This sonata was composed for my friend and colleague, Sidney King, who specifically requested a multi-movement work for bass and piano. I hadn’t composed a bass/piano piece since my first sonata, in 1977, although I have written compositions and arrangements for solo bass, multiple basses, and bass in combination with other instruments down through the years. For whatever reason, all of my bass music in recent years has been folk-music inspired, but this piece is wholly original, not based on any pre-existing material.
The sonata is written with Sidney and his performing style in mind, of course, and is also written in honor of my three most important bass teachers: Sara Montgomery (high school in Amarillo Texas), Virginia Bodman (undergraduate school at Michigan State University), and Murray Grodner (graduate school at Indiana University). They were all examples to me, not just as fine teachers, but as role models for living an artistic life of integrity, and in balancing such a life with the demands of everyday existence.
The Second Sonata is conventional in structure, with two fast movements surrounding a slow movement. Although things have improved a good deal since I started playing the bass some decades ago, composers who aren’t bassists themselves (which is to say the vast majority of them) often don’t know even the conventional “cool stuff” the bass can do. I have deliberately taken advantage of many of the tricks of the trade to explore the range and versatility of this under-appreciated instrument. While certainly not easy, it is very bass-y, and could not be performed on any other instrument.
While not conventionally or functionally tonal, the movements all explore E and G as important contrasting tonal centers, sometimes simultaneously, so that the clash between G-natural (in E minor and G major) and G-sharp (in E major) is an important element throughout, remaining unreconciled even in the final measure.
The first movement is essentially a scherzo, and makes use of the sorts of rhythmic interplay common in such movements since Beethoven metamorphosed the stately minuet into a fast, playful “joke” movement, plus some rhythmic tricks of my own. The second movement is slow, rhapsodic, and serious, the emotional core of the sonata, while the finale is a straight-ahead toccata, in which both players get to show off a bit before going out with bang.