Composed in 2009, the Piano Sonata was written for pianist Steven Graff. It is a challenging work that places considerable technical demands on the player. I see it as a synthesis of several different musical languages I've favored in the last thirty years. Diminished harmonies (juxtaposed octatonic scales) contrast with more tonal/modal pockets of color. There is no extra-musical idea, but instead a progression of varied emotional states and themes cast in conventional forms.
The first movement is a modified sonata form and it begins with a plaintive, yearning idea, followed by a second, more amorous contrasting section. Fragments of the opening material return and become ever more brooding, insistent and turbulent until a dynamic and textural climax is reached. A nocturnal section recasts the material, only to return to a dark restatement of the opening theme in a low register in invertible counterpoint. A slower and darker coda includes a reminiscence of the gentle second theme.
The second movement is a very fast scherzo with jagged, at times jazzy, harmonies and cross rhythms. The material here is derived from small intervallic sets (including quartal hamonies and clusters of smaller intervals). There is no let up in tempo, and in fact there is a gradual and relentless increase in tempo that ends full tilt with a bang.
The slow movement that follows is a set of variations based on a chord progression adapted from American composer Paul Cooper's 4th Symphony. He was one of my most influential teachers. His harmonies are designed to reflect the overtone series in a "luminous" fashion. The presentation of the "theme" is marked solenne and it presents the harmonic framework both linearly and vertically in a solemn and introspective setting. Five continuous variations follow: maestoso, grandiosamente, cantabile, giocoso, piacevole, concluding with a coda marked serenamente.
The brisk final movement is a rondo, with a playful minor-mode theme that is at times mischievous, demonic and mysterious. One episode that returns in various guises is a tonally more colorful, soaring and expansive melody. Near the end the main theme becomes barbaric before a cadenza-like prestissimo coda. There is a brief and interrupted restatement of the more sentimental second theme before the sonata ends with an explosive cadence.
Steven Graff has recorded the Piano Sonata on a Zimbel release, John Carbon: Piano Music Played by Steven Graff.