Vivian Fine





Toccatas and Arias for Piano




8 minutes


Solo piano

Veda Zuponcic

January 1989, Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City, Veda Zuponcic, pianist

Melodiya CD 10 900529, “Americans From Moscow,” Veda Zuponcic, pianist. Available from Veda Zuponcic at  Also available on demo CD

Toccata I
Aria I
Toccata II
Aria II
Toccata III

program notes

“The overall effect of Toccatas and Arias is alternating impressions of driving force and lyricism. There is skillful use of counterpoint and masterful control of the varying impacts of consonance and dissonance. It is a spectacular recreation of the Baroque toccata.”

–liner notes, Melodiya CD


Toccatas and Arias couples the unrelenting driving energy of the toccata with the beauty and lyricism of an aria. As in the previous third-period piano works, Toccatas and Arias features the minor second, and its inverted and expanded forms—major seventh and minor ninth, respectively. Fine successfully combines this dissonant interval and the lyric qualities of an aria to produce pieces that evoke images of beauty and repose. The toccatas are explosive pieces that focus on rhythmic energy and drive, yet the subtleties of Fine’s dissonant harmonic language are still discernible. In the first toccata, she writes one continuous horizontal line in which she manipulates all guises of a minor second. The second toccata features the characteristic harmonic structure of the clashing major seventh or minor ninth between top and bottom notes (as seen in her previous third-period piano works) as a cohesive thread. The last toccata is comprised entirely of triads, though they are treated nonfunctionally and with great ingenuity. Between hands or chords Fine always preserves the interval of a minor second, whether as roots of two succeeding chords—e.g., D major followed by E-flat major—or as components of two succeeding chords that feature a horizontal minor second between them—e.g., the C or F minor and the C-sharp of A major. In summation, Fine employs tertian harmony while simultaneously maintaining the prominence and dissonance of a minor second in this final toccata and piano piece.
     Fine’s toccatas display features that recall the Baroque Italian-style toccata: free, idiomatic keyboard writing; running passagework; and organization into sections, which may be fugal, imitative, or nonimitative. Her arias also fall within the boundaries of an aria’s definition: short pieces of songlike character, and/or a movement of a suite. The toccatas and arias, both prevalent forms of the Baroque, demonstrate Fine’s fascination with this style period—its forms, linear writing, and contrapuntal techniques. Toccatas and Arias of 1987 reflects this fascination and brings her solo piano writing full circle. The earliest solo piano work, Four Polyphonic Pieces, demonstrated Fine’s intuitive contrapuntal writing ability. In Toccatas and Arias, Fine once again exhibits her contrapuntal skills, but with more refinement and subtlety and within a less harsh and dissonant tonal context.
     Toccatas and Arias is a culmination of the qualities of balance and symmetry in Fine’s writing—contrasting consonance and dissonance, contrapuntal techniques and homophony, unrelenting drive and lyrical beauty, forte and piano dynamics, and subject and retrograde—the ultimate creation of formal balance and symmetry. Fine achieved in Toccatas and Arias a composer’s ideal goal: to preserve one’s inherent compositional characteristics, to develop one’s style through study, experimentation, and craftsmanship, and to express one’s musical intentions.

–Leslie Jones, “The Solo Piano Music of Vivian Fine,” Doctor of musical arts thesis, University of Cincinnatti, 1994 (excerpted)


“The work required finger power and concentration. Miss Zuponcic sailed through its thunderous explorations of the keyboard’s full range with clarity and apparent ease.”

–Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, February 1, 1989

audio files
Toccata I