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

Day 241: Piano Sonatas Op. 106 “Hammerklavier” & Op. 111

BeethovenCD46Very nice!

It’s hard to believe how fresh and crystal-clear this sounds. The piano sontas, performed by the incomparable Alfred Brendel, were recorded in 1962-64, when Brendel was in his early thirties. Yet, they sound like they were recorded yesterday.

Another masterful job by Brilliant Classics, the best label in the world for affordable, high-quality Classical music.

These piano sontas have the qualities that, say, Artur Rubinstein‘s The Chopin Collection does. Most of those recordings were made in the 1950s and 60s. Yet, they sound beautiful. Rich, resonate, and warm.

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 29 in B Flat Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”

According to its entry on Wikipedia,

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106 (known as the Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier, or more simply as the Hammerklavier) is a piano sonata widely considered to be one of the most important works of the composer’s third period and among the greatest piano sonatas. It is widely considered to be Beethoven’s technically most challenging piano composition and one of the most challenging solo works in the classical piano repertoire.

Dedicated to his patron, the Archduke Rudolf, the sonata was written primarily from the summer of 1817 to the late autumn of 1818, towards the end of a fallow period in Beethoven’s compositional career. It represents the spectacular emergence of many of the themes that were to recur in Beethoven’s late period: the reinvention of traditional forms, such as sonata form; a brusque humour; and a return to pre-classical compositional traditions, including an exploration of modal harmony and reinventions of the fugue within classical forms.

The Hammerklavier also set a precedent for the length of solo compositions (performances typically take about 45 minutes). While orchestral works such as symphonies and concerti had often contained movements of 15 or even 20 minutes for many years, few single movements in solo literature had a span such as the Hammerklavier’s Adagio sostenuto.

The sonata’s name comes from Beethoven’s later practice of using German rather than Italian words for musical terminology. (Hammerklavier literally means “hammer-keyboard”, and is still today the German name for the fortepiano, the predecessor of the modern pianoforte.)

Indeed. “One of the most challenging solo works in the Classical piano repertoire” required Alfred Brendel to pull it off.

And he did.


As the Wiki article notes, Hammerklavier was Continue reading

Day 240: Music for String Ensembles II

BeethovenCD45For the first time in awhile, the Suske Quartett isn’t performing for my listening pleasure.

On today’s CD, there two sets of musicians.

The first is:

Zurich String Quintet (Tracks 1-8)

Boris Livschitz violin
Matyas Bartha violin
Zvi Livschitz violas
Dominik Ostertag violas
Mikayel Hakhnazaryan cello

The second is:

Perez Quartet (Tracks 9-13)

Carolina Kurkowski Perez violin I
Clemens Schuldt violin II
Alexander Kiss viola
Chiho Takata viola (track 13)
Simon Deffner cello

The compositions are:

String Quintet in E Flat Op. 4

Fugue in D Op. 137

Duet in E Flat Wo032

The first one – String Quintet in E Flat Op. 4 – is quite nice. Sprightly. Movement IV (“Finale: Presto”) is especially refreshing, given all of the more ponderous quartets and quintets lately.

And, for a really nice shot in the arm, Fugue in D Op. 137 can’t be beat. Give me a good fugue any day and I’m a happy guy.

Also of great interest to me is Track 11, which is “Prelude and Fugue in C Hess 31 for string quartet.” Most of the duets in the last composition are fun to listen to.

Day 239: Music for String Ensembles I

BeethovenCD44The music is much livelier today than it was yesterday.

Still, the first two movements sounds like the soundtrack to a 1920s silent film.

But at least today’s music is not making me want to wallow in my barley pop.

The first two compositions (String Quintet in C Op 29 and String Quintet in C Minor Op 104) are performed by the Zurich String Quintet:

Boris Livschitz violin
Matyas Bartha violin
Zvi Livschitz violas
Dominik Ostertag violas
Mikayel Hakhnazaryan cello

The last composition (String Quartet in F) was performed by the Suske Quartet:

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinz Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

My favorite movement from all of them today is Movement IV (“Finale: Prestissimo”) from String Quintet in C Minor Op. 104. It’s sprightly and fun. All the rest still sound too somber for my tastes.

Day 238: String Quartets Op. 132 and Op. 135

BeethovenCD43Somber. That’s how I classify today’s music.

It’s ponderous.

Sad, even.

Here’s what I am listening to:

Beethoven String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor Op. 132

Beethoven String Quartet No. 16 in F Op. 135

Here’s who’s playing it:

Suske Quartett

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinz Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

I can’t say I like today’s music. I mean, I could say it. But I’d be lying.

Day 237: String Quartets Op. 127 & 131

BeethovenCD42I’m not a musicologist. I have no idea just by listening to a piece of music what key it’s in.

I couldn’t even tell you its time signature.

Oh, I could get out my guitar and finger the frets to find the key something is in. But I doubt I could count out a time signature.

So I’m always amazed to discover Beethoven’s music is much more complicated than one might think.

For example, from its entry on Wikipedia, there’s this about String Quartet No. 12 in E Flat Op. 27:

The first movement is twice interrupted – just before the development of the sonata form begins, and when that section is almost but not quite over – by recurrences of the opening’s Maestoso music.

The immense second movement is in the subdominant key of A♭ major. It consists of a set of six variations and a coda. The first variation is in 12/8 meter with darker harmonies and quick changes in dynamics. The second variation increases the tempo to andante con moto and adjusts the meter to 4/4. Here, the two violins engage in a dialogue over staccato accompaniment. he third variation shifts to E major, enharmonically the flat submediant, and the tempo shifts to a hymn-like adagio molto espressivo. The fourth variation returns to 12/8 and drops a half-step to the dominant key of E♭ major. This variation has a codetta which transitions the key to D♭ major in preparation for the next variation. The fifth variation is sotto voce and has been called a “mysterious episode” and begins in D♭ major and transitions to the parallel C♯ minor. The recapitulatory sixth variation returns to 12/8, presents only half of the theme and connects directly to the coda.

Uh, yeah.

The Wiki article goes on and on and on about the intricacies of this piece of music, which I find fascinating on one, probably really deep, level. Probably the same level that enjoys knowing who the producers, musicians, and recording-studio antics were for important albums from my teen years, albums like Live Album by Continue reading

Day 236: String Quartets Op. 95 & 130, Grosse Fugue Op. 133

BeethovenCD41Something really weird happened today.

I was listening to CD 41, grooving on the string quartets, and my wife called from Niagara Falls (some 400 miles away) where she was visiting her brother in Canada. I had my hands-free buds in while I chatted with her.

Suddenly, she said, “That’s the song playing in the Firefly episode “Shindig.”

“You can hear that?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “That was the music playing during the dance scene in ‘Shindig’,” she said.

I looked at the back of the CD sleeve and read off the title of Track 8, which was Movement IV (“Alla danza tedesca: Allegro assai”) from String Quartet No. 13 in B Flat Op. 130. (It was composed in 1825; Beethoven was 55.)

“Well, it is a dance number,” I allowed.

“It’s the same song,” she said.

We chit-chatted a bit more and then we hung up.

I immediately Googled “Firefly Shindig Music” and discovered she was right.

If she and I hadn’t been speaking at that very moment, if she hadn’t heard the music I was playing in the background, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. (My memory is not that good.) So, a serendipitous conversation, at precisely the right moment, lead me to discover something I never would have known. How she heard it, and how she remembered incidental music in a TV episode we hadn’t watched in a year or two, I have no idea.

As for today’s CD, it begins with Continue reading

Day 235: String Quartets Op. 59 No. 3 “Rasumovsky” & Op. 74 “Harp”

BeethovenCD40This, the third of the “Rasumovsky” string quartets, is even better than the previous two.

Don’t ask me why.

It’s just really fine, well-crafted music played by a reknowned group of musicians, the Suske Quartett:

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinz Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

Here’s what’s on this CD:

String Quartet No. 9 in C Op. 59 No. 3 “Rasumovsky”

NOTE: All three of the “Rasumovsky” string quartets were written in 1806. Beethoven was 36, and well on his way to being deaf.

String Quartet No. 10 in E Flat Op. 74 “Harp”

This was published in 1809. Beethoven was 39. According to its entry on Wiki,

The nickname “Harp” refers to the characteristic pizzicato sections in the Allegro of the first movement, where pairs of members of the quartet alternate notes in an arpeggio, reminiscent of the plucking of a harp. Like many nicknames for Beethoven’s works, this was created by the publisher.

Woo-hoo! I love pizzicato!

And this is a pizzicato-lover’s dream come true. It’s brilliant. So much Continue reading

Day 234: String Quartets Op. 59 “Rasumovsky” Nos. 1 & 2

BeethovenCD39Delightful music!

And, for a recording made in 1967 and 1968, surprisingly vibrant – as fresh as anything recorded today.

Such is the care Brilliant Classics extends to its music.

This record label is truly one of the finest in the world. (No, I do not get paid by them. I just really appreciate the quality and price of the music on the Brilliant Classics label.)

On today’s CD I am treated to:

String Quartet No. 7 in F Op. 59 No. 1 “Rasumovsky”
String Quartet No. 8 in E minor Op. 59 No. 2 “Rasumovsky”

There are three string quartets named “Rasumovsky,” the third being String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, No. 3, which is likely on the next CD.

All three were written in 1806. Beethoven was 36, and well on his way to being deaf.

Both of these string quartets were performed by the Suske Quartett:

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinze Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

There’s a profound depth and complexity and – unless I am totally clueless – a kind of melancholy to this music. Some of it, like Movement III (“Adagio molto e mesto”) from No. 7 in F, exudes wistfulness.

Yet, that mood is wiped away with the fourth movement – “Allego (Theme russe)” – which, as its name suggests, offers a hint of Russian music, played more briskly than the Adagio of Movement III.

Of the two compositions on today’s CD, I think I prefer the second: No. 8 in E Minor Op. 59 No. 2.

It seems even sadder than No. 1, if that’s possible. Yet, it’s eerily compelling.

The two string quartets on this CD, as well as the third on the next CD, were commissioned by the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Razumovsky.

Day 233: String Quartets Op. 18 Nos 4-6

BeethovenCD38Another terrific CD featuring performances by the Suske Quartett, which consists of:

Karl Suske violin
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinz Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

There are four compositions on today’s CD:

String Quartet No. 4 in C Minor Op. 18 No. 4 (composed 1799-1800; Beethoven was 29 or 30)

String Quartet No. 5 in A Op. 18 No. 5 (composed 1799; Beethoven was 29)

String Quartet No. 6 in B Flat Op. 18 No. 6 (composed 1798-1800; Beethoven was 28-30)

Minuet in A Flat Hess 33 (composed 1792; Beethoven was 22)

All are exceptional pieces of music.