On the Beethoven Complete Sonatas Concert Series / On The First Concert

May 10, 2010

This project will not only allow me to achieve a personal goal, but hopefully enable people who perhaps are unfamiliar with Beethoven or only know Beethoven’s more famous works, to better appreciate his music. Above all, I intend for the project to target young people; although Beethoven’s works are often considered austere, I would like to convey through these eight performances the tremendous allure of his music, and how much I fell in love with it.

Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas almost span his entire life, from the Opus 2 written when he was 24, through to the Opus 111, written when he was 52. I personally love paintings, but distinctly recall my head filling with question marks after seeing one of Picasso’s paintings, as I couldn’t really understand it or what the artist was trying to express. However, upon visiting the Picasso Museum in Paris and following his art from the early works through those of his last years, I was finally able to comprehend how, through growth and life experiences, the paintings had developed – for example into cubism. I can say the same is true for Kandinsky.

And so it is that Beethoven is all the more interesting for having gone through the process of growth and change. Even when compared to other composers, I feel he is a highly personal composer. Unlike the scores of Mozart, which often appear to have been effortlessly written on a whim, Beethoven’s are chaotic – filled with scribbles and memos.

The Three Piano Sonatas (Opus 2) written in his early period for Haydn, are awash with the purity and simplicity befitting a young person, and I am particularly fond of them. However, diverse stories lie ahead in each and every sonata that follows: the sonatas written quasi una fantasia (in the manner of a fantasy) expressing the disparity in social status resulting in unrequited love; the Opus 31 sonatas, written after overcoming the daily despair with his gradual hearing loss that led him to contemplate suicide in Heiligenstadt; The Tempest, purported to be the well-read Beethoven’s philosophical interpretation of Shakespeare; the Appassionata, revealing the transition to the romantic era; the Hammerklavier, a work that pushes the piano to its limits with its orchestral structure and sound; and the final sonatas, with their enigma and mastership, as though ascending toward heaven. So it’s difficult to make a selection from these. For example, in literature, could you only read the third book in a series of novels and not the others?

Having experienced war-torn Vienna, Beethoven calls for hope within the new post-war world in his piano concerto Emperor. He had adopted the motto Durch Leiden Freude (Joy through Sorrow) – and despite constantly experiencing despair, this positive, valiant outlook of his is something I respect. Those of my generation have never experienced war, and our society today may well indeed be more fortunate than that of Beethoven’s era. But in reality, the world today is becoming increasingly superficial, controlled as we are by computers and the like. In a world in which visual things increasingly draw more of our attention, I feel it all the more important that we make an effort to experience things the eyes cannot see, such as music.

Due in part to diminishing public appreciation of not only music but culture in general, radio and television tends only to broadcast well-known movements of famous sonatas in an effort to popularize classical music. I on the other hand think it is a great shame not to be exposed to Beethoven’s original works in their entirety. This certainly wasn’t Beethoven’s intention, and is it not by listening to all the movements of each piece, or even to an entire body of work, that one can only then fully appreciate the human mind at a deeper level?

I often think along such lines nowadays, and feel an urgent need to share my thoughts with others. Beethoven once said “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” As a conveyor of Beethoven’s music and musician of this generation, I hope to contemplate his philosophical questions together with audiences, and thereby truly enjoy these masterpieces which he wrote throughout his lifetime – his piano sonatas.