Sonate pour piano?

Can you think of a famous late nineteenth/early twentieth century French piano sonata? If you drew a blank, don’t worry, it’s not all that surprising – the list of composers who didn’t write one reads like a Who’s-Who of French music of the fin de siècle: Gounod, Massenet, Saint-Saëns, Chabrier, Fauré, Chausson, Debussy, Satie, Ravel (though, at a push, I’ll grant you his Sonatine).

There is, however, an oasis in this seeming keyboard desert: Paul Dukas (yes, he of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) who, on the 7th September, 1900, completed his one and only piano sonata.

It’s a piece that belongs in a rather sad group of works, those that attract a lot of critical adulation but little performance. In the case of the Dukas the reason for this neglect would seem to be that the technical difficulty and length of the work puts many would-be interpreters off; it’s a shame since the high praise it has received is more than justified.

Here’s a taster:

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