About this Recording
8.224103 - BENTZON, N.V.: Piano Sonatas Vol. 1
English 

Compositions for solo piano and chamber music involving the piano dominated the first few years, when the composer’s catalogue counted major works in the Danish piano literature like the Toccata, Op. 10 (1941), Passacaglia, Op. 31 (1944) and Partita, Op. 38 (1945). However, it was only after these that the piano sonata as a genre appeared in Bentzon’s works. The first attempt even remained unfinished. But then he made up for this with a vengeance, and from Sonata no.2, Op. 42 (1946) the piano sonata was for some periods a very important matter for him. Indeed several of his sonatas, especially the early ones, are among the quite central works in his oeuvre.

Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 44

For many years, at suitable intervals, Niels Viggo Bentzon held piano evenings at the concert hall Odd Fellow Palaeet, normally including a new major work by himself. At such a concert on 15th March 1949 the programme included, besides music by Schoenberg, George Antheil and Henk Badings, Bentzon’s own Third Piano Sonata from 1946 (which had been given its first performance on Swedish radio two weeks previously). Nils Schiørring reviewed it for Nationaltidende and wrote that “while Badings’ immensely demanding piano writing tends towards the virtuosically diffuse, Niels Viggo Bentzon in his even more radical piano style seeks more rigour in the treatment of the material. Something happens in his sonatas, and it is always musically well motivated ... He goes to the outer limit of his own and the instrument’s capabilities.” Although one would not experience the music as being so extreme today, the sonata is famously expressive (Bentzon himself has used the term Sturm und Drang) and the style is typified by much more intensity of expression than was normal in the Danish piano music of the time. It progresses through the classical four movements and opens with a richly sounding, broadly rocking Allegro movement in sonata form with a reversed recapitulation (as can easily be heard from the fact that the cantabile second subject comes before the first subject in the recapitulation). This is followed by a contrastingly sober, dry-sounding Presto in simple arching form with the middle section formed as fugato. A brief, simple and well placed chorale-like Largo movement (called an Intermezzo) serves as the introduction to the concluding Allegro, which takes up the idea of the first movement. Here Bentzon really pulls out all the stops and brings the sonata to a magnificent culmination.

The work was dedicated to the pianist Georg Vásárhelyi, with whom Bentzon studied for a brief period after his debut.

Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 77

While the Third Sonata had to wait 2-3 years for its first performance, Op. 77 was first played shortly after it was composed in 1951. This was at a concert on 23rd February 1952, and the work was immediately given an enthusiastic reception. A few days later in the newspaper Berlingske Tidende one could read that “each of the sonata’s three movements has been elaborated with the consistency and energy, and with the imagination in the development of the ideas, that place him [Bentzon] at the head of our young music”; an evaluation that is not hard to agree with now, almost half a century later; for the sonata is a very inspired work, and at the same time it is both concentrated and varied. At one end of the expressive spectrum there are the long and (especially for early Bentzon) very characteristic passages in the quick outer movements, where “the musical dynamics have the same hot pulse as in the early sonatas” and “cascades of sounds gush forth from the instrument” (as Bentzon himself has pointed out). We find the contrast to this in the intense, very atmospheric - and actually just as characteristic - slow passages of the work: The framing con moto passage of the first movement, the whole middle movement with its lyrically improvising feel (and characteristic trills and graces) as well as the meno mosso passage of the finale. Besides this overall balance of contrasts, the first movement (and to some extent the finale), which takes simple sonata form, is distinctive in its similarly effective contrast between the first and second subject. Bentzon’s roots in the dualism of the sonata are not to be denied.

Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 194

With this work from 1965 we have to some extent moved into another world. Bentzon’s grapplings with modernism a few years before have left their mark, and although the sonata with its three movements (Allegro, Andante, Allegro) is superficially quite traditional, the actual tonal idiom is less rooted in tradition and less uniform than in the early sonatas. The sonata is from a period when Bentzon was extremely prolific, and it is very much music of the type that has given rise to the description “frozen improvisation”. Reading the music one sees very little in the way of dynamic markings - there are for example none at all in the last movement with the exception of Bar 1. Thus much of the detailed shaping of the music is left to the interpreter, something with which we are also familiar from the key work Det tempererede Klaver, Op. 157 (1964), which has greatly influenced the sonata. The first performance was at a piano evening at Odd Fellow Palaeet on 26th April 1966, where the Eighth Piano Sonata, Op. 193 was also “christened”.

Bertel Krarup, 1998


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