Monday, November 16, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 27 (Stephen Kovacevich, 1992)

Antoni Lange (1779–1844): Frühlingslandschaft mit Teich / Spring Landscape with Lake / Wooded Landscape. 1839. Oil on canvas. 85 cm x 113 cm. Sold at Sotheby's, London, 1 December 2005, lot 3. Sold at Galerie Koller, Zürich, 18 September 2007, lot 3196. Signature and date bottom right. Wikimedia Commons. Gemeinfrei. Please click to enlarge onto a big screen.

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 23/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 26–30
Stephen Kovacevich, 2002 (No. 26), 1992 (Nos. 27, 28) and 1994 (No. 30)

Opus 90: Klaviersonate Nr. 27 in e-Moll (1814)
Dem Grafen von Lichnowsky gewidmet. [Moritz von Lichnowsky].   
    Erster Satz: Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck, 5'22"
    Zweiter Satz: Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutragen, 7'10"
Stephen Kovacevich (1992): 13 min

AA: The first of Beethoven's late piano sonatas. For Wilhelm von Lenz, who first divided Beethoven's output into three periods, it was the last of the middle period. Passions are no longer raging, but there is an extraordinary fullness and depth of feeling.

It starts with striking, dynamic, vigorous questions and proceeds with tender, gentle and undulating answers. A spirit of nobility and generosity prevails. The emotions are direct and gentle. It has been said that for Beethoven, the first movement was about the struggle between head and heart, and the second movement about a dialogue between lovers. Indeed, András Schiff registers the second movement as a duet between a soprano and a tenor.

The sonata is simultaneously extroverted and introverted. Commentators have found in the first movement contractions, expansions, inhibitions, accelerations, connections and disconnections. Intonations in calm, gentle voices, and memories: Romain Rolland states that memories are always in high register.

In the second movement we meet Beethoven the melody maker. The movement is "very singing", as Beethoven himself instructs. The melody is sober, fresh and cheerful. A misleading simplicity contains unfathomable depths.

During the Congress of Vienna, 1814–1815, Beethoven was at the top of his fame, but that was due to hack work such as Wellington's Victory. In the same year he finished his opera Fidelio. By this time, Beethoven himself was no longer able to play his compositions the way he wanted.

András Schiff's Guardian Lecture on piano sonata No. 27 is again a deeply moving work of art in its own right, a companion piece full of reminiscences of predecessors (Bach, Mozart, Haydn) and connections with followers, most prominently Schubert.

I'm beginning to realize that besides Schiff an exceptional commentator of Beethoven's piano sonatas is Anton Kuerti who writes about the ending: "The bitter taste and the unrest that is evoked and left behind by these passages forms a contrast to the songful health of the main theme, and this contrast is dissolved wonderfully in the coda, when the theme swells on majestically in order to present its hidden passions." See more beyond the jump break.


Monday, November 09, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 26 "Das Lebewohl" / "Les Adieux" (Stephen Kovacevich, 2002)

CD cover art: Antoni Lange (Austria, 1774–1842): Landschaft mit Fischern / Krajobraz z rybakami / Landscape with Fishermen. 1840. Source/Photographer: Dmitrij Szelest, Lwowska Galeria Obrazów Auriga Warszawa (1990). From: Wikimedia Commons. Please click on the image to examine it on the biggest screen. God is in the detail.

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 23/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 26–30
Stephen Kovacevich, 2002 (No. 26), 1992 (Nos. 27, 28) and 1994 (No. 30)

Opus 81a: Klaviersonate Nr. 26 in Es-Dur "Das Lebewohl"/ „Les Adieux“ (1809)
    Erster Satz: Das Lebewohl. Adagio/Allegro, c-Moll/Es-Dur/2/4-Takt/alla breve
    Zweiter Satz: Abwesenheit. Andante espressivo (In gehender Bewegung, doch mit viel Ausdruck), c-Moll, 2/4-Takt
    Dritter Satz: Das Wiedersehen. Vivacissamente (Im lebhaftesten Zeitmaße), Es-Dur, 6/8-Takt
    Widmung: "Lebewohl, Abwesenheit und Wiedersehn. Sonate für das Pianoforte in Musik gesetzt und Seiner Kaiserl. Hoheit dem Erzherzog Rudolph von Oesterreich zugeeignet von L. v. Beethoven."
    Stephen Kovacevich (2002): 16 min

AA: The last of Beethoven's middle sonatas is among the most famous of them (Waldstein, Appassionata, Lebewohl).

Again, a sonata different from its predecessors. "A programmatic tone drama", "a characteristic sonata", it is a work of appealing maturity. The regret for the departure of a beloved friend is balanced with the higher joy about the existence of the friendship itself. We often notice the value of the best things when in danger of losing them.

This sonata is a three act drama: Farewell – Absence – Reunion.

In the first movement, a lyrical dimension of interiority intertwines with the external action conveying urgent hoofbeats and happily leaping dogs. The brief second movement is like an inner monologue full of questions and uncertainty. In a breathtaking transition, without a break, it transforms into the third movement full of "riotous merriment". Bells are ringing, a full orchestra is playing, and there is a joyous ball to celebrate the best friend's return. There is a sincerely cheerful surge in Beethoven's "full orchestral" sonority. The music rushes forward, abates backward and climaxes con brio.

It's a virtuoso piece that does not flaunt its virtuosity. A sonata that sports both action and contemplation. A display of a profound sense of generosity. This sober warmth is different from the passion of the romances. This is a saga of friendship, not a love story.

In the third movement, bigger powers than mere Mannheim rockets are activated. Magnificent fountains are opened. Wellsprings and fountainheads reach deep into the earth. The definition of groundswell in Merriam-Webster: "a broad deep undulation of the ocean caused by an often distant gale or seismic disturbance". This sonata is a cheerful celebration of the élan vital.

András Schiff in his magisterial Guardian lectures reminds us that of all Beethoven's dedicatees, the archduke Rudolph was the most highly valued. Besides Das Lebewohl, Beethoven dedicated to him two piano concertos (4 and 5), the Grosse Fuge, the Archduke Trio, the Hammerklavier sonata, the last piano sonata (no. 32), and Missa Solemnis. Their friendship was immortalized in the most beautiful fashion.

Extra-musical circumstances during the composition include the death of Haydn in the end of May and the attack on Vienna (the battle of Wagram) in July by Napoléon, the former revolutionary liberator turned into a reactionary imperialist. Beethoven handed the first movement to Rudolph and signed it on his day of departure, 4 May, 1809. The two other movements were completed by 1810.

This sonata gives a lot of room for personal interpretation. I remained with Kovacevich and Schiff, straying also to Barenboim and Levit. Claudio Arrau, Alfred Brendel, Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Emil Gilels, Friedrich Gulda, Maurizio Pollini, Rudolf Serkin and Solomon have also been quoted among the major interpretators.

Napoleon attacks Vienna in 1809. Horace Vernet (1789–1863): Bataille de Wagram. 6 Juillet 1809. 1836. Oil on canvas. 465 × 543 cm. Palace of Versailles. Galerie des Batailles. Wikimedia Commons. Please do click to enlarge the image.