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May/June: New Music Reviews


Festival Sonatina by Eugénie Rocherelle 

The Classical sonatina is such a pedagogical treasure, as it provides great material to study and perform—teachers can spur growth in artistry, and students love the musically satisfying material. Eugénie Rocherolle's Festival Sonatina has two commonalities with the Classical sonatina: its three-movement structure and its potential to inspire. 

Each movement features ternary form, filled with American styles, catchy melodies, rhythmic interest, and varied pianistic textures. The late-intermediate pianist will certainly be challenged to handle the multiple demands within its fourteen pages, and, thus, the sonatina holds much pedagogical potential for stretching a player's technique. 

The first movement's cheerful dotted rhythms and bell-like melody of eighth and sixteenth notes capture the festive atmosphere. As in much of Rocherolle's writing, rich harmonies with sevenths, ninths, and other extended chord tones, result in potential for deep expression. An arpeggiated accompaniment prevails in the middle section, and several transitions that feature descending chromatic diminished triads require care in pedaling. 

The second movement is a bluesy, soulful ballade, during which the performer must quickly switch between steady and swung eighth notes; Rocherolle has skillfully positioned these to bring a phrase to its climax, and then to relax the pace back to an easy swing. A command of pedal and voicing within the right hand is essential for shaping the thick texture of the middle section. 

The theme of the final movement is a rollicking dance, teeming with blues notes, rag rhythms, and staccato articulation. The score indicates overlapping pedal, although following this instruction obscures the playful sound of the numerous two-note slurs that end in staccato. Additionally, performers may struggle to find convincing interpretations of the introduction and bridge, which, uncharacteristically, lack musical markings. The movement's lyrical middle section contains several tempo changes that slow the overall pulse considerably, providing a stark contrast to the opening theme, which returns to conclude the entire sonatina. 

The singable tunes, rich harmonies, and pianistic writing, along with rolling left-hand accompaniments of a tenth or more, provide ample material to motivate practice and expand an intermediate pianist's technique. Octaves (broken and blocked) occur throughout, while large four-note chords in the right hand appear only at structural moments. The contrasts within each movement, and across the entire sonatina, make Festival Sonatina a promising performance piece, whether presented as a whole, or as a single movement.

—Sara Ernst

Editor's note: Festival Sonatina was commissioned by Linda Kennedy, a private teacher in Arkansas. Kennedy's studio "adopts" an American composer annually. 

Sara M. Ernst, Ph.D., teaches piano and piano pedagogy at the University of South Carolina. She serves as the Vice President of Conferences for South Carolina MTA and is a member of the College of Examiners for the Royal Conservatory. 

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