Cees Nieuwenhuizen | Piano Sonata No. 5

Opus 39 ‘Fire in Snow’

The title of the sonata ‘Fire in Snow’ refers to the eponymous book of poetry by Roland Holst which he wrote in 1968. It was one of his last works and consists of a large number of poems, which all should be read as an entity. I used ‘Vreugde en de Dood and ‘Mensen voor God.

Cees Nieuwenhuizen composed this 5th Piano Sonata Opus 39 in 1984/85. Initially, his idea was to compose a series of songs based on texts by the Dutch poet Adriaan Roland Holst (23 May 1888 – 5 August 1976). Cees had used his work for a number of songs (Opus 27) and a cantata (In Ballingschap, Exile, Opus 30), but the texts that inspired him weren’t easily ‘caught’ in a song or in composed form. Therefore he decided to use two texts that were applied as a monologue: the first (De Vreugde en de Dood, Joy and Death) is recited preceding the first movement and the second (Mensen voor God, Mankind before God) preceding the second movement. The first movement (Lento Presto) is built up from the theme C sharp – A sharp – B and this small theme is elaborated in a free form in B minor. The key changes and free tonality that arise, are continuously reinforced by the poem. The tempo changes a number of times in the course of the first movement and finally ends in Presto. The Presto is also based on this theme, but the notes are applied in a different order.
The second movement (slow 16th ) is written in a rondo form and despite the very slow tempo the theme becomes restless because of the peculiar 9/16 key. The movement is based on the sorrowful text ‘Mensen voor God‘ (Mankind before God) and one can experience this in the music. The opening bars of the first movement are used in the second movement but are applied very differently. The movement is mostly written in free tonality, but it never gets atonal, even though this does seem to be the case when you hear it for the first time. The whole movement is played piano with two exceptions where the music shortly leaves the rondo theme. The piece ends undefinably in pianissimo.

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