Sonata Hymnica No 1 for Piano Solo

I. In the Sweet By and By II. Sweet Hour of Prayer

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About the Sonata Hymnica Series

Program Note Composer James Siddons draws on the ethos of American rural hymns and spirituals to create evocations of the deeper, larger meaning of familiar church melodies. These sonatas for piano solo explore these deeper meanings in a variety of contemporary musical influences, while keeping in mind the acoustics of small rural churches of the late nineteenth century, with wooden floors and walls, high ceilings, and dimensions determined by local builders who knew how to shape a room for excellent acoustics in an age of no electricity and no microphones. These sonatas are but partly about the specific melodies and words, and mostly about their meaning in spiritual contemplation . . . and the piano, resonating, reverberent, sometimes whispering–-as a sacred harp. Although these sonatas have no specific titles, the first sonata may be thought of as the Prayer Sonata, the second as the Travel Sonata, as in a spiritual journey, and the third sonata is about our greatest fear, that of being alone and without God.

Performance Note The pianist must keep in mind that these sonatas are about playing the piano as much as playing a composition. Musical effects characteristic of the piano and descriptive of the memory in American culture are the substances of these piano solos. Touch is important: in many places, several dynamics are called for on the same beat. All three pedals on an American piano (damper, sostenuto, and sustain) are needed. The orchestral and cinematic structure of this music requires extensive use of three staffs, which may consist of two treble and one bass staff, or one treble and two bass staffs. In basic grand-staff passages, the two staffs may both be treble or both bass. The musical influences in these sonatas include religious song in rural America, the chromaticism and Expressionism of Arnold Schoenberg and his followers, and the tone colors of the music of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.

Duration –- Sonata Hymnica No. 1 –- 15 minutes.

About the Composer Composer, musicologist, and pianist James Siddons studied composition with Dika Newlin, a protégé of Arnold Schoenberg, and electronic music with Merrill Ellis, founder of the electronic music program at the University of North Texas, where he also earned a PhD in musicology. After a year at the University of London, where he studied musical analysis at King’s College and electronic music at Goldsmiths’ College, Siddons spent two years in Japan as a research scholar at Tokyo University of Arts, participating in the Ethnomusicology Seminar of Fumio Koizumi. Siddons has also studied theology and liturgy at the Duke University Divinity School. In addition to books and articles on contemporary music and music in Japan, Siddons was written compositions in many genres. Recordings of his piano performances are available at online streaming services.

Website: His performing rights organization is ASCAP.

Score ID
Year of composition
Year of arrangement
Moderate (Grades 4-6)
15 minutes
Solo instrument (Piano)
Modern classical music

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