OPUS 57. THIRD SONATA, NORSE, IN D MINOR, FOR PIANOFORTE.
First Published, 1900 (Arthur P. Schmidt).
1. Impressively; at times with impetuous vigour.
2. Mournfully, yet with great tenderness.
3. With much character and fire.
The two last sonatas, the Norse, Op. 57, and, the Keltic, Op. 59, are MacDowell’s most superb achievements, banishing for ever the mistaken and ignorant assertion that he was only a miniaturist in composition. The Norse sonata is separated by a wide gulf of progress from its predecessor, the Sonata Eroica, being greater in outlook, freer in form and altogether more strongly determined and personal in character. It has a more mature strength, nobleness and dignity, together with an inspiring and magnificent beauty and splendour of tone power. The subject of the work was one that MacDowell loved to dwell upon—the stirring tales of love and mighty heroism told in the ancient Norse sagas. The barbaric, but undoubtedly splendid spirit of those dim days seized upon his imagination as it did upon that of the English composer, Elgar, when he wrote his Scenes from the Sagas of King Olaf. The writing in the Norse sonata is of tremendous breadth and sweep of line, only surpassed by that of the Keltic sonata, (Op. 59), often calling forth the utmost power of which the modern pianoforte is capable and altogether ignoring the stretch of one pair of hands, which have to leap the huge chordal stretches very smartly. Notwithstanding this fullness of writing, however, the effect is always ringing and clear. The third and fourth of MacDowell’s sonatas were dedicated by him to Grieg, but the printed copies of the former do not bear the inscription, though those of the Keltic do so.
1. The first movement opens darkly and sombrely, suggesting the lines of the verse that heads the sonata as a whole, telling of the great rafters in the hall at night, flashing crimson in the flickering light of a dying log fire. The strong voice of a bard rings out, and through this medium the tales of battles, love and heroic valour is told. The movement has passages of tremendous vigour, passion and depth, all painted with the unerring skill of the composer. The final bars are of fierce and elemental power.
2. The second movement opens with a theme of tender beauty. It develops into passionate strength, involving much intricacy of writing and wide spread chordal work.
3. The third and last movement (it will be noted that MacDowell abandons the scherzo movement in this sonata, as it had proved an aside in the two earlier ones) is impetuous and, as it proceeds, becomes increasingly difficult to play. The theme of the second movement is recalled in a passage of extreme pathos. The final coda is most impressive, beginning Dirge-like—very heavy and somber; five bars from the end there is a moment’s silence, and then the opening theme of the first movement rings out and the sonata ends with the utmost breadth and strength.