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Length: 24 mins

About this Piece

Though he did not live to see the premiere of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Julius Reubke (1834–1858) certainly employed the same innovative chromaticism in his Sonata on the 94th Psalm in C minor (1857). More likely, the famous 40-minute piano sonata by his mentor Franz Liszt (three movements without pause between them written five years earlier) inspired Reubke, as did Liszt’s program music (although lively debate aside, Liszt left us no hint of a program that might unravel a story behind his monumental sonata).

Reubke’s sonata runs less than half an hour and depicts carefully specific passages taken out of the 94th Psalm, which is a lament against wickedness in the world. As with the Liszt Sonata, the middle movement begins with a chorale, and the final movement is a fugue with an unusually lengthy and chromatic subject.

First clearly stated in C minor, a five-note motive (a half note and two dotted-eighth rhythms) sets up several further statements, typically in a type of sequence (down a half-step, then up a whole step) but transforming into more developed statements, such as with thick chords and using the material as the basis for the fugue subject. Descending scalar passages (slow and rapid) also undergo similar changes of character similar to Liszt’s technique of “transformation of themes.” ―Gregg Wager