Sonatina for pianoforte

Tags: recording, piano

Peter Tranchell's Sonatina for pianoforte (1949) is a little mysterious - Tranchell didn't mention it in letters home, and was at the time talking more about his piano concerto (which either never materialised or has been lost). Two versions of the Sonatina exists in the CU archive; one bearing the dedication "For Jane" is presumed by Peter Marchbank to be the definitive version.

This "Jane" was Jane Scott, later to become Elizabeth Jane Howard (the author, and later wife of Kingsley Amis). In the later 1940's and early 1950's Peter Tranchell and Jane Scott were close friends, and he used to stay with her in London.  She called him "Mephi" (Elizabeth Jane Howard, Slipstream: A Memoir, pp 142-3).

It is possible the work was intended for Jane herself to play; equally it may have been composed at Jane's request for another of her young friends, the pianist Dennis Matthews, who was to enjoy a distinguished career as an interpreter of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, and was eventually to become the Professor of Music at Newcastle University. 

In 2004 Christopher Bishop (Caius, 1953) arranged for a sub rosa recording of the Sonatina as a gift for Elizabeth Jane Howard, then 81. The recording was made by John Fraser, at Potton Hall, Suffolk. At the time John was working full time as a producer, but his earlier career was as a pianist. John has kindly given us permission to publish the recording here (see below). He recalls

"I've known Christopher Bishop since he gave me my job as a recording producer at EMI Classics in 1977 and over the years we've kept in frequent touch. I've made dozens of recordings at Potton Hall (this year is my 40th anniversary as a recording producer - 30 years exactly to the day at EMI and ten years freelance since) and have often stayed with Christopher while working there. On one such occasion he asked me if I'd be prepared to learn the Sonatina and record it on the back of an official Potton Hall recording as a gift for EJH. It was a big ask because it's not an easy piece and to get it edited (etc) I had to call in various favours. Anyway, it was done and presented to EJH.  I never met her by the way but I did receive a short note of thanks.  I started professional life as a pianist prior to EMI, working as an accompanist and as a member of the Glyndebourne music staff for two summers, and I was also a vocal coach at the RCM for fifteen years while I was at EMI so I've always had a reason to keep my piano playing going."

Peter Marchbank says of the work:

There is much in the contrapuntal writing that reminds one of Hindemith whose Second Piano Sonata Peter had played in a King’s College Music Society concert in November 1941. There are also passages of completely unidiomatic piano writing, more reminiscent of an orchestral reduction, which lead one to wonder whether some of this music was perhaps originally intended for the Concerto, although there are no thematic similarities in the sketches of that work. In the earlier version of the Sonatina, each of the movements is preceded by an Introduction. In the presumed definitive version, the Introduction to the first movement is discarded while the Introduction to the second becomes an independent movement. The Introduction to the final movement is lengthened by opening with an extended version of the closing bars, thus creating a fourth movement. The opening movement, Moderato, poco rubato, ma molto liscio, is in sonata form with a very short development section. The second movement begins with a capriccio-like passage marked Allegro, after which comes a three-bar motto figure, marked Lento, a relic of the discarded opening Introduction, as is the Alla marcia that follows. The movement ends with the second bar of the motto figure: three soft chords. Much of the writing in the lyrical third movement, Andante, liscio con moto, ma molto rubato, is in two parts. Formally, the structure is A-B-A-B-Quasi cadenza-A. The principal feature of the melody in B is a dotted figure which is marked each time to be played “con esitazione”. The fourth movement is derived from previously-heard material. After the opening bar of the motto theme comes a twelve bar passage marked “quasi improvisando” which leads into a varied form of the music already heard in the second movement. To end, we have the motto theme extended to four bars. The finale is marked Marcia con brio (un poco burlescamente) and is an extended re-statement of the Alla Marcia heard earlier with a trio section. There is much of interest in this Sonatina, not least its tightly-organised structure, and pianists would, I believe, find plenty to enjoy in it.

The score will be typset and published here in due course, subject to permissions.

Complete recording on YouTube

Tranchell: Sonatina for pianoforte ("For Jane") - all movements - use the player below or download the MP3:

Individual movements

Tranchell: Sonatina for pianoforte ("For Jane") - 1. Moderato, poco rubato, ma molto liscio - use the player below or download the MP3:

Tranchell: Sonatina for pianoforte ("For Jane") - 2. Allegro; Lento; Marcia - use the player below or download the MP3:

Tranchell: Sonatina for pianoforte ("For Jane") - 3. Andante, Liscio Con Moto, Ma Molto Rubato - use the player below or download the MP3:

Tranchell: Sonatina for pianoforte ("For Jane") - 4. Lento; Allegro; Lento - use the player below or download the MP3:

Tranchell: Sonatina for pianoforte ("For Jane") - 5. Marcia Con Brio (Un Poco Burlescamente) - use the player below or download the MP3:

© 2004 the copyright in this sound recording is owned by John Fraser.