Programme Notes: Instrumental Ensemble

On this page:


SONATA FOR TWO PIANOS 'The Lord will be a Refuge for the Oppressed; a Refuge in times of trouble' Opus 40 (1987)

Duration 20' 

3 movements

The Interdenominational Society for Soviet Jewry existed during the years of the communist regime in the USSR. It campaigned in the west for the release of Jews who were held in the USSR against their will. Andrew Downes saw in the plight of the “Refusniks” parallels with the tribulations and persecution suffered by the Jews throughout their history. In his Sonata for Two Pianos he turned mainly to the Old Testament and particularly to the Psalms for his inspiration.

The opening of the work is inspired by Psalm 10 verse 1:

“Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord, why hidest thou thy face in times of trouble?”

The music begins full of yearning and has at the same time a Jewish character. A more comforting mood then takes over, inspired by Psalm 69 v.33:

“For the Lord heareth the poor and despiseth not His prisoners.”

The movement moves into a long, energetic and agitated section before the yearning of the opening re-emerges. The end of the movement is full of pathos, but at the same time optimism.

The second movement is for the most part meditative in mood, inspired by Psalm 80, which likens the Jewish people to a vine which God brought out of Egypt and planted. It grew and spread, but its enemies cut it down. Twice in the movement the music becomes excited and perturbed, each time returning to the predominantly reflective mood.

The music moves into the third movement without a break and by means of a jubilant passage, which wants to herald a future of great hope. There immediately follows, however, a passage of sinister foreboding. The movement swings from the one mood to the other, but the final coda is a return to jubilation, like an announcement from God beckoning his people and their turning to him. In its final version the theme goes into “slow motion” as they walk to their refuge of eternal peace:

“Open the gates of Righteousness. I will go into them and I will praise the Lord.” (Psalm 118, verse 19)


More info on this work

Return to the top of the page