Eldin Burton’s Sonatina

Molly York | July August 2009

    Sonatina for flute and piano may be Eldin Burton’s one-hit-wonder, but it has stood the test of time. It is considered a standard within the flute literature today and is well loved worldwide. Burton (1913-1979) was an American pianist who had ambitions of becoming a composer. He originally wrote the Sonatina as a piano piece for a composition class at Julliard. The professor told him that it sounded like more than just a piano part and suggested that he rewrite the piece to include flutist Samuel Baron who was a fellow classmate.
In 1948 the Sonatina won the only New York Flute Club Composition contest ever held, and the premiere performance was played by Samuel Baron, who would later become a revered American flute teacher at the University of New York/Stony Brook, the chair of the Woodwind Department at the Julliard School of Music, and the founder of the New York Woodwind Quintet.
    Burton’s prize for winning the New York Flute Club Composition contest was a publication offer from G. Schirmer Inc., which assured the Sonatina’s survival in the flute repertoire. Burton took a job with Schirmer, but did not find success in composition; his only other piece, a flute concerto, was never published, although it is available as rental music from Schirmer.

I – Allegretto grazioso
     Marked quarter = 96, the first movement moves forward better at a little faster tempo of quarter = 112. Although the beginning is not technically difficult, the phrasing can be problematic. I suggest aiming for the As. Although they are lower, they are the point of arrival within each sub phrase. Moving toward them avoids sounding stagnant.

    Vibrato should be prominent throughout this first section, especially when the theme jumps an octave higher at rehearsal 1. After being stated in the middle register in the beginning and the high register at 1, the melody repeats a third time at 3, but this time the pitches change.
    Burton creates a mysterious feeling by shifting  from major to minor. Acknowledge that difference and take a more enigmatic approach by changing to a darker tone color. It is also important to notice that the accompaniment has a crescendo at the end of every phrase up to rehearsal 4. This means that flutists should support the last note of each phrase without getting louder or softer.
      The Più mosso section three measures after 4 has numerous dotted-eighth and triplet rhythmic figures. Wherever this triple versus duple subdivision occurs, it is essential to distinguish clearly between the two in order to retain the rhythmic integrity.

    Play true dotted-eighth and sixteenths and true triplets. Practice shifting between triple and duple subdivisions on scales and arpeggios.
Five bars after 4, use thumb-Bb key to facilitate the sextuplet arpeggios. However, be ready to slide the thumb back over to the B natural key for the FIs.  Measures 31 to 70 include many scalar passages and flutists should be able to identify what scale is being used as in this example:

    I like to think of the three measures before 20 as a mini-cadenza. Take your time and let the triplet sound like a trumpet fanfare. The following five measures serve as an interlude to the return of the opening theme at rehearsal 11. The Tempo Primo printed at rehearsal 10 should actually be at rehearsal 11. During the ritard one measure before rehearsal 13, add length to the marcato triplets to create a more dramatic ritard into the Più mosso (Animato).
Use a fast vibrato in this section, especially in this register, but don’t give away the climax two measures before 15. The syncopated rhythms starting at 15 should sound relaxed, not agitated. Think of them as light and jazzy. I suggest the following breaths to help with phrasing.

It is easy to tense up and rush here because the register is high, but the ending should be relaxed and amiable. Otherwise, the final three measures that lead into the slow movement will be less effective. 
II – Andantino Sognando
     Sognando means to dream, and Burton, along with other composers such as Debussy, used the flute to portray a dream-like ambiance. This movement is wonderful because Burton uses all of the beautiful aspects of the flute – color, range, and technique. The movement is ternary, with A (mm. 1-18)and B (mm. 19-30) sections and a repeat of the A (m. 31), although the restatement of A is not complete.
    The beginning is marked mezzo forte, and it remains that way until the crescendo poco a poco six bars before rehearsal 17. There is ample opportunity to add musicality and phrasing. I suggest starting the beginning a little softer, say mezzo piano, followed by a crescendo to a mezzo forte on the B half note in the first full measure. Lifting the quarter-note B and placing the half-note B that follows can be quite effective.

    The pickups to rehearsal 16 and two bars after 20 can also be treated the same way.
    Four bars after rehearsal 16 the mood changes dramatically into a few lighthearted measures that lead to the first high-register moment – a high G. However, the mood quickly gives way to a feeling of melancholy as the A section ends.
    The B section begins in the piano with dramatic block chords at rehearsal 17. The flute enters three after 17 with melodic material that creates an anxious quality with forte and fortissimo 32nd-note scale passages. Be sure to group the notes in these scales for technical ease. Three bars after 18 I group the 32nds on the first beat as 4 + 5 and those on the third beat as 5 + 6. As in the first movement scales passages, note the key of each scale and mark any pitches that fall outside of the scale pattern. Note that E-major scales are prevalent in the two measures before 19.
    The beginning theme, or the A section, returns at rehearsal 19 at a mezzo forte level that lasts until rehearsal 20, which is marked Quieto. This indicates calm, still, or peaceful, and that mood should be reflected until the end of the movement. There is an interesting story about the harmonic on the last note. Donald Peck states that he suggested the harmonic to Burton who added it to the score. However, now Peck views it as a musical indulgence, and because it was not originally Burton’s idea, Peck does not use a harmonic there anymore. Should you choose to do so, try fingering a middle E and lip up to the harmonic. I suggest taking a breath before the last note to ensure a confident ending. Little to no vibrato on the B will allow the tone to evaporate.

III – Allegro giocoso quasi fandango
    A fandango is an animated Spanish dance in triple time, and Burton uses triplets on the strong beats in 6/8 throughout the whole movement. Begin your practice at a slow tempo to accurately place the triplets within the correct beat. The opening should have integrity and assurance with well-articulated accents placed directly on the beat. Use trill fingerings (see box) for smooth and comfortable triplet 16ths. Remember, however, that the triplets must remain accurate 16ths within an eighth-note subdivision; they should not become just a finger wiggle.

    Four bars after rehearsal 23 it is customary to overblow B natural and C# to produce the high F#-G# triplets that repeat for two bars. Using the C#-trill key can also be used for ease, along with a strong and continuous air stream; this will keep the pitch from going flat. Adding a crescendo through these two measures creates a driving effect that heightens the forte at rehearsal 24.
    I use the right-hand B-flat lever for the A#s three bars after rehearsal 24. Furthermore, it can remain in use for the G#-A# triplet as well and generates less finger movement than the traditional fingerings. 
    The brilliante double-tongued 16th notes at rehearsal 26 should be evenly spaced and played with a crisp articulation, as illustrated by the staccato marking on every note. Finger the F#s five bars after rehearsal 26 with your right-hand middle finger in order to keep the right-hand ring finger free for the high Bn. On the other hand, at rehearsal 27 use the regular F# fingering to keep the right-hand index finger free for the high A# that follows.  Two before rehearsal 28 is the last of the16th-note passages, which are technically very challenging. Grouping the notes as follows will make them easier.

    The primary theme returns four bars before rehearsal 29 and continues in a developmentary way until the Tempo 1. Again, trill fingerings work well for the triplets. A two-bar grand pause precedes the Tempo 1, although most performers perform a simple one-bar grand pause at this spot. In a performance, remain absolutely still until the piano enters. At the end of the movement at rehearsal 34 the piano should be prominent, so I suggest backing off on the F# trill. Start piano with a crescendo through the pickups to rehearsal 35. Then go for the sforzando high D.
    Burton’s Sonatina is a great gift to flutists from a man who failed to realize his dream of becoming a composer. Its style and beauty encompass all facets of the flute, and it is a favorite of audiences as well.