July 2011

July 2011

Tuesday, 27 May 2014


Opus 79
This was probably most students of Beethoven's first Sonata and it is actually quite attractive. It would not have been published if his brother Karl hadn't brought it to the publisher...

The Leipzig publisher would have welcomed an easier Beethoven Sonata playable by a large public. It is probably written before Opus 78, since Opus 78 had no. 2 written on the manuscript. But although Opus 78 is really one of Beethoven's own favourites, he probably was not entirely convinced of the merit of the other Sonata (now Opus 79).

The first movement really has the sketchiness of a Sonatina although the development and coda parts are in fact quite mature. This way the second part has to be repeated also and this makes it almost extended binary form. It is manageable by an intermediate student provided the student doesn't attempt to put more into it as is actually there. Let the music work for itself. 

The second movement is actually in beautiful Italian style. A song without words. Here the student may put all expression in which he or she can bring forth. With this a performance piece is at hand, which will please many an audience.

I always enjoyed the last movement. Very Haydenish in make up en yet unmistakeably Beethoven. It is not at easy at all, but an ideal vehicle to teach 4 against 3. This will cause some frustration when a first attempt is made.

It is well worth the effort from the side of the teacher to insist that the 4 against 3 is mastered perfectly here, because once mastered it is so useful for later more difficult work.

Let's hear the master's version of this Sonatina:

Andreas on Opus 79.

Or another master for that matter. In this case Daniel Barenboim has beaten Andreas Schiff to it:

Daniel Barenboim plays Opus 79

Monday, 21 April 2014

Patron Saint of Bobos

Lully's dilemma
Jean Baptiste Lully is probably music history's ultimate Music Bobo. Admittedly contemporary Music Scene is full of them, but if they are looking for a role model, a branch Saint of Music Bobos, look no further. There you have him, Jean Baptiste Lully.

"At the age of 18", he would proclaim during his life,  "he had learnt ALL there was to learn about music" and boasted he did not put anything in practise, which he didn't already know by then. 

He became Louis XIV's court composer and director of the Royal Academy of Music and nothing could ever be performed in France, which did not carry his approval, his 'imprimatur'' so to speak. 

Sort of a 17th century forerunner of the theory of 'All'. And that's a shame, because looking back we all know what exciting things regarding music development would still be in store for us. 

The conductor baton in the hand was not invented yet, and Lully would knock his stick on the floor. Even when he accidentally hit is own foot, he remained in serious denial leaving the invention of the baton to someone else. And thus he died, even in Louis XIV's displeasure.

Monday, 17 March 2014

The myth of Bach

Mattheus Passion
Yesterday visited probably the first performance of the Mattheus Passion by J.S. Bach in the Netherlands in Rotterdam the Doelen. A very well balanced performance by Toonkunst Rotterdam under Maria van Nieukerken. I enjoyed every minute of it. And that is lots of minutes...

My attention was directed towards sort of another gospel in the booklet. Namely the story of the forgotten Bach resurrected by Felix Mendelssohn. 

Would Joseph Haydn, who learned his craft from the very Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach have forgotten J.S. ? In Mozart's Requiem you can find a nearly carbon copy of a fugue from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier book 2 in a-minor and Mozart often trumpeted his respect for the 'old' Bach. All right Sussmayer might have put his hands in the till in the dire need to complete the Requiem. But isn't it interesting that the till he grabbed from was 'old' Bach's? Beethoven also was very vocal about his respect for Bach, but was genius enough to develop his own concept to go fugal. And how older Beethoven became the more he went fugal.

And the very young Chopin in his very first piano Sonata opus 4 in C-minor - written to impress his teacher - shows very clearly in far off Poland Chopin was raised with Bach's well tempered clavier. Alas it would prove to be Chopin's least performed work, because it is a bit of a slog, but that is not the point. The point is that also Chopin in his very teens knew Bach well. Very well!

What then is the myth of Felix Mendelssohn's discovery? Perhaps the myth of the jewish composer who had to become a catholic to become accepted in that part of Germany? And perhaps that part of Germany discovered Bach in the middle of the 19th century? That may very well have been the case.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Theresia Sonata

Opus 78
This Sonata only has two movements but is very coherent and complete. Both the first movement in pure Sonata Form and the Rondo excel in beauty. Very often this sonata is confused with the Sonatinas, but if it were a Sonatina Beethoven probably would have combined it with the following Sonata. Moreover the Sonatinas were actually given for publication by Beethoven's brother Karl. But this Sonata is too pure in Form and execution to be deemed a Sonatina and the key signature of 6 sharps is to serious too. It deserves to feature on concert programmes more often, after all it was of Beethoven's own favourites and he thought more of it than of the Moonlight Sonata.

Notice that there is a large difference in time between this sonata and the Appassionata, four years in all.

The sonata starts with a beautiful small introduction 'adagio'. The sonata could have easily done without, but alas Beethoven made a statement to open this sonata with this beautiful 'adagio'. Some pianists play this introduction extremely slow. As if to say, this is way too short...

After this opening the beautiful theme of this first movement appears.

It shows Beethoven has gone a long way since Opus 2, already at such high spirits. After the presentation of the theme he immediately progresses as if he were already in a development section. Due to the long period between Appassionata and this sonata I for this reason propose to let the late period of Beethoven (at least in his Piano Sonatas) start with this Sonata. 

The second theme is to the point as the first theme and also seamlessly progresses into creative figures to move to the coda or rather repeat of the exposition.

The development section takes the theme to the minor of F-sharp. It is good advice to repeat both the exposition and the development + recapitulation.

The final movement is a jolly gesture made by Beethoven and is an indication of his fling with the English, which already appeared in the theme of the Appassionata. We are definitely in a period where Beethoven was trying to impress the English Audience and he was not alone. Also Joseph Haydn took quite some time off from his post with Count Esterhazy to woe British audiences. 

The theme of the rondo is a reminiscence of Britannia ruling the waves. Alas Beethoven looks at it with humour!

The cadenzas after the rondo theme are a little chase and get longer and longer as the movement progresses. Good contrasts between loud and soft, bouncy patterns and legatos. 

A Sonata not to be missed and the length of it suits our modern attention spans. The Sonata lasts 10 minutes or so. (of course the second movement can do with some speed!)

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


Opus 57

God exists! And every now and then it becomes apparent in the flesh! It is not the first time Beethoven attempted to bring the piano sonata to the level of a concerto. He did so in his first sonata opus 2 no. 3! But in writing the Appassionata it had arrived. 

The theme in a concerto is called the 'ritornello' which returns in the orchestra and the solo instrument. As such of course the first movement is composed through and analysts who regard it as composed through sonata form really haven't understood this Sonata. It is a concerto and the theme is that of a Scottish Folk tune 'On the banks of Allen Water'

Have we mentioned before that Beethoven around this time was extending his publishing efforts to England? If you like the 'UK'? 

Again the title was not provided by Beethoven himself but was attributed to the Sonata post humus in 1838 but Beethoven may have subtitled it 'La Passionata' but is was not marked as such in the manuscript.

I am not sure whose stains are on the manuscript, perhaps they may be Beethoven's. Beethoven had trouble keeping a maid longer than a couple of weeks, after which she would quit in despair.

The theme is played first in unison an octave apart and it is fun to try them 2 octaves apart after which it becomes apparent immediately why the Russians favoured to play unison themes like that instead of 1 octave apart. Alas, just as an experiment of course.

What most analysts see as the 2nd theme is really the second part of the folk song and not at all contrasting with the 1st theme. The theme is constantly given in a solo and tutti form. Then of course we see on the left a large part of what really is the Cadenza! 

And I have no problem at all seeing after the cadenza the orchestra taking up the Adagio and the Coda afterwards.

The second movement is a set of four variations of an exceedingly simple but beautiful theme. 

And then the third movement. We know of Beethoven's habit to turn Rondos into Sonata form, but here he is concealing it and directs only to repeat the second part. 

Who would not hear the orchestra opening, after which the piano will come in bar 5. And the final coda - very much fun for the pianist  - would sound great with orchestra too!

Enjoy Claudio Arrau in the following recording of this - ahum - concerto sans orchestre.

Claudio Arrau playing Appassionata (full)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Featuring in 'What is this?'

Opus 54

Every composer and especially the composer who elevated the Piano Sonata to the extend as Beethoven did has his minors and what can you do between a Waldstein and an Appassionata? 

Beethoven, who would have featured in a 'Who is Who' of his day, apparently was doing his best to feature for once in a 'What is this?' of his day.

If there is one Sonata, which has marks of being unfinished it is this Sonata in F. Not at all like Sonata opus 90 which also only has two movements, but feels very complete.

Perhaps the whole situation is explained by the fact that Beethoven had problems with his publishers at the time, because he had felt he could decide to get into business with an English publisher, without consulting his own publisher? So this Sonata should not have been published at all? Or was Beethoven so desperate for money that he had thought: 'Well, what do the English know about music?' anticipating Leonard Bernstein on the matter, 'The English don't appreciate music, but they do like the noise'. 

Perhaps Beethoven was taking a joke after several years of teaching Carl Czerny? 

Because in the need for explaining this Sonata in the end all one can do is claiming that it is a statement of Beethoven's humour! But nowhere like Opus 14 no. 2's second movement, which leaves me rolling over the floor with laughter. This sonata leaves me only wide eyed. 

Good all right! Beethoven was fed up with Sonata form and the traditional Sonata model. Nothing wrong with that. Because everything Beethoven does must have the explanation suited for a genius.

But I keep at it that Beethoven just had a bad hair day! 

Or he was indeed giving a statement on mediocre composers. If you like Carl Czerny. Because it is known indeed that Beethoven did do that also in public to air his opinion about a Piano Novelty of some new performer or composer. 

But it should have stayed at that. An improvisation after a concert to have some pun intended by the composer at the top of 'Who's who'. It should never have reached the printing press. 

It's not for the Minuet theme of the first movement which is delightful. If it would have been a Minuet!
Alas I admit. The variations on the Minuet theme are delightful too. In the recording given below, do notice the syncopations in the variations of the theme. They are amazingly 20th century. 

If someone seriously disagrees with me and finds this Sonata in a Recital programme that does not feature all of Beethoven's Sonatas, but only one Beethoven Sonata, I would be so grateful to know about it.

Even Andreas Schiff!

But let's us give this Sonata a hearing from the best contemporary performer and one at that who will not share my opinion. 'There are no weak links' in Beethoven's Sonatas he believes in the lecture recitals. Do notice his referral to Joseph Haydn to understand this Sonata.

Lecture on Opus 54 by Andreas Schiff

Friday, 8 November 2013

Waldstein (2)

Opus 53

In 1991 the young Beethoven wrote a Ballet for Count Waldstein, which he allowed the count to pass off as his own. It was only discovered in the 20th century that the young Beethoven was the author. But let us go back to the 2nd movement of the Waldstein Sonata. 

The second movement which is in Opus 53 now was not in the Sonata when it was first published. It must have been important for Beethoven to have changed it afterwards and the world should be grateful for it, because I think it is the most beautiful and bold slow movement of all his Sonatas. It is actually not a movement in contrast to the first version. It is only an introduction to the last movement.

With slow, first of all is meant slow. Really slow! There is no note too many and the shortness of it as a prelude to the final movement is the most courageous thing Beethoven has ever done. Well, apart from Hammerclavier.

Watch that Base line! Chromatically down from F to C. But of course the most important thing in the Waldstein Sonata is the Leitmotiv..

The density of the motif is enormous in the next couple of bars!

Everything that is exceedingly beautiful is also exceedingly simple. From the start in F and from there in an amazing way to the Dominant of the key of the last movement C major. Which means that the 'Schenker' meaning of the 2nd movement is soley Subdominant - Dominant. 

A Rondo! Beethoven has made up for all the rondos which weren't rondos. Beethoven wrote the mother of all rondos here in the Waldstein. 

The slow buildup stands miles above the ninth symphony, but yet only few know this theme. Even the Waldstein Sonata is always associated with the first movement. But for me the Waldstein Sonata is the last movement. It is long and Beethoven has taken all time he had to build this Rondo up towards the end. I like to increase the dynamics with every new cycle and until the last two pages I think Beethoven has reached perfection! 

And then I am with shock brought to the earth again. Because the last two pages aren't perfect at all! What on earth was Beethoven's intention with these last two pages? Had the Leitmotiv lost its spell? Or had the Sonata to be rushed to the publisher? Who perhaps only saw the last two pages and returned it? 

We will never know. Perhaps my technical abilities just couldn't cope with it?!

Listen for yourselves.