Day 274: Songs IV

BeethovenCD79The incomparable Peter Schreier is back on Songs IV.

And he sounds wonderful, easily one of the best tenors I’ve ever heard in my life.

Even when he’s singing a slow, emotional song (“Auf dem Hugel sitz ich, spahend” – the first movement of An Die Ferne Geliebte Op. 98) – in German (which to me sounds absolutely hilarious), he’s still amazing.

But, boy, what a voice he has.

He could probably sing the white pages of a phone book (do they still make those?) and it would sound compelling.

And, by the way, “An die ferne Geliebte” means “To the distant beloved.” So, I was right. It is an emotional song. The song has its own Wiki entry:

An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved), Op. 98, is a composition by Ludwig van Beethoven written in April 1816. It is considered to be the first example of a song cycle by a major composer.

Beethoven’s only song cycle was the precursor of a series of followers, including those of Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and Carl Loewe. The setting is for a man’s voice (usually tenor) with piano. The title page of the original edition (S. A. Steiner, Vienna) bore a dedication with permission to Fürst Joseph von Lobkowitz, Duke of Raudnitz, a leading Austrian musical patron, in whose palace the Eroica Symphony was first performed in 1804; Beethoven also dedicated the six string quartets, Op. 18, the Eroica Symphony, Op. 55, the Triple Concerto, Op. 56, the C minor Symphony, Op. 67, the Pastoral Symphony, Op. 68, and the String Quartet, Op. 74 to him.

The text was written by a physician named Alois Isidor Jeitteles, probably at Beethoven’s request. Then aged 22, Jeitteles published several short poems, economic in style, in Viennese magazines or almanacks, particularly ‘Selam’ and ‘Aglaja’, and was making his name by it. He was an active, selfless young man who later distinguished himself by working tirelessly for his patients during a dreadful cholera epidemic and mortality in Brno. Beethoven had already explored inward feelings of longing in his setting of Matthisson’s Adelaïde, but in these poems the distance from the beloved is greater, the longing is more intense and stormier, and is no longer satisfied with merely the sound of her name, but is preoccupied with the clawing pain of separation which colours the whole surrounding landscape.

Somewhere along the way, I must have Googled Peter Schreier. But I think it’s time Continue reading

Day 242: Piano Sonatas Opp. 101, 109 & 90

BeethovenCD47More exquisite Alfred Brendel performances.

More gorgeous Beethoven Piano Sonatas.

Beethoven’s symphonies notwithstanding (which I revere above all), I enjoy his piano sonatas more than all of his other compositions – combined.

Solo piano, especially in the hands of someone as gifted as Alfred Brendel, is almost always magic to my ears.

But these Beethoven piano sonatas are especially wondrous.

And so is this recording, which was made in 1962-64. Yet, it sounds as fresh as if it were performed yesterday.

Here’s what I was privileged to hear today:

Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Op. 101

From its entry on Wiki:

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101, was written in 1816 and was dedicated to the pianist Baroness Dorothea Ertmann. This piano sonata runs for about 20 minutes and consists of four movements:

The Piano Sonata No. 28, Op. 101 is the first of the series of Beethoven’s “Late Period” sonatas, when his music moved in a new direction toward a more personal, more intimate, sometimes even an introspective, realm of freedom and fantasy. In this period he had achieved a complete mastery of form, texture and tonality and was subverting the very conventions he had mastered to create works of remarkable profundity and beauty.[citation needed] It is also characteristic of these late works to incorporate contrapuntal techniques (e.g. canon and fugue) into the sonata form.

Beethoven was 46 when this was composed.

Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Op. 109

From its entry on Wikipedia:

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109, composed in 1820, is the antepenultimate of his piano sonatas. In it, after the huge Hammerklavier sonata, Op. 106, Beethoven returns to a smaller scale and a more intimate character. It is dedicated to Maximiliane Brentano, the daughter of Beethoven’s long-standing friend Antonie Brentano, for whom Beethoven had already composed the short piano trio in B flat major WoO 39 in 1812. Musically, the work is characterised by a free and original approach to the traditional sonata form. Its focus is the third movement, a set of variations that interpret its theme in a wide variety of individual ways.

No. 30 Op. 109 nearly brings tears to my eyes, especially the plaintive Movement III (“Tema con variazioni”).
But Movement I (“Vivace ma non troppo – Adagio espressivo”) is just plain Continue reading