Sostenuto is the second in a series of concert pieces given the generic subtitle Study
- each piece, however, is a separate concert piece (they range from 6 to 14 minutes in length), rather than a shorter work fitting into a larger collection, as in Chopin, Debussy or Ligeti. This one was written for a recital by the composer at the 1969 Bath Festival, and, as with all of these pieces, stems from both pianistic and compositional concerns.
It is essentially a study in sustaining notes, in various ways: by finger-legato over a melodic line or a colouristic flourish, by holding notes on with the fingers to build harmonies, by the use of pedal, and so on. It is also a study in exploring a moment of time, expanding it and, by the use of a mosaic-like structure, exploring its implications. Most of the piece is quiet, though there is a clangorous climax before the delicate ending, in which, as elsewhere, bell-sounds are not far from the music's sound-world.
Programme Note © Copyright 2001 by John McCabe