On the Second Concert –
A Fresh Start from Heiligenstadt

January 4, 2011

Following the previous concert’s theme of ‘departure’, I would like this time to focus on the ‘fresh start’ after the time he penned his Heiligenstadt Testament (Sonatas No. 16~18) and on the Piano Sonata Op. 101, a point of ‘departure’ for his last five sonatas.

I once visited the house (located in Heiligenstadt on the outskirts of Vienna) in which Beethoven wrote his testament. It is a simple structure of modest size, and although it now houses an exhibit, the building remains much as it was when Beethoven resided there, with only an unassuming sign marking it ‘Beethoven’s Residence’. During his stay there, his hearing was progressively deteriorating, and he was likely tormented by feelings of isolation. As I imagined Beethoven there composing in seclusion while deliberating and struggling with his issues, I felt quite pained.

Yet the Sonata No. 16 is a humorous, charming and lively piece. What was it that enabled Beethoven to recover to this point, after he had been contemplating suicide? The house in Heiligenstadt felt isolated and gloomy. Stepping outside, I was met with the unrefined beauty of verdant nature, so I decided to take a walk. A few steps from the house runs a stream, and from within the surrounding lush green trees came the joyful singing of birds. Beethoven must have also walked the narrow path that runs alongside this stream. Despite not being able to hear the stream or birds, by seeing them and breathing in the air, he was probably able to imagine the music of nature. As I wrote in my previous essay, Beethoven retained a positive outlook no matter how often he may have been at breaking point. And so it was while walking through Heiligenstadt that I felt its nature was one of the things what conveyed the wonders of living to Beethoven, allowing him to have new hope.

Having completed the Piano Sonata No. 15, Beethoven had apparently expressed dissatisfaction with the ‘classical’ style of music, and vowed to “take a new path”. And indeed, examining the rhythm, structure and character of the three Opus 31 works reveals a sense of defiance, as though declaring “things are different now”.

And then there is the Opus 101 – an extremely challenging sonata for me. This work is the first of his final five ‘great’ piano sonatas, and also marks the beginning of his final new path. I believe that this path isn’t merely an arduous one, but also spiritual, as though leading the way to heaven. This sonata may indeed perhaps be the most introspective of all Beethoven’s sonatas. Written in a completely different style from earlier works, the work begins lyrically, and there is a strong cohesion from its first through fourth movements. Recalling the opening melody of the first movement prior to the finale had never been utilized before, and the pervading determination of the final movement depicts the splendor of A major in a way that is reminiscent of the second sonata I played previously, or of his Seventh Symphony.

All of Beethoven’s sonatas are masterpieces, but the romantic and revolutionary way in which he constantly searched for a new path is, in my opinion, a crucial characteristic of the composer. I really look forward to turning a new page in life with all of you, and to have the opportunity of such a challenge.