JAVS Summer 2023

Chamber Music

Walter Leigh's Viola Sonatina, 1929 by Veronica Jacobs, New York

In 1955, a fellow viola student at the Royal Academy of Music in London asked me about my father’s Sonatina for viola and piano. I knew little about it, beyond the information I had from Grove’s Dictionary . My father, Walter Leigh, was born in London in 1905 and after getting his B.A. at Cambridge, he studied composition with Paul Hindemith at the Berlin Hochachule. He gained recognition as a composer in England during the 1930s with two successful comic operas, incidental music for stage and film, and several chamber works, notably the Concertino for harpsichord and strings and a Trio for flute, oboe, and piano, both published by Oxfor University Press. He joined the British Army in 1941 and was killed at Tobrusk in 1942. His Sonatina for viola was never published. It was performed at the I.S.C.K. Festival in Vienna in 1932 and was played and broadcast during the 1930s by Watson Forbes who gave me the manuscript in exchange for a copy some twenty years later. I enjoyed the opportunity of playing the piano part at several viola recitals and the work was always well received. It is in three movements with a duration of about twelve minutes. the broad opening theme of the first movement gives an idea of the style in which it is written—no key signature throughout, but in conventional 4/4 time:

through various keys before coming to rest in F sharp major, with a poignant A @ in the vola against the piano’s A " ’s.

In contrast, the third movement is witty, recuring accurate rhythmical precision, several times across the bar lines:

The music has a definite English character in addition to the distinct influence of Hindemith. The violin part is lyrical and well-written, without being difficult, and the piano part is quite demanding with some consecutive chords in tenths. About five years ago, I was introduced to the violist composer Rebecca Clarke (also living in New York City) and I discovered that in fact she and my father gave the first performance of the Sonatina, soon after it was written in 1929.

The second movement is marked Andante tranquillo ed espressivo and has a wistful quality, wandering

From the April 1979 AVS Newsletter no.16.

Journal of the American Viola Society / Vol. 39, Summer 2023 Online Issue


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