Friday, October 02, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 21 "Waldstein" aka "L'Aurore" (Stephen Kovacevich, 1992)


CD cover art: Carl Friedrich Lessing (1808–1880): Schlesische Landschaft. 1841. Öl auf Leinwand. 48 x 114. Aus Wikimedia Commons, dem freien Medienarchiv. Sammlung: Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin. "Die Ansicht einer einsamen sumpfigen Wiesenebene mit Buschwerk und stehenden Altwassern, aus denen Wildenten auffliegen, beruht vermutlich auf Jugendeindrücken des aus Breslau (Wrocław) stammenden Malers Carl Friedrich Lessing. In diesem von melancholischer Lichtstimmung beherrschten Werk verzichtete er auf erzählerische Motive. Lediglich ein einsamer Wanderer ist unterwegs, fern im Hintergrund sind die Türme einer Stadt erkennbar. Das Gemälde war eines der Lieblingsbilder des Sammlers Joachim Heinrich Wilhelm Wagener: »Wie freue ich mich täglich der herrlichen Landschaft die ich von Ihnen, mein hochverehrter Freund, besitze. Diese unendlich schöne Abendruhe in ihrer Wahrheit ist unnachahmlich« (Wagener an Lessing, 8.2.1842, in: SMB-ZA, IV/NL Wagener, Konzeptbuch, S. 13). Für Lessings panoramahafte Stimmungslandschaft begeisterte sich 1841 auch der Berliner Kritiker Ludwig Pietsch: »Dies Abendgold, dieses Nachleuchten der Luft über dem westlichen Horizont, ihren zarten Abglanz auf der dunklen Vegetation und den unmerklichen Übergang nach oben hin in die kühlen Töne, in die jene sanfte Glut allmählich ausklingt, habe ich nie in gleicher Vollkommenheit durch einen Maler wiedergegeben gesehen, als in diesem wundervollen Werke Lessings« (zit. nach: Carl Friedrich Lessing, Ausst.-Kat., Düsseldorf 2000, S. 95). Eine Vorzeichnung vom März 1834 befindet sich in der Sammlung der Zeichnungen im Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin." Birgit Verwiebe (Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). Please connect to a big screen and click on the photo to enlarge it maximally.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 22/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 21–25
Stephen Kovacevich, 1992 (Nos. 21, 24) and 1999 (Nos. 22, 23, 25)

Opus 53: Klaviersonate Nr. 21 in C-Dur „Waldstein“ aka "L'Aurore" (1803)
    1. Satz: Allegro con brio, C-Dur, 4/4 Takt, 302 Takte
    2. Satz: Introduzione, Adagio molto, F-Dur, 6/8 Takt, 28 Takte
    3. Satz: Rondo, Allegretto moderato, C-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 543 Takte
Stephen Kovacevich, 1992. 24 min

WoO 57: Andante für Klavier (F-Dur), genannt Andante favori (1804)
Alfred Brendel, 9 min

András Schiff: The Guardian Lecture on Beethoven's Piano Sonata Opus 53, Wigmore Hall, London, May 2006. 49 min

AA: The Waldstein sonata is one of the most beloved compositions of Beethoven and all music. Because it is played so often it is easy to take for granted. In the context of listening all Beethoven's piano sonatas in chronological order, I feel it more profoundly, appreciating the growth of the sonority. Piano as an instrument was developing, Beethoven took advantage of its expanding powers, and perhaps his music in turn inspired piano builders.

This sonata for me is classical in the sense of T. S. Eliot ("What Is a Classic"): at once powerful and balanced, admirable in its sense of proportion and control, but vivid, vital and vigorous, irrepressible, irresistible and compelling, fearlessly moving ahead, full of a sense of humour from the first keystrokes. A saga of a fighting spirit, a poetic life drama, also a tale of a night of love, of the mature, pervasive, all-encompassing kind, driven by joyful rhythmic thrusts, leading to glorious outbursts and ending in a prestissimo coda.

I also listened to the Andante favori played by Alfred Brendel in a subtly breathtaking, slightly otherworldly performance. This composition is for film-lovers best-known from the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (based on the novel by Jane Austen, teleplay written by Andrew Davies, directed by Simon Langton). In a scene invented for the teleplay, Georgiana Darcy plays it while Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy exchange meaningful glances. Andante favori was the original middle movement of the Waldstein sonata, but it was found too weighty, and it became an independent favourite instead. In the teleplay it is arranged and played by Carl Davis.

The selection of Andante favori for Pride and Prejudice was a brilliant idea. Jane Austen and Ludwig van Beethoven were contemporaries, and, in many ways, soulmates. The most important connection was their unique position in the Age of Romanticism.

Beethoven was important for Romanticism in many ways, and he was the most important model for Romantic composers. But I would argue that he was always most fundamentally a classical composer, and his extraordinary contribution was in the classical discipline he was able to apply into the new Romantic challenges of revolution, individualism and genius.

Jane Austen, respectively, was always a great realist, although her novels have been misinterpreted in films and television series as "romantic comedies". Her novels are great satires of romanticism.

Beethoven's replacement, the short middle movement "Introduzione, Adagio molto", in contrast to the powerful first and third movements, is laid back, dreamy, and disturbing in the same way as the first movement of The Tempest. It is like a regression to some atavistic state, primordial, incoherent, nocturnal. Without a pause the music proceeds gradually to the opening of the brilliant third movement, like the break of dawn, which is why the Frenchmen call this sonata "L'Aurore".

Romain Rolland observed that Beethoven now ceased for 14 years to compose huge slow movements, the magnificent adagios into which he poured the depths of his heart, the unique soliloquys of the keyboard.

 « Je n'ai aucun doute que Beethoven n'y ait mis beaucoup de ses sentiments intimes, à cette époque de sa vie. Oserais-je dire que c'est probablement la raison pour laquelle Beethoven l'a sacrifié? On n'a pas assez remarqué un fait, pourtant extraordinaire: — les grands morceaux lents, où Beethoven versait le plus profond de son cœur, ces adagios et ces largos, qui étaient le joyau de ses vingt premières sonates, et que le public du temps aimait avec prédilection, — disparaissent désormais [avec l'opus 53] de ses sonates pour piano. Ou bien il y renonce tout à fait, ou bien il en restreint extrêmement les proportions, et les réduit au rôle d'introductions, reliées au dernier morceau. Il faudra attendre jusqu'au monumental adagio de l'op. 106, quatorze ans plus tard, pour retrouver, au clavier, ces Soliloques, dont la porte est fermée au monde extérieur. On dirait que Beethoven, dans la maturité de son âge classique, s'est mis en garde contre sa propension naturelle à l'expression sentimentale. De la sonate Aurore à l'op. 106, il réduit au minimum les confidences de ses adagios. La part des deux allegros — et surtout du dernier — en est, d'autant, élargie en étendue et en significations. » (Romain Rolland: Beethoven, Les grandes époques créatrices : Le Chant de la Résurrection, 1937. Quoted from Wikipedia)

András Schiff's Guardian Lecture on the Waldstein sonata is like an extended play version of the composition with reminiscences of predecessors and close-ups of felicities such as the tremolando figurations, the use of the triplets, the distant murmurs, the Russian country dances, beautiful modulations and evocations of a "whole orchestra playing with whatever they have". No artist can have a better champion and friend than Beethoven has in Schiff.

P.S. 31 Dec 2020. I don't know if a rock and roll adaptation exists of Waldstein, but it might be an interesting idea to try.



The Beethoven Experience (BBC 2005)

Ludwig van Beethoven: Magnificent Master (2015)

Beethoven's Piano Sonatas (2015)

András Schiff's Guardian Lectures on Beethoven's piano sonatas,,1943867,00.html

Per Tengstrand

Bryce Morrison in Gramophone, February 2004

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 3 July 2020 Beethoven


No comments: