The composer at work: Curtis Bryant. (courtesy of

An EarRelevant Interlude, No. 5: Sonata for Cello and Piano

Mark Gresham | 24 JUN 2020

Number 5 in a series of audio and video presentations curated by by EarRelevant’s publisher and principal writer Mark Gresham as part of his “Composer’s Notebook.” Several of our writers are also composers, and in this process we’d like to introduce you to some of their music during this time in which we are absent live concerts.

Curtis Bryant: Sonata for Cello and Piano

As recorded by cellist Dorothy Lewis and pianist Cary Lewis on their album Music by Southern Composers for Cello and Piano (GSCD-274). ©1989, used by permission.
1. Slow, Expressive [start: 0.00]
2. Interlude, Slow [start:6:52]
3. Finale, Playful [start: 9:01]

A native of Atlanta, Georgia, composer Curtis Bryant first wrote for EarRelevant in May 2019. As a composer, Bryant’s catalog exhibits quite a range of output. Most notable are his two full-length operas: Zabette (1999) and The Secret Agent (2013), but also orchestral, chamber, and vocal music as well as composing music for film and video games. He has garnered seven Southern Regional Emmy Award nominations for his original music for television.


In the liner notes of the Music by Southern Composersalbum, Bryant had the following to say about his Sonata for Cello and Piano:

I composed the SONATA FOR CELLO AND PIANO for Dorothy and Cary Lewis on a commission by my longtime friend Gretchen Van Zile for her husband Donald Van Derveer. Originally intended to be a birthday surprise, it ended up being a musical Valentine, receiving its premiere by the Lewises on February 10, 1987 at Georgia State University: Typical of much of my work, the cello sonata is based on a very few “seed motives” which are then expanded and varied into a wide variety of melodic themes. The two outer movements of the piece are both in sonata form. They flank the brief interlude which serves as a free-form transition to the “Playful” Finale.

The first movement is introduced by a double-dotted figure which, after a period of tonal uncertainty, leads to a romantic theme in E minor, marked “Brooding.” Another transition marked “Calmly” leads to a second group of themes in F major and D minor derived from the opening motives. A brief, rambling development leads back to the full recapitulation in E minor, The second movement, Interlude picks up where the first leaves off and then presents a new theme marked “Singing” started first in the piano, then answered simply by the cello. This leads with only momentary pause to the faster third movement in E major with its playful and childlike themes. A fugal development leads to the sonata recapitulation.

Bryant’s Sonata for Cello and piano can also be heard on Youtube (The Lanier Trio and Friends channel) and on the composer’s SoundCloud pages. ■