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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Friday, November 22

Roger Sessions' "The Kennedy Sonata"

Synopsis

The American composer Roger Sessions is an acquired taste for most classical music fans, and, truth be told, his works don’t show up on concert recital programs all that often.

He was born in the 19th century, 1896, when Grover Cleveland was president, and died in 1985, when Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

Session’s early music, written when he was in his twenties and thirties, was neo-classical in style, but as the 20th century progressed, Sessions’ style did also, moving from harmonically complex tonality to frankly atonal works. His music became increasingly “gnarly,” you might say, but there was always a lot of emotion in his music, whatever technique he employed.

Take for example his Piano Sonata No. 3, nicknamed “The Kennedy Sonata.” It was written in reaction to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on today’s date in 1963. The last movement of Sessions’ Piano Sonata was written as an elegy for the slain president, and includes a climax of three sharply accented chords. For the American pianist William Grant Naboré, one of just a handful of artists who have recorded this work, those three chords suggest the three sharp rifle shots that shattered the air in Dallas the day Kennedy died.

Music Played in Today's Program

Roger Sessions (1896-1985) Sonata No. 3 "Kennedy Sonata" William Grant Naboré DRC 3002

Additional Information

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