Beethoven – Piano Sonatas (1795 – 1822)

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his 32 piano sonatas between 1795 and 1822. Although originally not intended to be a meaningful whole, as a set they comprise one of the most important collections of works in the history of music. Hans von Bülow even called them “The New Testament” of music (Johann Sebastian Bach´s The Well-Tempered Clavier being “The Old Testament”.

Beethoven’s piano sonatas came to be seen as the first cycle of major piano pieces suited to concert hall performance. Being suitable for both private and public performance, Beethoven’s sonatas form “a bridge between the worlds of the salon and the concert hall”.

Camille Saint-Saëns, in his debut public recital at the age of ten, offered to play as an encore any of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas from memory.

In a single concert cyclus, the whole 32 sonatas were first performed by Hans von Bülow; the first to make a complete recording was Artur Schnabel in 1927 (he was also the first since von Bülow to play the complete cycle in concert from memory). [source]

[List of the sonatas]

Glenn Gould – Piano




James Rhodes interview: this clown can play Beethoven

No cheesy crossover, no TV ad favourites, but Bach partitas, Beethoven sonatas, Chopin études and wild, sprawling piano fantasies by the crazed 19th-century composer Charles-Valentin Alkan.

And he’ll be playing them live, too, in venues where classical music has never been heard: the Latitude festival, for example, a sort of highbrow, right-on Glastonbury held on the Suffolk coast in July. Next Wednesday he performs in the Udderbelly, a tent in the shape of an upside-down purple cow on the South Bank.

The cover of Rhodes’s second album (the last before Warner snapped him up) shows him dressed like a mime artist at a psychedelic rave: face slathered in white make-up, a smear of scarlet lipstick, plastic trousers – one leg red, one blue. When it came out, I wrote a blog post asking: “Why does this clown think he can play late Beethoven?”

Read the full interview in The Telegraph here.

Nicolas Hodges @ Zankel Hall

The British pianist Nicolas Hodges is best known as an astute interpreter of contemporary works, no doubt because his discography is weighted heavily toward new music. But his program biography points out that as a teacher — he is a professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, in Stuttgart, Germany — he encourages his students to avoid specializing in either new music or the standard repertory.

At his recital at Zankel Hall on Tuesday evening he surrounded thorny scores by Frederic Rzewski and Henri Dutilleux with sonatas by Beethoven and Schumann. Mr. Hodges brought considerable energy to everything on the program, but he seemed most fully engaged by the modern scores.

In Mr. Rzewski’s “Nanosonatas,” Book I (2006), Mr. Hodges had a score that demanded ingenuity and technique, and he appeared to relish its challenges. Its seven pieces are steeped in the extremes of keyboard writing: the highest and lowest registers of the piano, a broad dynamic sweep, dense passages offset by sparseness and silence, and jackhammerlike forcefulness set beside gauzy introspection. Striking the piano percussively was required too, as was reciting lines from Genesis (the section about God’s reaction to the murder of Abel).

Read the full review in The New York Times here.

Timothy Andres and his many, varied musical influences

Timothy Andres grew up listening to Brahms and Beethoven as he studied piano at the Juilliard School’s precollege program. When he enrolled at Yale in 2003, he discovered a new canon. “I gravitated to the, shall we say, stoner hippie types who were listening to really interesting music,” he says. Suddenly Pink Floyd and Brian Eno were on the menu, as were classical minimalists Steve Reich and John Adams.

What began as his senior project at Yale is now his debut album, “Shy and Mighty,” a work for two pianos, to be released May 18 by Nonesuch Records. The composer, 24 years old, says he thinks of his music as architecture. In a piece called “The Night Jaunt,” one piano sets up a spiralling series of chords, while the other piano weaves phrases in lengthening strings.

The composer says his pop inspirations include Scottish electronic act Boards of Canada and Radiohead (“amazing range and sense of space”). The challenge now is to avoid getting lost in the sprawl of his influences: “How can you possibly synthesize all that into something that makes sense? That’s something that I struggle with in my writing every day.”

The composer’s top iTunes plays*

Radiohead 1,157 plays
Beethoven 1,134
Brahms 1,102
Brian Eno 964
John Adams 901
J.S. Bach 868
The Beatles 787
The Beta Band 718
Benjamin Britten 676
Arcade Fire 641

*Source: His profile


Listen to his album on Spotify here.

Good old Beethoven beats Holt's new ghosts

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra was in fantastic form at Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday night under visiting Scottish conductor Douglas Boyd. Interestingly, in a program that featured the North American premiere of a new work, it was one of the most over-performed and over-recorded pieces of symphonic music that made for the most rewarding listening.

Under Boyd’s iron grip over the assembled instrumentalists, Ludwig van Beethoven’s ba-da-ba-daaa Symphony No. 5, first heard in the Vienna of 1814, sounded as fresh as if the ink were barely dry on the page. The orchestra was tight and intensely detailed in articulation as Boyd led a performance deeply intense in its dynamic contrasts and varying speeds.

So many nuances in Beethoven’s score were double-underlined to pique our interest that the “aha!” moments tumbled off the stage in rapid succession. The same was true for the evening’s opening piece, the short but equally dramatic overture to Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio, which had its premiere the same year.

Quite simply, this was symphonic playing at its most engaging.

The old chestnuts were meant to contrast with a percussion concerto written by British composer Simon Holt for his countryman, Colin Currie. Premiered to critical praise in 2008, a table of noises certainly managed to live up to its title, but that’s faint praise.

Holt’s piece is a series of six solo vignettes and five orchestral meditations titled “ghosts.” Each section allows Currie to connect with a different compartment of his percussionist’s tool box, giving the audience much to marvel at.

The reduced orchestra relies mostly on the winds for its contribution, but the sounds are episodic.

Currie is phenomenally gifted, but the music repeatedly failed to connect the soloist in a dialogue with sections of the orchestra. Instead, the music is more babble than speech. It is like a child in a proverbial candy store of rhythmic and percussive temptations, each sampled greedily, but none savoured.

Holt’s music certainly engages the gut as well as the intellect. But there’s little for the heart, whereas the two Beethoven pieces satisfied all three – and then some.

[via Toronto Star]

Leonard Bernstein on the Mystery Behind the Music

Imagine this: you drop onto the sofa on a Sunday afternoon, switch on the TV and see a dapper young man with a baton standing before an orchestra and demonstrating the patterns conductors use to lead music in different meters — two, three, four and five beats to the bar. He directs his players in a few examples, bits of Beethoven’s Ninth and Schubert’s Eighth Symphonies, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” Waldteufel’s “Skater’s Waltz.” Then he ups the ante, showing how these simple gestures, with subtle modification, are used to coax a fluid, lyrical performance; a playful reading; or an urgently dramatic interpretation from an orchestra.

For 48 minutes, this young conductor — Leonard Bernstein, caught on film in 1955 — brings you into the musician’s world, talking about how tempo, dynamics and phrasing express a conductor’s feelings and beliefs about a piece, and how that expressivity affects a listener’s perception of the music. And he offers you a glimpse of his preparation for a performance.

“Take this opening bar of the Brahms First Symphony,” he says, and then conducts it. “There are 55 notes in it, being played by 100 instruments, and the conductor has to know them all, or he has no right to ascend the podium in the first place. And this is only one bar out of 1,260 in this symphony.”

Even with hundreds of cable channels to choose from today, the likelihood of running into a show like this is slim.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.