Samuil Feinberg Piano Sonata no. 2, op 2

performed by Christophe Sirodeau

So Samuil Feinberg was an extremely talented pianist, known for his transcriptions of Bach, as well as a complete recording of the Well-tempered Clavier. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory under Alexander Goldenweiser, a composer I’ve been meaning to get around to exploring. He won the Stalin Prize in 1946, and composed in his career twelve sonatas, as well as fantasies and other works for piano, some including voice, and three piano concertos, which Wikipedia also notes are not standard in the repertoire… I haven’t even heard them yet. I seem to recall not being able to find them, but a YouTube search yields some recordings. I must check them out. 
His first and second sonatas were both composed in 1915, when the composer was 25 years old, and are his first two opus numbers. It seems most of his piano sonatas, with the exception of 1 and 11, are on YouTube or have recordings available, so I know nothing of his first. 
The second is a busy, frighteningly complicated-looking and sounding second sonata for a young

composer. It is in one movement, but even for me, at a semi-attentive listen, exhibits clear sonata form.

In taking a look at the score, it’s clear where the first and second themes are. There are a few notable key changes, and even a traditional repeat of the exposition. 
The piece opens in Am, but from the first bar it is fraught with accidentals. It is marked 3/4 but with (9/8) in parentheses, since it’s based on triplet figures throughout most of this passage. There are also lots and lots of two-against-three rhythms in this section. The second theme moves to D major, and is in 6/8. This section is marked by 16th notes in the treble against a more static bass. The last section of the exposition brings us back to the first theme in 3/4, but in the key of Em, before the repeat sign. 
The melody from the opening is the most persistently noticeable motif in the entire piece, and it is heard among the (beautiful) chatter in many places, even down to the very end. 
The development section continues in Em, and we have key changes to B major, a few bars of Cm, back to Am, E major, F#m, and finally finishing back again in the home key of Am. 
That all being said, the piece is very chromatic, with tons of accidentals throughout, and lots of time signature changes. There are passages in 6/8, 9/8, even 7/8 and 8/8. There are lots of 5-tuplets and awkward rhythms against each other. Despite its complexity, the piece manages to remain interesting and comprehensible. The ornateness of the piece creates a fluid yet sort of chaotic nature always in the background of that main theme. In juxtaposition with that are more peaceful passages, more rhythmically simple and harmonically straightforward than much of the action of the rest of the piece. It’s kind of like coming up for a breath of fresh air before diving back down. 
Feinberg’s work is compared to that of Scriabin, so it may come as no surprise that he was an avid supporter of the works of both Scriabin and Debussy (as well as Prokofiev, later in life) and I can see the resemblance in general; Feinberg had great admiration for Scriabin and championed the composer’s works, his performance of Scriabin’s fourth quite admired by the composer.
In contrast, this piece has a similar density of notes and general busy-ness that the second movement of Scriabin’s second sonata had, but with ZERO of the romantic nod to Chopin. It’s just at a slower pace and less… fast. Its highly chromatic nature and use of rhythm greatly distances Feinberg from anything resembling Chopin. It has the fluidity perhaps of a Chopin nocturne in some areas, but is distinctly NOT of that school of thought. 
This is an impressive nine-minute piece. It’s interesting both in its harmonies and rhythms, complex use of texture and tasteful contrasts, so much so that I wish it weren’t just a one-movement piece. This eight-or-nine minute sonata seems to be the start of an excellent larger-scale work. Instead, for no reason I can find, he moved right into his third sonata, his opus no. 3, in three movements, the previous two both being in only one movement each.
I find this piece enjoyable from the perspective of being very interesting more so than moving or standardly enjoyable. Most disappointingly however, is that there’s not more to it. I feel almost ripped off in this piece, like it ends abruptly without the rest of what should be there. Berg’s piano sonata was the same. He fully intended to write a multi-movement work, but when he expressed to Schoenberg that he didn’t know what else to write a after that, the latter told his student that he had “said all there was to say.” I can see that being a relief as a young composer. While I would be interested to see what else would have come of Berg’s composition had he continued writing, it is more out of curiosity than anything, and I feel satisfied with the single-movement work we have here. Scriabin’s one movement sonatas, on the other hand, are brilliant, glistening, complete, powerful works just as they are, and do not lack a single note. 
It’s an impressive work for such a young composer. He went on to become a star professor at the Moscow Conservatory, and because of political reasons interfering with his artistry, his later works are simpler and more diatonic, and thus more acceptable under the Socialist regime than his earlier works, which he then seldom played. This likely contributed to the scarcity of performances of his works in the modern era. We can at least hope that his works will endure and get the recognition they deserve. 

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