No. 4. In Rosner’s approach, a musical phrase is presented by all the instruments involved, each instrument contributing its own part. The rhythm of this phrase is then repeated over and over by the duo as a unit, although the actual pitches differ with each repetition. It is thus easy not to realize that one is hearing repetitions of a single composite rhythmic pattern. In the case of the movement at hand, the phrase consists of ten bars, and is repeated ten times. The overall character of the music is rather severe—extremely so for Rosner, and the basic phrase is quite complicated rhythmically, harmonically, contrapuntally and dramatically. Although the movement maintains an overall tonality of C, the elaboration is freely chromatic.

The second movement, Moderato, con rubato , is also unusual: a modal incantation of vaguely Middle-Eastern character (melismatic melody in the cello accompanied by open fifths in the piano, with roles reversed in the first return, and combined in the final return), heard in alternation with brief quasi-Renaissance dance-episodes. The movement maintains a tonality of D, with modulations to the keys of A and C sharp.

The finale, Allegro, is exuberant in character, with a formal structure that suggests sonata allegro but with only one thematic group. Opening vigorously in G, the movement promptly introduces two main motifs, which permeate the movement while spinning of several subordinate motifs. The first main motif leaps up a perfect fourth, then turns back to where it started. The second main motif is focused on a descending stepwise triplet that repeats insistently. Both of these motifs, along with related subordinate motifs, are subjected to extensive development, as triplet rhythmic figures propel the movement forward. Finally, there is a recapitulation of the opening statement followed by further development. A coda leads to a decisive final cadence in G. (Notes by Walter Simmons)