BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op.110
I. Moderato cantabile moto espressivo con amabilità
II. Allegro molto
III. Adagio ma non troppo
Beethoven wrote this sonata in 1821(he died in 1827), while living in Vienna and had completely lost his hearing. Despite this indescribable loss and his failing health during his last years, Beethoven wrote his best works. He was also very much a forerunner, pioneering in his treatment of compositional forms and setting the tone for those who came after him. An example of this is the use of Baroque counterpoint as seen in the third movement.
In this cyclical sonata(in which each movement is connected with the one before and after it), Beethoven opens the 1st movement with a simple yet beautiful theme. "Con amabilità", the sub-heading to this sonata, indicates "lovingly". Using the sonata form, he explores the full range of the keyboard. This was due in large part to the fact that two of the foremost piano makers of the day, Broadwood and Érard, were in close contact with the composer, sending their latest models to him, for his use. Their pedal and escapement features on their instruments influenced his writing and caused Beethoven to innovate new sonorities and colors never heard of on the piano, till now.
The 2nd movement, however, turns into a piece of sarcastic humor, with the use of two contemporary German folk tunes, with the following words:
Unsere Katze hatte Käetzchen gehabt- (our cat has had kittens)
Ich bin luederlich du bist luederlich wir sind alle luederlich
It is followed by a difficult passage of descending fourths in the treble and ascending thirds in the bass. The third movement opens una corda(only made possible by the innovations found in a Broadwood or Érard instrument) as an operatic recitative, likened to a soliloquay, gives way to a lament, taken directly from J. S. Bach’s St John Passion, which had the following words:
It is finished
Oh comfort for vexed souls
The night of mourning
Let me count the final hour
The hero of Judah
Conquers with might
And finishes the fight
It is finished
This is autobiographic for Beethoven, who was in the depths of despair over illness and deafness, during the time of this writing. Who would have thought that the worst kind of thorn in any musician’s flesh, the loss of hearing, would be given to so great a composer? He had been prolific throughout his life but had, along with that, a lifetime of short-lived successes; rejection by powerful public figures due to sharp differences in musical tastes; failed in romance; complicated family relationships and poverty. All of these, and more, one would surmise, would have contributed to the short temper that he was known to have with people.
And yet, despite one adversity after another, look at Beethoven’s output, as well as the place in music history that has been accorded to this man. He was irreplaceable in his role of crossing over from the Classical to Romantic style.
(Today, there are a number of youth orchestras that play Beethoven in Venezuela. They have been formed to help youth stay away from gangs, drugs and other crimes.)
The end of this lament gives way to a four-part fugue, written in strict counterpoint, which builds to a wonderful climax but collapses back into, Beethoven writes, "Ermattet, klagend", translated, means, “exhausted, complaining”. The many sixteenth rests found in the treble, coupled with smaller note values, depict sobbing in overwhelming grief.
Fortunately, the sonata does not end on such a note. Beethoven continues at the end of this 2nd lament with another fugue, this time, with the subject in retrograde. This eventually gives way to the triumphant restatement of the original fugue theme, played in octaves, and now with accompanying sixteenth note figures. This very much reminds us of the dona nobis pacem of his "Missa Solemnis".
By the time he ends this sonata, we are completely convinced that death has not won its battle but has been swallowed up in absolute and undeniable victory.
Although I had fallen in love with this sonata during my graduate school days, I never felt like it was the right time to play it until ten years after. I read in several places and heard from musicians whom I respected that learning a late-period Beethoven work required a certain level of maturity and understanding. It is for this reason, I believe, that few to no piano prodigies touch these late-period Beethoven sonatas because of the profundity of the music.
J.S. BACH: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Written in 1742, it is said that Count Keyserlingk commissioned Bach to write a set of variations for his harpsichordist, J.T. Goldberg. Because of the ingenius variety of Bach’s writing, this colossal work takes you on a journey and back, to its starting point. At every third variation, Bach writes a canon.
It is my hope to one day play the entire set of variations with the Aria as bookends of this epic.
BRAHMS: Intermezzo in A major, Op. 118 No.2
I first heard Ivor Pogorelich play this on a DG recording back in the 1990s and asked my teacher, Mr Mouledous, if I could learn this beautiful piece.
What do you, as the listener, hear in this piece? Perhaps you may like to tell me by writing something on my wall? =)
CHOPIN: Nocturne No. 8 in D-flat Major, Op. 27 No. 2
CHOPIN: Etude No. 3 in E major, Op. 10 No. 3
As with all of Chopin’s concert etudes, they are each written in contrasting sections. The word etude, is French for “study”. They are written with at least one technical challenge in mind. This particular etude’s challenge is bringing out the top melody, whilst the rest of the voices remain hushed. The middle section has a series of parallel 6ths and chords arranged in contrary motion, spanning the entire keyboard.
All tracks performed by Gillian Hu
Mastered & produced by Jay Halstrom at Radio Poet Productions, Mark Guenter at Seattle Disc Mastering
Album photographs by Lisa Meyer, Roseanne Halstrom
Layout by Eli Struck, Evermark LLC