Alexander Goehr’s Piano Sonata is his first composition to have secured a performance in an international context, one that de facto launched his professional career. Besides inspiring from the rhythmic characteristics of Bartók and Messiaen, Goehr points out that Liszt’s Piano Sonata and Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony also informed his Sonata, “which contained [his] first experiment in the combination of twelve-note row and modal harmony.” The subtitle “in memory of Serge Prokofiev” in the published scores also confirms Goehr’s reference to the Russian composer.
Existing literatures on the Sonata mainly focus on its historical references. Row analysis plays a dominating role in examining the piece but they fail to account for its overall pitch organization and large-scale structure. Furthermore, albeit the recognition of the influence of Prokofiev to Goehr’s Sonata, scholars have not yet examined how exactly the influence is reflected in the work. This paper shall thus scrutinize the thematic and structural framework of the Sonata.
Due to the strong family background that Goehr shares with Schoenberg, I contend that the Schoenbergian technique of developing variation may have also served the thematic expansion process well. I suggest that the transformational networks constitute as a useful agent to depict the expanding thematic process in Goehr’s Sonata. In addition, the application of the Klumpenhouwer networks reveals the deeper structural framework of the Sonata. The transformational analysis thus reveals an intricate array of functional relationships among different themes and structural entities, which reside at a variety of levels in the composition.