Notes in Common Time, after András Schiff, on the Piano Sonatas of Beethoven

Piano Sonata 32 in c, Op. 111 (1822). The CulturalRites article is here.

Piano Sonata 31 in A♭, Op. 110 (1821). The CulturalRites article is here.

Beethoven, Op. 110 autograph, 3rd movement, conclusion of the second iteration of the Klagender Gesang (Courtesy: www.omnifacsimiles.com)

Beethoven, Op. 110 autograph, 3rd movement, conclusion of the second iteration of the Klagender Gesang (Courtesy: http://www.omnifacsimiles.com)

Piano Sonata 30 in E, Op. 109 (1820). The CulturalRites article is here.

Beethoven: Op. 109, aria of the third movement

Beethoven: Op. 109, aria of the third movement

Piano Sonata 29 in B♭, Op. 106 (1818). The CulturalRites article is here.

The Peace River, from my window, 16 December 2011, Beethoven's birthday. (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

The Peace River, from my window, 16 December 2011, Beethoven’s birthday. (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

Caravaggio's Dagger

Caravaggio’s Dagger

Piano Sonata 28 in A, Op. 101 (1816). This work never deserts the open spaces of the earthbound mind. The opening allegretto, whose presence returns before the commencement of the final movement’s optimistic fugue, is a marvel of beauty restrained, but also freed of the pulse of time. By virtue of the rising three note figure that accelerates the diatonic fall of the first two notes of the phrase to its concluding third, I am constantly reminded of other works, not all of which I can identify, that employ a similar device. One that is identifiable is the theme of the opening sinfonia of Bach’s Cantata 156, which is the epigraph to the eulogy for my father, “Ashes of the Oceanic Sun,” in my book, Caravaggio’s Dagger.

My favourite memory of where I much thought of Beethoven's Op. 90. Davis Bay, Sechelt, Vancouver Island, BC. 14 May 2002. (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

My favourite memory of where I much thought of Beethoven’s Op. 90. Davis Bay, Sechelt, Vancouver Island, BC. 14 May 2002. (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

Piano Sonata 27 in e, Op. 90 (1814). The CulturalRites article is here.

Uri Mayer (Courtesy: communications.uwo.ca)

Uri Mayer (Courtesy: communications.uwo.ca)

Piano Sonata 26 in E♭, Op. 81a (1810). I have long been intrigued by this sonata, not so much for its emotional pictorialism, but because its opening is paraphrased in the opening of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, a work of profound feeling. The finest interpretation I have is heard was that by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Uri Mayer, when I lived in Edmonton in the 1980s. It would have shortly after I first became acquainted with and enmeshed by Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen after having acquired the ground-breaking recording by Georg Solti under the technical guidance of John Culshaw.

I suppose it is reasonable to remark that an analogous sense of disconnectedness and yearning for return is expressed in my poem “Mahler and Freud Meet in Leiden,” my home town in the Netherlands. It was published by Saskatoon’s Grain in its issue 41/4 in 2013.

Piano Sonata 25 in G, Op. 79 (1809). Tedesca, barcarolle, dance.

Piano Sonata 24 in F♯, Op. 78 (1809). The first four bars never recur, but influence all that follows. Schiff says no one plays it better than Schnabel. This is likely so for voicing, articulation of the tied 16th note figurations, and pedalling.

Piano Sonata 23 in f, Op. 57 (1806).

Piano Sonata 22 in F, Op. 54 (1804).

Piano Sonata 21 in C, Op. 53 (1804).

Piano Sonata 18 in E♭, Op. 31/3 (1802). The last piano sonata in four movements. No slow movement. A rococo minuet. A presto finale the French call la chasse.

Piano Sonata 17 in d, Op. 31/2 (1802). The sonata is full of concentration of expression and themes, frequently with alteration between major and minor modes, and with the final movement carrying the greatest weight of the work, and so producing a decisive equilibrium of balance not often found elsewhere. There are also new allusions to the Es ist vollbracht aria from Bach’s Johannes-Passion.

Piano Sonata 16 in G, Op. 31/1 (1802). The first of middle period piano sonatas. It is imbued with humour, irony, and sarcasm; the second movement alone is a witty parody of the Italian opera of the day, thus recalling that what is popular and commercially attractive is hardly the most worthwhile. Little has changed. Beethoven never repeats himself. Popular entertainment inevitably does, and must.

Piano Sonata 15 in D, Op. 28 (1801).  In this sonata is a remarkable working of a 10 bars’ theme that is deliberately imbalanced in its structure, so as not only to deceive the expectations of the ear, but also, by means of reductions of the length of the theme, showing that manifestations of the essential idea can be organized in many different yet recognizable ways. What is additionally interesting is that such an artistic approach is entirely viable in other of the fine arts. The CulturalRites article is here.

Piano Sonata 14 in c♯, Op. 27/2 (1802). The CulturalRites article is here.

Piano Sonata 13 in E♭, Op. 27/1 (1802). Further departure from tradition, with again no use of sonata form. Even greater insistence on, and innovative exploration of, fullness of sonority. Attention to the articulation of strictness, but in conjunction with the admixture of fantasy. Final movement’s coda clear precursor of the fugue in Op. 110.

Piano Sonata 12 in A♭, Op. 26 (1801). – Excellent discussion of form, and the effect of departure from tradition. No use of sonata form. Fine correlation with Mozart’s K. 331, probably the first major composer to employ variation form in an opening movement.

Piano Sonata 11 in B♭, Op. 22 (1800). – Convincing discussion of scope.

Piano Sonata 10 in G, Op. 14/2 (1799). Excellent discussion of the advance of the Op. 14 set over Op. 13, in terms of structural innovation.

Piano Sonata 20 in G, Op. 49/2 (1798). Simple sonatas that are not so simple.

Piano Sonata 19 in g, Op. 49/1 (1798).

Piano Sonata 9 in E, Op. 14/1 (1798).

Piano Sonata 8 in c, Op. 13 (1798). András Schiff makes a convincing case for the repeat of the exposition in the first movement to recommence from the grave rather than the allegro, following the example of Rudolf Serkin. Thinking through the first movement with the score this entirely makes sense, especially given the thematic connections Schiff points out, not only in the first movement but also in the last. Schiff’s analysis is compelling, but his playing of these sonatas is revelatory.

Piano Sonata 7 in D, Op. 10/3 (1797). – Discussions of the advance of the Op 10 set over Op. 7.

Piano Sonata 6 in F, Op. 10/2 (1797).

Piano Sonata 5 in c, Op. 10/1 (1797).

Piano Sonata 4 in E♭, Op. 7 (1797). I was listening to Schiff’s intelligent commentary on this sonata in my motel room in Ottawa in the late evening of January 22nd after having spent an emotionally complicated day with my mother the day after her 87th birthday. I have only been able to return to the sonata today, seven weeks later. There is no doubt in my mind that András Schiff is a superior interpreter of these sonatas; his playing has clarity, passion, and restraint; and more, understanding. In the final movement’s episode, towards its end, in E major, the beauty of the distant modulation, and its quick return to the home key of E♭, is, frankly, beatific; as is Schiff’s understanding of the impossibility, yet the necessity that Beethoven instructs, of the crescendo on the octave G at bar 39 of the Largo.

Piano Sonata 3 in C, Op. 2/3 (1796). The CulturalRites article is here.

Piano Sonata 2 in A, Op. 2/2 (1796). In his once again exceptional analysis, pianist András Schiff describes the position aesthetically within Opus 2; what Schubert (and Brahms) looked back to; and, the composition of hitherto unheard keyboard sonorities, with particular reference to the Largo.

András Schiff (Courtesy: artsfuse.org)

András Schiff (Courtesy: artsfuse.org)

Piano Sonata 1 in f, Op. 2/1 (1795). The CulturalRites article is here.

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