Für Alina — Written by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in 1976, this simple piano piece marked the beginning a brand new compositional style, which abruptly emerged after his time of self-imposed silence as a composer. Für Alina contains no time signature and only vague rhythmic indications, leaving the performer free to perform the piece in a improvisational manner. Pärt’s new technique is best described in his own words:
“I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements — with one voice, two voices. I build with primitive materials — with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells and that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”
(Tintinnabulation comes from the the Latin word tintinnabuli, little bells.) Even today, Pärt remains loyal to this innovative compositional technique.
Preludes “La danse de Puck” and “Minstrels” — French composer Claude Debussy published his first book of Preludes in 1910. Instead of titleing each prelude at the top center of the page, Debussy titled them at the end, in parentheses with an ellipsis before it, almost as an afterthought. Perhaps Debussy did not wish for the listener to be influenced by the title when hearing the music. In any case, it seems that it was the music that inspired the title, rather than the other way around. “Puck’s Dance” is a reference to the mischievous and playful character Robin Goodfellow from Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Some of the passages in “Minstrels” are marked “nervous and with humor,” “mocking,” and “like a drum.”
Sonata in E Major — This late Beethoven sonata, composed in 1820, was dedicated to Maximiliane Brentano, daughter of family friends Franz and Antonie Brentano. By this point in his career, Beethoven had accepted his chronic deafness and was pushing the boundaries of the traditions of the music of the day. His late works had begun to deviate from the traditional fast-slow-fast format for a three-movement sonata and to stretch sonata-allegro form to the max. The improvisatory first movement of this sonata is in loose sonata-allegro form. Its two themes, marked Vivace and Adagio expressivo, are sharp contrasts with one another, creating a sense of unpredictability and intense emotion. The first movement acts as an introduction to the stormy Prestissimo second movement, which is also in sonata-allegro form. The third movement is a theme and variations, including a fugue. After the climatic last variation, Beethoven wrote out the theme again, nearly identical to the original theme, fittingly bringing the final movement — as well as the entire sonata — to a satisfying close.