Sonata (2018)

Viola and Piano

Total duration ca. 20' 

Five movement work

I. [restless]

II. [roiling]

III. [serene and sensuous]

IV. [menacing]

V. [light]


Commissioned by Emma Dansak, Christopher Lowry, Casey Mullin, Thomas Scheurich, and Scott Stewart in September 2017, completed in January 2018.

Premiered by Casey Mullin and Mark Davies-Early

September 8, 2018 in Bellingham, WA.

Audio recordings performed by Casey Mullin and Mark Davies-Early

Purchase this score and part from

Peter Dayton Music (ASCAP) for: $20.00

The viola has figured largely in my musical narrative. More accurately, people who play the viola have been among my longest-lasting friends, supporters, and musical collaborators. The commissioners of this Sonata range from recent acquaintances to friendships and collaborations that have gone back years, from all over the United States. Despite so many violists in my life (to turn a phrase by Feldman), I had only a handful of short pieces that showcased the instrument. This work gives the viola, and the players who are my friends, its due in a substantial work to match the scale of my chamber works for violin and for cello. For such an eclectic group of people, I hope that the stylistic eclecticism of this piece seems a fitting complement: something for everyone. With formally conventional framing central movements, the second and fourth movements are short, slightly brutal, cathartic thumbnail sketches that serve, by their contrast, to recontextualize the lyricism of the other parts of the piece.


While I have joked with a few friends (some among the commissioners) about how many viola pieces are elegiac or somber, it is a hazard of the instrument to which this piece too has fallen prey in some ways. The timbre of the viola seems so well suited for darker harmonic and emotional colors, which is not to paint a bleak picture of the piece or the viola’s expressive prospects. Tenderness, mischief, throaty joyfulness, are all also a part of this piece, part of the palette of the instrument’s (and players’) capabilities. To the commissioners, Emma Dansak, Christopher Lowry, Casey Mullin, Thomas Scheurich, and Scott Stewart, I offer this Sonata, and my deepest thanks for the pleasure of writing it.