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Piano Sonata for four hands in E flat major (Charles Gounod)

Date

1839

Text

The handwriting of the signature makes it possible to date the manuscript of the Sonate à quatre mains, which remained unpublished until 2017, to the year of the Grand Prix de Rome: 1839. Held in the Music Department of the National Library of France, the score, probably written for his sisters-in-law, Marthe and Marie Le Pileur, was written without rough notes, beginning with the Primo. The few crossings-out show that Gounod had the whole work in his mind. Any alterations were intended to determine the proper proportions of the form. Without ignoring the possible model of George Onslow’s sonatas, which boast a similarly orchestral style of writing, the nature of the Allegro and certain shifts in key prompt the listener to wonder whether Gounod might have known Schubert’s Fantaisie or Grand Duo. Although nothing stylistically foreshadows the future composer of Faust, except for a melodic progression at the centre of the finale, Gounod is recognisable by his tendency to dramatize the interplay of themes. The lively, swaggering Allegro is interesting for its rapid succession of unexpected modulations and for the way in which the motifs are swapped between the two pianists; the second subject, offset by an attractive gruppetto, cannot withstand the onslaughts of the bridge motif which, in the development, annihilates the first subject… The Adagio is like a sorrowful lament beset by a sense of tragedy which remains contained despite the agitated writing of the central section. Gounod rarely wrote Prestos. The spirit of Mozart seems to have presided over this one, which takes sonata form. The tumultuous first subject on the perfect chord, fortissimo, echoes that of the initial Allegro.