Having known Bucyznski since 1992, when I took his first year Materials of Music class, I can confidently list off a few of his composing idols – Bach, Chopin, Debussy and Beethoven. The August Collection, a collection of preludes, was an hommage to Chopin, and his sonatas cannot completely escape the looming and intimidating legacy of Ludwig. Not a man to be outdone though, Walter is currently on a crusade not just to match Beethoven’s output of 32 sonatas, but surpass. Last time I checked in, he was well into the late-twentieth sonata in preparation for his 85th birthday celebrations.

Though I haven’t heard the last twenty-five or so, I will nevertheless assert that the Third is the one that shines above all the others. (I also quite like the first). Buczynski particularly likes this one as well – he is proud of the rather unusual single movement structure.

One of the thing that Buczynski continuously pointed out in his laudatory analyses of Beethoven in class was his strict economy of motivic material. Beethoven could spin an epic out of a few notes and intervals, and even the most complex structures are quite easily deconstructed to elegant, spare harmonic progressions. The Third begins with a two note motive – a minor third – that slowly morphs into a three notes, via another minor third, and then another on top. This quasi exposition then crystallizes into a featherlike run and we’re off on our journey. Different episodes along the way take us to new places, but as we branch out, it is always with that initial motive as our genetic material. It is only well into the piece that a second theme emerges in counterpoint to the rolling developments. I had already performed the piece before its source was revealed to me. To protect the curious, I will merely give as a hint the year of publication – 1990 – and a diptych –¬†45.540513, -75.897911.

With a further nod to economy, the piece finishes in retrograde to its unfolding. It is a beautiful sonic memory that is recalled, allowing us to feel that sense of completion. A product of the elegant and sparing motivic material is that a listener can easily follow and perceive its weavings and transformations – that when we reach the end, we instinctively understand the rough symmetry of the structure, and the organic nature that it begins and finishes.

I find this piece magical and rewarding. Working on this piece really helps me develop my sonic imagination – the more decisive and bold you can be in this, the closer you will be to bringing this piece to life.

Notes to the Performer:

  • When you play this piece, think first of sound. The melody is not a traditional, lyrical line. I like to imagine that the subsequent notes emerge from the harmonies already resonating. I do not think about time as a pulse, but allow the harmonic spacing and decay to dictate the next event. Even the repeated notes are not static, but ebb and flow in their presence and colour.
  • When you first encounter the runs, think of them as being from another sonic world. Use images if that is helpful – spider silk, or gossamer, or the faintest light spilling through the window. Or if you prefer more pragmatic suggestions – really soft, very even, very light.
  • My interpretation of this piece is very much about layers, strata and textures. A lot of foreground and background, and very much multiple sound worlds. I try to avoid consensus and homogeneity, and prefer to think about a scene with many elements rather than a unified narrative.
  • One skill that is good to work on is long-term build and fade. A crescendo over four bars is easy – practise doing that over forty!


Title:    Third Piano Sonata (Textures)

Composer:  Walter Buczynski

Country:  Canada/Poland

Duration: 20 min

Date of Composition: 1990

Publisher:  Canadian Music Centre

Commission: Antonin Kubalek/Ontario Arts Council


Premiere: Antonin Kubalek

Performance History:  

  • Gregory Oh, 17 Dec 1998, Walter Hall, Toronto, ON
  • Gregory Oh, 11 April 2001, Kerrytown Concert Hall, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Gregory Oh, 7 March 2004, Heliconian Hall, Toronto, ON
  • Walter Buczynski, 16 April 2004, Walter Hall, Toronto, ON
  • Gregory Oh, 31 October 2004, Recital Hall, University of California at San Diego, CA
  • Gregory Oh, 1 November 2004, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA
  • Gregory Oh, 2 Nov 2004, Arnold Schoenberg Institute Recital Hall, Los Angeles, CA, Nov 2, 2004
  • Gregory Oh, 11 Jan 2007, Thursday Noon Series, Walter Hall, Toronto, ON
  • Gregory Oh, May 2007, M√§lardalens h√∂gskola, V√§ster√•s, Sweden
  • Gregory Oh, 10 March 2008, Arts and Letters Club, Toronto, ON
  • Gregory Oh, 14 June 2009, Leith Historic Church, Leith, ON


Buczynski Piano Sonatas – Antonin Kubalek

Walter Joseph Buczynski (born 17 December 1933) is a Canadian composer, music educator, and pianist.[1] Walter is of Polish descent.

Born in Toronto, Ontario, Buczynski earned an associate degree from The Royal Conservatory of Music in 1951 and a Licentiate in 1953. While there he studied music composition with Godfrey Ridout and piano with Earle Moss. He studied under Darius Milhaud and Charles Jones at the Aspen Music Festival and School in 1955. He pursued further studies in piano with Rosina Lhévinnein New York City in 1958-1959. He won a number of grants from the Government of Poland which enabled him to study music composition with Zbigniew Drzewiecki in Warsaw in 1959 and 1961. Likewise, grants from the Canada Council made it possible for him to study under Nadia Boulanger in Paris in 1960 and 1962.[1]

In 1951 and 1952 Buczynski was awarded second prizes at the¬†Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada¬†composition competition, going on to win first prize there in 1954 with a¬†piano trio. In 1955 he won the¬†Fromm Foundation Award¬†with the¬†Suite for Woodwind Quintet. That same year he made his debut as a concert pianist with the¬†Toronto Symphony Orchestraplaying¬†Fr√©d√©ric Chopin‘s¬†Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor.[1]

Buczynski went on to have an active concert career during the 1960s and early 1970s, giving recitals in major concert venues throughout Canada and in New York City, Paris, and Warsaw. His concerts often featured his own work and pieces by other contemporary Canadian composers in addition to traditional repertoire. He made several appearances on CBC Radio as well and made a number of solo recordings. In 1977 he decided to drastically limit his performance schedule to focus on his teaching career and composition work. Of the few concerts he gave later, his 23 September 1982 Toronto recital was particularly notable as he played only his music.[1]

In 1962 Buczynski joined the piano and music theory faculty at The Royal Conservatory of Music. He left there in 1969 to teach on the faculty of the University of Toronto, where he taught piano and composition until his retirement in 1999. Among his notable pupils were composers John Burge and Timothy Sullivan. He served as the president of the Canadian League of Composers in 1974-1975. On 18 December 1983 a special concert honoring his 50th birthday was given by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the University of Toronto Faculty of Music.[1]

Walter Buczynski: Canadian composing icon hits 80 in the Toronto Star



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