Andrew Violette's Sonata No. 7 may at first glance appear to be one of that species mighty monoliths in the piano repertoire that seek to compass the universe.
Such works include the old and familiar -- Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and Hammerklavier Sonata -- and the recent and esoteric -- Ronald Stevenson's 1962 Passacaglia and Kaikhosru Sorabji's 1930 Opus Clavicembalisticum.
But Violette's aims and achievement are entirely his own.
His three-hour magnum opus asks: Are depth and magnitude in music conveyable only through the syllogistic syntax of sonata form and the accumulative momentum of variation form? Or are there alternate paradigms? Chinese boxes? Chains of fractals? Musical echolalia? Are ultimate depths plumbed in music by dissonance or by consonance? And what basic principles organize musical perception? Can one expand one's sense of time and space by defeating the expression of time, and even the expression of development?
As with his other compositions, the music of Violette's Sonata No. 7 seems to emanate from a deep, deep innerness. Even where the sonata's materials are sweetly pandiatonic and white-note simplistic, there is no casualness, no cheap prettiness.
Every note feels like a statement of ontology. The music of Sonata 7 speaks a language of prevailing serenity yet also mystery, as if serenity were the penultimate emotion before one glimpses the core of things, whether defined as God or as the ineffable mystery of life.
In this work the composer seems to make a paradoxical discovery of maximalism in minimalism, or perhaps suggests that both terms are two sides of the same coin.
The Sonata's hyper-prolix repetitions of melodic material assume the form neither of World Music's florid monophony, nor of jazz improvisation, nor of minimalism in the Glass-Reich vein. Rather its endless chains of melody make it seem as if the listener is reexperiencing the reticular network of a mind's neural connections to the universe.
The Sonata asks the listener to experience it as a musical stream of consciousness, felt in "real time" rather than in the convention of time compression traditional to classical music architecture.
The 26 sections comprise a kind of attempted circumambulation of human consciousness in music, perhaps like Joyce's Ulysses or Finnegans Wake.
Without contradicting its mystic seriousness, part of the appeal of Violette's Sonata No. 7 is sensual: it swims in space in a language of attractive, consonant, occasionally ravishing sounds. The composer seems to find endless new colors in kaleidoscopically changing keyboard registers with each succeeding section of the Sonata.
Yet somehow for all the kaleidoscopic variety of the writing, the piano of Sonata 7 remains a piano, not a giant orchestra like the piano of his previous works Quare or Songs for a Dead Hero -- but here a piano that is like a solo singing voice of infinite pliancy and expressive capacity.
Perhaps Violette's Sonata is psychedelic in the original sense of the word. Perhaps it has a kinship with Berlioz's concept of the idée fixe, but raised to the nth power, carried to the brink of infinity.
A remarkable tour de force, Sonata No. 7 is the brave musical autobiography of a soul voyager in psychic space. -- Mark N. Grant
Mark N. Grant is a composer and the author of The Rise and
Fall of the Broadway Musical (Northeastern University Press: 2004) and the ASCAP- Deems
Taylor award winning Maestros of the Pen: A History of Classical Music Criticism in
America (Northeastern: 1998).