Skip to main content

Grande Sonate "Les Quatre âges" op. 33

Date :
Musical ensemble:
Instrument(s) :

20 ans. Très vite – 30 ans. Quasi Faust. Assez vite – 40 ans. Un heureux ménage. Lentement – 50 ans. Prométhée enchaîné. Extrêmement lent

Composed in 1847-48 and probably never performed in public during Alkan’s lifetime, the Grand Sonata op. 33 is one of the most remarkable piano scores of the nineteenth century. Like Beethoven’s late sonatas (an avowed model) it shakes off pre-established patterns: the movements, each in a different key, become progressively slower, conveying the impossibility of a return to the past. The reference to Goethe and the autobiographical projection recall Berlioz, to whom Hans von Bülow likened Alkan. We also think of Liszt, inspired by Faust and the Prometheus myth, who in his later Sonata in B minor (written later) deploys a virtuosity and formal freedom similar to those of Alkan. The first movement, 20 ans, is characterised by the impetuous exuberance of youth, with moments of amorous reverie. In the second one the merged figures of Faust and Mephistopheles are contrasted with the fresh innocence of Gretchen; the Gregorian hymn Verbum supernum (sung at the feast of Corpus Christi) is quoted. In a climate reminiscent of some of Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte, the third movement, “A Happy Household”, illustrates the family life of a man of forty, who intones the evening prayer with his children (such peaceful happiness eluded Alkan). Illusions dissipated by the final movement, with its gloomy tremolos, grievous march and resigned prayer. In 1848 Alkan failed to obtain the post of professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire, which sent him into despair. At thirty-five (not fifty), he felt that he was no longer Faust, but “Prometheus bound”, the artist struck down.


publication date : 25/09/23

Go to search