Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté: Piano Sonata No.4

‘Die Befreit Sonate’


Born in 1899, Russian-Canadian composer Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté began learning the piano when she was just five years old. She went on to study at the Paris Conservatoire, where she studied under the tutelage of Vincent d’Indy and Alfred Brun. Throughout her career Eckhardt-Gramatté won a number of compositions, toured around Europe and premiered her own works for piano and violin. Due to travelling a lot, Eckhardt-Gramatté lived in a number of European countries including France, Russia, Germany and Spain. Her oeuvre includes two symphonies, three piano concertos, a number of chamber works and a set of piano sonatas. 


The Music

As part of her set of six piano sonatas, the Fourth Sonata was published by the Canadian Music Centre. This energetic and at times chaotic sonata, represents a tumultuous time in Eckhardt-Gramatté’s life after her husband died prematurely. Nicknamed ‘Die Befreite Sonate’ (‘The Liberated Sonata’), Eckhardt-Gramatté’s style is pushed to the limits in this piece.


Movement I – Allegro agitato e con fuoco

The opening movement is the longest of the four in this sonata, and opens with a frantic theme that sees the soloist run up and down the piano. Bold chords and sustained harmonies bleed into one another as this impressionistic opener gets going. The fast pace adds to the buzz of this movement, with Eckhardt-Gramatté utilising every inch of the instrument. Huge scalic runs ending in the bottom end of the piano is indeed very liberating and highlights the composer’s style well. 

Rich textures plague this movement, with Eckhardt-Gramatté using the timbre of the piano to create sweeping textures that instantly change the mood of the music. The soft touch of the counter-melody only lasts a short time, before Eckhardt-Gramatté’s fiery style returns once more. The movement concludes with a reprise of the lyrical theme before the final loud proclamation is played.


Movement II – Nocturne

The slower second movement opens with a mysterious set of chords. Setting the scene as an open canvas, Eckhardt-Gramatté utilises dynamics in this movement. A softer character than the opening movement, the delicate fluctuations between the three main themes creates a lull in the music, which Eckhardt-Gramatté picks up and injects more energy into. The big climax of the movement is powerful and slow-moving, but very effective in its presentation. Eckhardt-Gramatté manages to string out a number of characters from the piano for this movement, with the sensitive face concluding the movement. 


Movement III – La corrida de ratas del campo. Prestissimo e molto preciso  

The quick third movement opens with a racing theme that is full of energy and buzz. The virtuosic tendencies of the sonata come to fruition in this movement, as fast finger work dominates the skill. Sudden changes creates excitement and a ramshackle effect, with the piano hanging on to the theme by a string. Fast until the very last note, the movement concludes with a cheeky sequence of chords.


Movement IV – Preciso

The unison theme that opens this movement sits at the heart of the main theme. The jaunty melody, played across three octaves, hones back to the classical period. The harmony, however, is firmly rooted in the 20th century. Both nuanced and in your face dissonances fill the air in the finale as the piano goes all out to bring together the previous three movements. From the quick tempo of the third movement, to the sensitive character of the second, the final movement ties all of Eckhardt-Gramatté’s loose ends up. After a final reprise of the main theme, Die Befreite Sonate concludes with a bold chordal statement. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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