Sean Hickey profile

Viola Sonata "Jefferson Chalmers"

viola, piano
10/29/2018 San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Three movement work for viola and piano commissioned by celebrated violist Dimitri Murrath.

Program Notes

                  My Viola Sonata “Jefferson Chalmers” was commissioned by violist Dimitry Murrath in 2016 and composed in the same year. I had the great honor of hearing him perform Bruch with the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra in Bellingham, Washington, where I was in residence for the premiere of my piece, Hitherto, with the same orchestra. I have been fortunate to compose several works that include the viola, including Pied-a-terre, for flute, viola and harp; and Longitude, a shorter work for viola and piano. But I’ve long wanted to essay a more sonata-like form for the two instruments, and this is that work.

                  Cast in a traditional three-movement contrasting form, the piece begins with a short motive that will make its appearance throughout the first movement, tossed between the two instruments. The second movement begins with a more expansive melody accompanied by the piano in its top range. A mid-section contains some abstract chords from both instruments. The movement’s coda comes at a high volume, broad and sweeping.

                  The final movement is in a manic, fast three, with stretches of each instrument playing without each other, including a short fugal section on the piano. A slow section featuring broad chords follows, which is then replaced with the 3/8 material from the movement’s beginning. For the final pages the instruments loudly barrel through themes centered on the viola’s bottom string, C.

                  The subtitle refers to the neighborhood in northeast Detroit of the same name. Bounded by two streets and the Detroit river, Jefferson Chalmers is where my mother grew up and where my grandparents settled, raising five kids in a house that still stands, abandoned and surrounded by grassy lots. Once one of the most beautiful neighborhoods of the city, it has fallen on hard times, with even the church where my parents were married shuttered and overgrown with trees. Signs of revitalization are returning to the area, which is several miles from downtown, and I look forward to perhaps witnessing it.

                  The piece is dedicated, with gratitude, to Dimitri Murrath who performs the premiere tonight, as well as to my mother.