Fazil Say: Troy Sonata

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It’s my pleasure to review a lot of superb new piano music on this site, but rarely do I have the chance to hail a monumental masterpiece to compare with Fazil Say’s Troy Sonata.

The piece was recently recorded by the composer himself and released on his outstanding Fazil Say Plays Say CD from Warner Classics, which was highly praised as my Recording of the Month and reviewed here.

In that review I noted:

“There really is no doubt in my mind that the Troy Sonata is one of the most significant solo piano works of our current century.”

It is with therefore with genuine pleasure that I can also now tell you about the sheet music publication, brought to us by Schott Music

Truva Sonati: Troy Sonata

Introducing this work, publishers Schott Music tell us:

“Fazil Say’s Troy Sonata is a musical retelling of the Trojan War as written in Homer’s Iliad. Separated into ten parts, the sonata recounts the events leading up to the giving of the Trojan Horse and its aftermath, tied together with leitmotifs representing characters present in Homer’s story, as well as concepts associated with the work.”

Given the cinematic style of Say’s orchestral works, his virtuosity as a pianist and eclectic range of influences, it is perhaps no surprise to learn that the Troy Sonata fulfils its ambitious remit with considerable alacrity.

The ten movements between them last nearly 40 minutes, transitioning from one to the next without a break, and combining an astonishing lyrical and melodic range with music of the utmost dramatic flair.

The ten movements are:

  1. Homer; The Bard Recounts
  2. Aegean Winds
  3. Heroes of Troy
  4. Sparta
  5. Helen; Love
  6. Troy
  7. Achilles
  8. The War
  9. Trojan Horse
  10. Epilogue

According to the composer,

“In this work, the movements have already been allocated their main themes. In addition, there are also formal themes – leitmotifs – which are spread across the work and are indicated at appropriate points in the music such as: Destiny Weaves, Night, Menelaus, Paris, Sun, Agamemnon, Hector, Heroes and Anxiety… in my interpretation of the myth, I have not given much space to the old gods. As this composition is pure, non-verbal music, I was able to construct the drama out of its earthly elements.”

An epic unfolds…

Homer; The Bard Recounts opens the work with a mournful motif depicting the storyteller with heavy heart as he begins to unburden his saga. The tension soon mounts, delicious accompanying jazz harmonies giving way to darker, yearning chord clusters which eloquently underscore a grief-stricken portrayal of fallen Troy.

And so the story begins…

Aegean Winds emerges as a delicate and impressionistic evocation of the sea voyage to Troy, but as wind and waves swell we are introduced to the Anxiety motif which will reappear throughout the sonata.

Heroes of Troy is the best pianistic depiction of action heroes that I’ve encountered, its fervent syncopations never loosening their grip, while Sparta begins as a more tranquil, if sinister, interlude. It’s here that we meet the Agamemnon motif, which utilises extended techniques within the instrument itself suggestive both of his fearsome power and fragmenting mental state.

The fifth section, Helen; Love expectedly delivers some of the sonata’s most lyrical and melodic moments. The style here reveals the influence of modern jazz pianists from Herbie Hancock to Keith Jarrett, but the piece disintegrates into a return of the Aegean Winds as fate combines with the natural order to push conflict ever nearer.

When we finally reach The War itself after a couple more interludes, the music is every bit as bombastic as expected, as pianistic bravura of the highest order is called upon to unleash the shocking violence of the Trojan War. By way of contrast, Trojan Horse is eerie, ultimately a terrifying conclusion to the saga.

The valedictory Epilogue skilfully weaves together the (thematically related) motifs of Homer, Helen, Troy and Destiny before dying away into the Night motif, ending on a whisper.

In many ways this is an exhausting work, certainly for the performer, but also for the listener who is drawn ever deeper into the story and characters. That these movements gel together musically (indeed, even without the story this would be a compelling work with its own internal logic) is a triumphant testament to Say’s skill as a craftsman composer.

The Publication

Schott Music have produced a lovely score of this work, eschewing a more serious look for a colourful, eye-catching cover:

Within, there are 68 pages on cream paper, with staple binding holding the book together.

The composer’s extended written introduction appears in four languages (Turkish, English, German, French), and includes a synopsis of the Trojan legend for those who forget its finer details, as well as an account of the piece’s background.

The score itself is superbly and spaciously presented, with particular care given to the placement of page turns. Instructions about the extended ‘inside the piano’ techniques required are explained in detail and with clarity in foot notes.

Strikingly, the recurring leitmotifs are fully labelled each time they occur, ensuring that the performer is fully appraised of the programmatic elements within the music.

This also makes the score particularly attractive to those whose primary wish is to follow along with Say’s recording, and understand the work more fully.


This last point is an important one, because I should think anyone who has enjoyed listening to this stunning composition would be keen to learn more about it, whether or not in possession of the technique (and grand piano) necessary for performing it.

Whether as a performing or study score, Fazil Say’s Troy Sonata is, for top-level pianists at least, surely one of the more essential purchases of the year.

I certainly hope that this work receives the acclaim and wide circulation that it richly deserves.

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.