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Classical pièce: Nikolai Kapustin — Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 54

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  1. wirelyre
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    Paired with this étude. Both of these pieces have tight forms, which I think flatter Kapustin's writing. This piece is a pretty classical four-movement sonata: one movement in sonata form, a...

    Paired with this étude.

    Both of these pieces have tight forms, which I think flatter Kapustin's writing. This piece is a pretty classical four-movement sonata: one movement in sonata form, a scherzo movement, a slow movement, and a faster movement. I'll spend a little time taking apart the first movement.

    My music teachers told me that the sonata form is in three parts: exposition, development, and recapitulation. That's misleading — a sonata form is the story of two musical themes, introduced separately, then allowed to mingle and grow; when they finally are separated again, they sound more similar than different, more familiar to each other and the audience.*

    * This analysis only works on a minority of sonatas, but the spirit is there throughout the genre.


    The first subject [0:04] opens with an insistent yet simple melody over a driving rhythmic bass line. As is typical for the form, the tonic key is very pronounced. We also meet a secondary motif [0:23] before the primary theme returns [0:32]. This motif will appear throughout the movement, but not nearly as prominently as the two main themes.

    The second subject [0:53] is very jaunty and playful. By the form, it's in a different key and contrasts with the first subject. Traditionally, the second subject is slower or more subdued. Already Kapustin starts taking the themes apart, isolating the bass in the second subject [0:56] as connective material as the exposition ends.

    The exposition ends with a closing theme [1:25] that I find absolutely stunning. I love how it builds, how it flows, how it suspends [1:44]… and then releases.

    I could literally talk about this all day, but I won't. I'll just leave a few markers for the rest of the movement. First off, the exposition repeats [2:05]. I used to get annoyed by sonatas that do that. But this is kind of a remnant of before audio recordings were invented. And if you want to engage with the music like this, hearing the themes distinctly throughout the movement, you'll probably need to hear them a second time to make sure you've got a handle on them.

    The development starts at [3:57], with almost too many uses and tweaks to the themes to mention. He starts teasing the end of the development section [5:48] with the repeated notes that took us back to the first subject — then returns to the theme that was going on — back and forth to the repeated notes… until the secondary motif [6:22] takes us back to the primary subject, and the recapitulation begins. The second subject [7:11] is now in the tonic key, brighter than before, meshing smoothly with the first subject. The closing theme [7:43] has likewise changed key. In the coda, the movements motifs appear abstractly [8:36] one by one, until the movement ends [9:29] with a flourish.

    3 votes