Nicholas Ashton, pianist solo, chamber, contemporary piano music

Nicholas Ashton, pianist

Programme Note 18/02/14, Edinburgh, Re:Sono

The video recording of the recital can be accessed via the link below:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Larghetto and Allegro, Eb major

This work was probably composed in Vienna during the Autumn of 1781, when Mozart was attempting to establish his credentials in the city (after a successful year-long stay in Munich the previous year), with a concentration of work, particularly the opera Die Enfuehrung aus dem Serail, and the six string quartets dedicated to Haydn. The Larghetto of the work is complete, but the Allegro  – in sonata-form – is only partially written out, as far as the beginning of the development section. This was finished off some time in the 1820s by Mozart’s pupil, Maximillian Stadler, in rather prosaic fashion, although he took care only to elaborate exactly according to Mozart’s material. There is a much more lively version – albeit with new material – written by the pianist and musicologist Paul Badura-Skoda, but I have been unable to locate a score.

The Larghetto is remarkably similar in lyrical quality to the opening of both the sublime Quintet for piano and winds K452 and the piano Quartet K493; this is perhaps engendered by the same Eb major tonality. Both keyboards are engaged in a dialogue-like sharing of the melodic fabric, with neither taking precedence. This is very much in character with the treatment of the material in Mozart’s single other work for the two instruments, the glorious Sonata in D major, K448, which was composed at around the same time.

The ensuing Allegro – exhilarating and witty – has enough of Mozart in it to justify more frequent performance, although the work has remained something of a rarity even amongst established interpreters of the piano duo repertoire.

Note by Nicholas Ashton


Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Sonata (1943-44)


Theme, with variations 1-4


This work was written shortly after the composer had emigrated permanently from France to the USA (initially in 1939) and had taken American citizenry.

During these years, Stravinsky spent much of his time on commissions, whether for shelved music film projects offered by Hollywood (later resurfacing – with his customary economy – as free-standing compositions), or revisions to his early large scale works such as  Le Sacre du Printemps and Petrushka. The latter revisions were undertaken as much to regain copyright control as to correct errors and rethink instrumentation.

The only major work to be composed independently of commission was the Mass (1944). Despite such practical financial considerations, some of the most beautiful, coolly lyrical examples of Stravinsky’s late neo-classicism were produced throughout the decade – Scenes de Ballet (1945), Orpheus (1948) and the “Basle” concerto for Strings (1946). The Sonata is a most attractive companion to them. Although the first piano part occupies a higher register than the second for the greater part (and thus leads the melodic material) there is such a deft integration of texture and interweaving of counterpoint – especially in the central registers of both, that the result is a unified whole rather than the impression of two separate entities.

The Sonata is much less virtuosic and dramatic in scope then the Concerto for Two Solo Pianos (1936) – possibly Stravinsky’s finest chamber work –  although he continues to exploit the percussive and rhythmic potential of the instruments in much the same way: dryness and speed of attack; sustaining legato only by means of the hands; exact synchronisation of voicing, etc.

The first movement is in sonata-form, followed by a series of variations upon a canon and a final concluding allegretto reprising material from both. In terms of tonality, Stravinsky keeps within the boundaries – if that is the right word – of the Classical style, adhering to a tonic – dominant tension in the opening sonata-form movement which is set in F major, although at the outset beginning with the dominant 7th and thereafter continuing to exploit the colour and ambiguity of adding these at cadences and structural resolutions – the movement ends with the tonic F major chords overlaid with C7. The second movement is a set of four immaculately crafted variations on a canon at the inversion; the third a sort of aria da capo.  Stravinsky partnered Nadia Boulanger for the premiere of the work, and mentioned it with much affection in his conversations with Robert Craft.

Note by Nicholas Ashton


Drew Hammond

Watershed for Two Pianos (2011)

Part 1 Kentucky River Basin

Sand Knob (silence)

Baughman Creek

Hanging Fork

Dix River

Kentucky River and Palisades


Part 2 Salt River Basin

Sand Knob (silence)

Durham Hollow

Carpenter Creek

North Rolling Fork (Rising Waters)

Salt River (Flood)


Part 3 Ohio Mississippi Gulf of Mexico Atlantic Ocean


There are more miles of navigable water in Kentucky than in any other state excluding Alaska. The titles of the individual sections of this piece follow two river basins from their outermost edge, through tributaries, to their principal rivers. I don’t intend for this music to represent rivers, or to sound like water. However, something of the phenomenon of River enabled me to approach the small – and large scale – forms of this piece and, furthermore, thoughts of my home in Central Kentucky sustain me in much of my work.

Sand Knob is an insignificant summit in the southernmost corner of my home county. On either side of it lie Durham hollow and Baughman Creek, beginning their long unbroken paths to the ocean. In the music, it is the starting place, the airy silence of high ground that begins parts 1 and 2 of the work. The final section is a brief thought on the dispersal of water through the Ohio River and Mississippi River watersheds that contain all of Middle America.

The work received its first performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in January, 2012 by its dedicatees, Lauryna Sableviciute and Nicholas Ashton.

Note by the composer


Jane Stanley

Pentimenti for Two Pianos (2011)

The title Pentimenti is drawn from the visual arts. Pentimenti refers to the alteration of the composition of a painting mid-way through the process of completing the work. In the case of a figurative painting, the artist may change the height of a person or the direction in which a hand points. I aimed to express this concept musically by creating an impression of multiple layers of texture and by suggesting the ideas of “traces” or shadows of pre-existing material (for example, the distant decorative texture in piano 2 entering at figure F). The low, very soft agitated texture exposed at figure A is for me analogous with the process of priming a canvas in preparation for adding successive layers of foreground interest and subject matter. An example of “foreground interest” is the subito forte flourish entering at bar 32, along with other gestures which project in terms of dynamic and register.

The work received its first performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in January, 2012 by its dedicatees, Lauryna Sableviciute and Nicholas Ashton.

Note by the composer


Frederic Francois Chopin (1810-1849)

Rondo in C major, op.73 (1828)

Chopin left his native Poland at the age of nineteen to embark on a career as a pianist. He spent a year in Vienna and then settled in Paris, where there was an astonishingly vibrant music scene. Musicians, writers, artists and culturally and socially aware people met and exchanged views in a liberal atmosphere, principally at soirees organised by the rich aristocracy. At the time, the formal piano recital existed only in this semi-informal setting and charismatic performers such as Liszt, Paganini and, in due course, Chopin gained an adoring fan-base, rather like today’s pop idols, as well as substantial financial support. Chopin needed to establish his credential with works which could highlight his unique gifts as a pianist, and several works for two pianos were composed at this time to fulfil this purpose, of which this Rondo is probably the best example. In fact it is a reworking of an earlier work for solo piano.

All of the hallmarks of his highly polished, brilliant virtuosity are in evidence, as is the Polish folk-music character of both the principal theme and its melancholic second melody. The full range of the keyboard is exploited to sparkling effect, with extended scale and arpeggio passagework unfolding in a series of colourful chromatic modulations which contrast well with the relatively unsophisticated nature of the core thematic material.

Note by Nicholas Ashton


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