Music Criticism by Sophia Gorlin

W. A. Mozart: Fantasia in D minor for Piano

Paradoxes of Style and Interpretation or Fantasies about the Fantasia

“The Fantasia in D minor for Piano is one of the masterpieces of Mozart’s late period. In this article I emphasize the Fantasia’s tempo realization—one of the most challenging aspects of interpreting Mozart’s piano music. I also pose a question that struck me while researching and writing the piece: What musical qualities make the Fantasia so uniquely expressive? The answer, I believe, is in its ‘paradoxicality’This innovative musical work is much more difficult in realization than it looks and soundsa seemingly paradoxical statement that I intend to prove.” Read it » (Or listen to the piece first »)

Beethoven's "The Tempest" Sonata

“Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op. 31, No. 2, in D minor—commonly known as ‘The Tempest’—is perhaps the towering work in the history of the sonata form. This unique and ingenious creation demarcates the beginning of the ‘middle period’ of Beethoven’s life, the so-called ‘heroic decade’ during which such magnificent works as the Eroica (Third Symphony), the Fifth Symphony, the opera Fidelio, the Third and Fifth Piano Concertos, the music to Goethe’s Egmont, the Piano Sonatas Waldstein (No. 21) and Appassionata (No. 23), and the Kreutzer violin sonata were composed. This article analyzes the innovations to the sonata form that Beethoven achieved in the work’s first movement.” Read it »

24 Preludes op. 34 for Piano by Shostakovich—
the ABCs of Shostakovich’s Compositional Style

“In this article, I focus on and illustrate the uniqueness of Shostakovich’s compositional style in his 24 Preludes. I use the entire English alphabet to enumerate the styles, genre characteristics, and special effects that appear in the piece—an idea derived from Solomon Volkov’s ‘The ABC’s of Schnittke.’ Over the course of the article I reveal the ways in which the Preludes absorbed the stylistic features of the genre’s earlier music, I demonstrate Shostakovich’s contribution to the prelude genre, and I show how the Preludes influenced Shostakovich’s later music.” Read it »

Shostakovich's Piano Sonata No. 2

“Conceived and written in dedication to Shostakovich on the centennial of his birth in September 2006, this article aims to promote his Piano Sonata No. 2, op. 61—a stylistically innovative work that has been undeservedly overlooked by music critics. As the forerunner to many stylistic characteristics that Shostakovich would later develop, I believe that the Sonata holds a special place among his piano works—and his musical legacy as a whole. This detailed stylistic analysis focuses on the distinctiveness of the Sonata with respect to Shostakovich’s other works and, more broadly, with respect to Shostakovich’s individual style. In addition, the analysis attempts to semantically unravel the composer’s ‘Aesopian’ language, which would become an inalienable part of his musical vocabulary. This article includes: a preface detailing important characteristics of Shostakovich's life and works (the variety of genres within which he worked, the three periods of his life and works, his experience with Stalinism, and his ‘Aesopian’ language); a number of musical illustrations (primarily from works by Shostakovich, but also from fugues by Bach); and an epilogue in which the previously described stylistic features of the Sonata are traced through the composer’s later compositions (in particular his "monogram," D-S-C-H).” Read it »

Alfred Schnittke—Shostakovich’s Heir: Schnittke’s Piano Quintet vs. Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15/String Quartet No. 8

“It is now widely accepted that Alfred Schnittke, whose life was tragically cut short on August 3, 1998, was the most significant figure in late-20th-century Russian music, largely because he continued to develop the musical traditions established by Shostakovich. This article was conceived and written in memory of the composer on the 10th anniversary of his death.

“Two events motivated me to write about the Schnittke’s Piano Quintet. First, a friend of mine, a talented Ukrainian composer and Schnittke aficionado, presented me with the score, proclaiming it to be her absolute favorite work. Second, after listening to the Quintet and reaching the same estimate, I read a discussion of the piece in Alexander Ivashkin’s book on Schnittke that I found hard to believe was written about the same work. This article challenges Ivashkin’s stylistic analysis of the Quintet and puts forth a contrasting interpretation.

“In the article’s first chapter, I compare Shostakovich’s and Schnittke’s musical styles. In the second (and main) chapter, I present my stylistic analysis of the Quintet and attempt to separate the traditional from the new in the Quartet’s musical language. The third chapter is a comparative analysis of the Quintet in relation to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 and String Quartet No. 8. The article concludes with the words of Ivashkin, who said that ‘it was Alfred Schnittke who filled the gap in Russian music left by Shostakovich’s death in 1975.’” Read it »