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Thread: A Question for the Pianists

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    Senior Member Air's Avatar
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    Default A Question for the Pianists

    While thinking about what new repertoire to choose this year, I suddenly realized - woah! I actually haven't played a complete Beethoven Sonata in earnest for quite awhile now. So I decided that this will be the year that it will happen.

    I'm the kind of guy who likes to challenge himself - and when going through the two volumes I automatically eliminated the easy ones (not because I dislike them, but you know what I mean...), and then the ones that I just haven't got to click with me yet after years and years of listening. Unfortunately, all of the late sonatas (after the op. 90) are off-limits because there are a few competitions that I want to attend which restrict themselves to the first 27. (I've also already played the Tempest, and decided against the Appassionata and Pathetique due to their popularity) At the end of the day, I came down to only three remaining choices - the op. 22, op. 53 ('Waldstein'), and op. 81a ('Les Adieux').

    I then went into a period of extensive listening, not just to a multitude of recordings, both old and new, but also to Andras Schiff's lectures and the such. For some reason, his enthusiasm for the Waldstein seemed a bit ingenuine to me, as if he were saying it was a 'great sonata' only because it is generally acknowledged as one. When I switched to his Appassionata lecture there was indeed far more passion in his commentary, and even in the Les Adieux. So this got me thinking - is the Waldstein really so high and mighty above the rest or is it just that many of the other ones are underrated?

    And this is why I decided to come to TC - to hear the opinions of those who have actually played these two sonatas (Waldstein and Les Adieux) in person. I know both of these sonatas (the Waldstein more so) are still extremely popular but for some reason they haven't reached the same level as the Appassionata has, where this popularity increases negative criticism due to 'fixed' ideas of how the piece should sound in the mind of the audience and judges (at least in my opinion). Also, always an important consideration is - which of the two is more technically and more importantly, musically challenging? Is there one of the two that you much prefer learning than the other? And as both an audience and a perfomer, which one do you generally enjoy hearing more?

    If there are any advocates for the op. 22 I wouldn't mind hearing your opinions as well.

    Thanks!
    Last edited by Air; Jun-25-2011 at 21:04.
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    When I first scoured through the 32 sonatas, I think the Waldstein sonata was probably the first that really affected me, and which I immediately thought was beautiful (others like the Moonlight and Pathetique being overplayed to my ears). The Waldstein is probably one of the ones that, when I listen to it, I think more about how I'd play it rather than just becoming absorbed in the current interpretation. From the outset, when there is that wrenching change from the restless quavers to the sublime 10 chord motif, I'm really fussy over how that is played - right down to the pause between the change; any minute tempo change; dynamics etc.. So, if you get really involved with it, I certainly believe it holds many musical challenges throughout, both personal and technical (particularly with the 3rd movement!) - but, of course, its popularity (at least for me) can sometimes make it difficult to find your own voice when there are so many recordings you may have listened to.

    I should say that Les Adieux is one that has never really stuck with me yet, but I think I read that Meaghan is going to play it soon, so hopefully she'll see this thread.

    With regards to Op. 22: despite the Waldstein being one of my favourites, and probably one of Beethoven's best all round, the Op. 22 is actually near the top of my list for Beethoven's sonatas as I think it has some of his best melodies, and is by no means a light-weight sonata - particularly with the final movement, it opens deceptively simply, and lulls you into a sense that you're hearing early-classical Beethoven, but it develops so grandly and powerfully. In fact, given what you said about avoiding the bigger hitters, I immediately thought you should try the Op. 22 when I read your post.

    But that's just me!

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    Senior Member kv466's Avatar
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    For me, and most likely because it doesn't quite stick in my mind that easily...the Les Adieux is both more technical and difficult in terms of expression...I guess when I approach the Waldstein I just try and recreate Claudio Arrau's versions and what would have been Glenn's if he'd done it...not to mention how much more memorable it is musically, to me at least...so, they're probably both equally as challenging depending on how you look at it

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    Senior Member Meaghan's Avatar
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    Not having played the Waldstein or Op. 22 (only listened), I can't make a reliable comparison of the three in terms of which is most challenging, but I can tell you how much I love Les Adieux! As Polednice said, I am playing it. The serious study will start in the fall when I start with my new piano teacher, but I'm analyzing it now. (And it's my avatar. )

    It was actually the slow introduction that first got me hooked on Les Adieux. It's full of harmonic surprises. It starts out with a deceptive cadence that is also a modulation to the relative minor on the third chord of the piece. And then the whole intro is very chromatic (unusually so for Beethoven) and kind of tonally unstable (with no strong Eb major cadences), opening up a lot of expressive possibilities and making it artistically challenging.

    I love the first movement, with its relentless drive and very tight organization--in lieu of real, discrete themes, it is unified by the simple little three-note "Lebewohl" motive, which is everywhere. It is the very first thing you hear at the beginning of the piece, and then near the end of the movement it is harmonized the way it would have been at the beginning had it resolved regularly, and this brings a sense of release. You've probably already heard a lot of this, having listened to the Schiff lecture. I listened to it a while back, so I don't remember how much he covers. But I know he talks about his image of the carriage riding off into the distance at the end of the first movement, and that image has now become mine. That part, with the momentary dissonance before the lebewohl motive descends beyond its original three-note constraints under the pedal Eb, as the right hand winds it way up the keyboard and away, is so beautiful and poignant and delicate and I love playing it.

    I haven't spent as much time with the other two movements. I have played the second a bit and it isn't so technically difficult, just very expressive and lovely. The third movement is more challenging technically than the others, mostly because it goes so fast. Likely too challenging for me--I'm not that good a pianist, I just love this sonata. And Beethoven sonatas in general. I hope you have fun with whatever you choose!

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    Senior Member Air's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone for the advice. After much meditation, internal wrestling, and tearing my hair out I've finally chose the Waldstein. I will admit though that a part of my heart will always remain with Les Adieux (especially the Lebewohl motive) and this was only exacerbated by Meaghan's great post. I'm sure to play it in the future to remedy this - and it's sad that the deciding factor between the two works was not something that I could ultimately decide but was rather what my teacher calls the "competition" factor. Quite a shallow reason to choose between two such great works, in my opinion.

    For now though, it's on to the great C Major Waldstein!
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Good reading here, and one certainly cannot go wrong with any of the Beethoven Sonatas. At the moment if I had better skills as a pianist I would most love to play Beethoven Sonata No. 1. This piece is just bursting with energy and excitement, and all though it is in a minor key, it feels incredibly joyful and refreshing to me. I enjoy all the early 'classical' sonatas so far as much as the later ones.

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    Senior Member Meaghan's Avatar
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    Silly competitions. But Waldstein is a great sonata too, of course. Have fun!

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