Andrew Violette, composer and pianist. Piano Sonatas 1 & 7. Innova Recordings, ©2003, 191:01, $37.00.
I mentioned a number of endurance-type local performances in a recent review. This is an endurance-type composition and CD. Sonata 7 is approximately 2.5 hours long; sonata 1, approximately 15 minutes, and they occur in that order on the disk. When Sonata 7 is performed live, it is done without intermission. Violette is a Brooklyn-born, Juilliard-trained musician and composer who also spent 8 years as a Benedictine monk; he is photographed bald, in leather, and holding a whip on the covers of the accompanying booklet. Hence, he defies easy categorization, and so does this music - which, to a certain extent, also defies description.
As I listened to Sonata 7, composed in 2001, I thought frequently of some of the organ music of Olivier Messiaen as well as some of the techniques of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, but it is different from all of these. To say the least, it is a fascinating work: it has minimalist repetitions; it is at times mystical, almost tantric, often mesmerizing. It also has lively dance rhythms and loud tone clusters, and at times it impresses as a wave or mass of sound color washing over the listener and into the ears. It is modern, but there is little dissonance or any of the various other characteristics we associate with that term. Although composed in 26 movements, subdivided into two sections after No. 13, it is not merely a collection of short pieces in the style of a suite. It is a single, coherent work in the traditional sonata-form structure, with all its various elements interrelating, as the booklet's extensive and detailed analysis, by musicologist/pianist/composer Bruce Posner, points out. There is also an introductory note by composer/author Mark N. Grant that attempts to describe the work; he relates it to Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and "Hammerklavier" Sonata as well as to Kaikhosru Sorabji's Opus Clavicembalisticum , and this heritage is by no means far-fetched. It is most emphatically a phenomenal and a prodigious piece, and also one that easily bears repeated hearings and their inevitable discoveries and revelations, even though each one requires a significant investment in time. This fact will probably ultimately be the single greatest deterrent for this CD to become a hot seller or for the work itself to be frequently programmed in the concert hall. It is perhaps unfortunate, for there is much here to relish and enjoy.
Sonata 1, dating from 1978, is more like your basic minimalist piece set in a classical form, but this also may be a misleading oversimplification. It was composed as part of a group of three sonatas, deliberately paralleling Beethoven's Op. 2 set, that take 1.5 hours to play, and it is perhaps unfortunate that it has been recorded separately to fill out this set. Listening to and performing it are however clearly somewhat less demanding.