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Thread: Ludwig van Beethoven: The 32 sonatas for piano

  1. #16
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    I have all 32, several of them in 5, 6, 7 or more interpretations (Richter, Ashkenazy, Brendel, Gulda, Pollini etc.); there are only subtle differences between them. It seems that playing Beethoven's sonatas is not a big problem. The slow movement of the Hammerklavier (106) is an exception: I have eight recordings of it and heard a few more; all play this 3d movement at different paces, but all too slowly – even Richter who was known for his demonic dynamism -, so it falls apart and becomes dragged and almost boring. All but one; the guy who plays it the way I like (he is not famous at all) obviously holds that it must be slow but not stationary: you must feel that it is in continuous progress. This is meditative music but not reverie.

  2. #17
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    I have just downloaded the set of Beethoven P Son set By Brendel (no accompanying Booklet) I also have an old set by Ashkenazy, in the Ashkenazy set they are in opus sequence whereas the Brendel set follows a different pattern e.g., CD1 of Ashkenazy has Op2#1 #2 #3 the Brendel has Op2#1 #2 then Op13 Pathetique. These differences crop up a few times
    my question:: is this for a particular reason or just a whim by Brendel? The Ashkanazy fit onto 10CDs the Brendel takes 11CDs. Just curious.

    I just realised that the Brendel set from the 70s would be transfers from vinyl, I think I have answered my own question
    Last edited by Andante; Dec-09-2009 at 00:55. Reason: Obvious

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    Junior Member tonphil1960's Avatar
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    109, 110 and 111, I have been bitten by a Beethoven bug recently and read on John Suchet's great site about these 3 Sonata's. Not having them in my collection I bought them immediately and was very moved my these pieces. I can't comment on the rest of the Sonata's but am on a mission to obtain every Beethoven work I can, study his works and then decide on my favorite of all. It's going to take a while, but it's gonna be fun.

    Regards Tony

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonphil1960 View Post
    109, 110 and 111, I have been bitten by a Beethoven bug recently and read on John Suchet's great site about these 3 Sonata's. Not having them in my collection I bought them immediately and was very moved my these pieces. I can't comment on the rest of the Sonata's but am on a mission to obtain every Beethoven work I can, study his works and then decide on my favorite of all. It's going to take a while, but it's gonna be fun.

    Regards Tony
    Cough cough Brilliant Classics "Complete Beethoven Edition" cough cough.

    It's definitely a lovely box with some big names in it, especially if you're just hearing certain works for the first time. You've got Gulda for piano sonatas/concertos , Henryk Szeryng for Violin Concertos, Guarneri String Quartets, Kurt Masur Symphonies, Brendel piano variations...these aren't bargain bin nobodies at all.

    Anyway, I LOVE this box (and the other Brilliant Classics releases too) so I highly recommend it.

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    Junior Member tonphil1960's Avatar
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    Thanks much David, I am going to look for it right now.

    Tony

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    Member Crassus's Avatar
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    Why don't you try Arrau's version of Beethoven sonatas?

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    Member DebussyDoesDallas's Avatar
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    Once you get the bug for these works, much like the string quartets, you can never get enough, with so many subtly varying interpretations and endless depths of understanding, both of the work and of yourself, that are evoked on each listening.

    Like the late quartets, the late sonatas, especially the final trilogy, will be on my playlists to the end of my days--or the end od days, whichever comes first.

    In terms of complete sets, just when I think I've found the ultimate, I'll discover one sonata on it that's just *wrong* compared to my preferred rendition, as well as one that's just perfect. So far, I think every collection needs at least some Arrau, Brendel, Pollini (no complete set from him), Gilels (almost complete set), Gulda, Brautigam (my favorite HIPish forte pianist I've heard) Gould (controversial, yes, because when he clicks, he clicks BIG TIME) plus plenty of other names I've yet to check out. Not enough time in the day to hear everything.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Leporello87 View Post
    I really enjoy the Hammerklavier sonata, but it's always sort of struck me as an unusual "alien" sort of sonata for Beethoven. Although traditionally associated with the late sonatas, it seems quite different from the rest of them, except in the use of fugue that was a key hallmark of late Beethoven. Still, the Hammerklavier fugue is such a different sort of composition from the Grosse Fuge, despite sharing the key of B-flat.

    Other late favorites include Op. 101 and 109, both to play and listen to. I love Op. 78 dearly, but for some reason, it is not a sonata I am as happy listening to -- I must play, it instead! Actually, the same holds true for the early Pastorale Sonata, Op. 28, and the sublime E minor sonata, Op. 90.

    I do very much enjoy the more famous nicknamed sonatas: Pathetique, Waldstein, Appassionata -- but for some reason, they do not speak to me as much as these other ones.
    It's true that I'd always linked the Hammerklavier with op 109- 111 without really thinking about it. Then I saw a review of Kempff's newly released live cycle (1961, Tokyo) which said that he made the op 106 sound too much like a late sonata, too much like one of the last three.

    What are the main differences between the late sonatas and op 106? I'm not sure what's going on.

    I'll just add that I listened to some Beethoven this week, a really nice performance of op 2/3 played by Arrau in Prague - an old APR CD I think. Very good, I like the op2s a lot.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jan-12-2014 at 10:14.

  11. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by cjr3559 View Post
    For me, the ultimate question is where do you draw the lines between each period? I think there may be more distinct divisions than just "early", "middle", and "late".

    If pressed to create a three part separation to group the Sonatas, this is how I would do it:

    Early: Sonatas 1-7 (Op. 2 - Op. 10)

    Middle: Sonatas 8-20 (Op. 13 - Op. 49)

    Late: Sonatas 21-32 (Op. 53 - Op. 111)

    As you can see, all three divisions overlap into another period of Beethoven's life. For instance Op. 13 was composed in 1800-1801. I would consider that to be early in his life, though we know that stylistically, he was already experimenting and this work was one of his more mature pieces of the period.

    The same holds true with what I classified as "Late". The Waldstein and Appassionata Sonatas were definitely ground breaking compositions, but he composed them in the middle of his lifetime, around the same time as the "Eroica" symphony. When compared to the late, late sonatas (Nos. 28-32) their form almost appears to be very straight foward when compared to their later counterparts, even though as far as Sonata form is concerned, they were way ahead of their time.

    So, if I were to group the Sonatas into my own "periods", I personally would divide them into 7:

    Period 1: Sonatas 1-4 (Op. 2 Nos. 1-3 and Op. 7)
    Period 2: Sonatas 5-8 (Op. 10 Nos. 1-3 and Op. 13)
    Period 3: Sonatas 9-14 (Op. 14 Nos. 1-2, Op. 22, Op. 26, Op. 27 Nos. 1-2)
    Period 4: Sonatas 15-20 (Op. 28, Op. 31 Nos. 1-3, Op. 49 Nos. 1-2)
    Period 5: Sonatas 21-23 (Op. 53, Op. 54, Op. 57)
    Period 6: Sonatas 24-27 (Op. 78, Op. 79, Op. 81a, Op. 90)
    Period 7: Sonatas 28-32 (Op. 101, Op. 106, Op. 109, Op. 110, Op. 111)

    For obvious reasons, it is nearly impossible to micro-classify the 32 sonats, mainly due to the fact that many works were written prior to others in the listing, however were published at a later date. For example:

    Op. 14 was written before Op. 13, however it is my understanding that Beethoven wanted to give the "Pathetique" special consideration, therefore it was published seperately ahead of the Op. 14 sonatas. (This same consideration was taken upon publishing the first two piano concerti as well). Another example of piano sonatas published out of written order would be the Op. 49 works which were written in 1795-96.

    So this still poses the question: What is the best way to classify the Sonatas into periods? By the works themselves, or should they be considered as a parallel with the rest of his musical output?
    I agree with your periods; early, middle and late is not really enough when looking at the facts of what Beethoven was really going through when composing the piano sonatas. But I would like to change them around a little bit.

    Period 1: Sonatas 1-4 (Op. 2 Nos. 1-3 and Op. 7)
    Composed 1793-95 this (Op.2) is already the Beethoven we know and love, imho. People hear Haydn and sure he's there, but this is pure Beethoven. But they weren't published until march 1796. They should for sure be looked at as belonging to their own period. This is the premier of Beethoven - The Pianist. Maybe the first period should end right here simply because Op.7 was composed 1796/97 and parts of Op.10 was composed in 1795 so they might "belong" together. But clearly when looking at Op.10 - something is new! The line has to be drawn somewhere

    Period 2: Sonatas 5-8 (Op. 10 Nos. 1-3 and Op. 13)
    The start of composing Op.10 was in 1795 but published 3 years later, they come in a package. Why group them together with Op.13? Op.13 was long considered to have been composed in 1798 but later we have learned that the paper used for Op.13's original wasn't used by Beethoven until 1799 so there might not have been a lot of time between the compositions Op.13 and Op14. BUT...since Op.14 is a step away from the row of 'Grande Sonates', it makes sense....but then with Op.22 he's back to Grande Sonates to sort of end the series and you can almost hear it. It's not boring but I think he realized that he was now at a point where he risked to be 'stuck' if not doing something completely new. Thus; I'd like to move Op.14 and Op.22 into Period 2.

    Period 3: Sonatas 9-14 (Op. 14 Nos. 1-2, Op. 22, Op. 26, Op. 27 Nos. 1-2)
    Time for a change!
    First, Beethoven went to Hetzendorf for the summer. Heavy clouds could be seen on the summersky. Beethoven had a dark secret. This is one year before the Heiligenstadt-testament and now he can't hold it in anymore. He writes to Wegeler and suddenly reveals that he is tormented by the neverending sounds in his ears. With that said it's natural that Op.26 marks the start of the third period. We know that he was working very hard during the summer and these three sonatas. But actually, timewise Op.28 was composed from start to finish during the same 6 months. Now why is Op.28 so different? This is not experimental music anymore. Well, I choose to believe that where there is darkness, there can also be light. The pastoral feeling in Op.28 can for sure be connected to "a good day" in Hetzendorf. We will never know, but I place Op.28 in this third period.

    Period 4: Sonatas 15-20 (Op. 28, Op. 31 Nos. 1-3, Op. 49 Nos. 1-2)
    It is 1802. Op 31 is not a big leap in terms piano development for Beethoven, but when we know the history about Heiligenstadt this is the start of a new period. It is bold, dark and tragic. It is bizzarre. It is Beethoven.
    Now, Op 49 1-2 does not belong to this period. They where composed in 1795-96-97 so they should timewise belong to the first period.

    This means that the fourth period would only consist of Op.31. Well, I think it's fair enough when considering what was happening in Beethovens life. This also shows that it makes more sense to look at the pianosonatas in a different way, more about that later in this post.

    Period 5: Sonatas 21-23 (Op. 53, Op. 54, Op. 57)
    Waldstein! It stands on its own and does not really connect with Op.54 Enough said. Op.54 composed in 1803 was again something new! 2 movements and really something special. Now, how does this period make any sense? Well, in august 1804 Beethoven offered Breitkopf&Härtel: Christus am Ölberge, the Eroica, the trippleconcerto and 3 pianosonatas - however he was as usual promising a little bit too much since the Appassionata was not completed or even close to it. It was mainly composed during 1805. When looking ahead towards Op. 78 we understand that this period of very different compositions has come to an end.

    Period 6: Sonatas 24-27 (Op. 78, Op. 79, Op. 81a, Op. 90)
    Suddenly a leap of 4 years without any piano sonatas composed. But what a return!! The introduction of Op.78 is magnificent and in my book it is SO different compared to the end of Period 5. That introduction is a one-time-only and leaves us waiting, but in vain. It never returns! It's like Beethoven suddenly looks inside himself and then suddenly realizes that it's too much and changes everything into a beatufil lyrical piece. Op.79 is a really pretty and beautiful piece with a happy ending. That first movement is just like a flow of water and still with variation and sudden changes á la Beethoven. If one means that these "bridge-sonatas" are just easy music, they are wrong! It has all the components of our Beethoven and should not be neglected Onwards to 1810 and still in the sixth period as suggested by cjr3559 in his post. I agree. Like the last drops of happiness falling from Beethovens hands, Op.79 leaves us hanging. The sadness of his friend Rudolph leaving can be heard in the first three chords; Le-be-wohl (farewell). It gets better of course, when Rudolph returns! Is this the end of the sixth period going TOTALLY against what everybody has been saying for years and years? Well, Op.90 was composed about 5 years after Op.81a, which is the longest hiatus for Beethoven regarding the piano sonatas. Op.90 was published as a payment to the publisher Steiner that had taken over a loan that Beethoven had given to his brothers widow Johanna. When the payment wasn't made Beethoven gave Steiner Op.90 for free. The piece itself does not contain the introvert view of Beethoven that so clearly starts with Op.101 but I do not want to leave it alone, and therefore I agree; it can stay in the sixth period.

    Period 7: Sonatas 28-32 (Op. 101, Op. 106, Op. 109, Op. 110, Op. 111)
    We have reached the end and the beginning, or the beginning of the end. 1816 is the year. One could possibly pair Op.101 with Op.90 and make it "the lyrical seventh period" and then start the eight and final period with Op.106. Listen to the second movement of Op.90 and then the first movement of Op.101. See? It belongs together... For now I'll let nr 27 and 28 be separated
    Anyway. The rest is just a path towards introvert piano music for poor Beethoven. But what music it is! It is hard to describe in any other

    Well, this is how I view the piano sonatas. I want to conclude that it is a wonderful thing to follow Beethovens piano sonatas as a flow of development.
    Last edited by nasoferm; Feb-26-2014 at 15:53.

  12. #25
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    My "obscure" cycles are:

    Robert Taub (VOX), plus, he wrote a book about it.

    Idil Biret: A fantastic female pianist. She does the Liszt symphonic transcriptions as well.

    Audiophile Classics: This label issued a cycle on gold discs; the recording is superb, as well as the performances, which are by various obscure Russian pianists. You won't get bored with this one!

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  14. #26
    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DebussyDoesDallas View Post


    In terms of complete sets, just when I think I've found the ultimate, I'll discover one sonata on it that's just *wrong* compared to my preferred rendition, as well as one that's just perfect. .
    Yes, there can never be a 'perfect' cycle of these works.
    Of those I have I have found that Glenn Gould is very very interesting. At his best you think it might be Beethoven himself improvising.
    Kempff is very good indeed and magical in many places. The 1950s set carries the magic best.
    Must say I was disappointed in the cd of Gilels. Too much banging, I thought.
    Richter is great but did not record a complete set.
    Serkin ditto but is a great master of these works.
    Schnabel us - Schnabel - immense but the recordings are ancient. When I first heard him I was surprised how idiosyncratic he actually sounds.
    Pollini - great on the late sonatas as is Graffman and Solomon.
    The list is endless - so many have something to say yet no-one says it all! Which is what Beethoven would have wanted!

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    Senior Member apricissimus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Idil Biret: A fantastic female pianist. She does the Liszt symphonic transcriptions as well.!
    You could have stopped at "fantastic".

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    Yes, there can never be a 'perfect' cycle of these works.
    Of those I have I have found that Glenn Gould is very very interesting. At his best you think it might be Beethoven himself improvising.
    Kempff is very good indeed and magical in many places. The 1950s set carries the magic best.
    Must say I was disappointed in the cd of Gilels. Too much banging, I thought.
    Richter is great but did not record a complete set.
    Serkin ditto but is a great master of these works.
    Schnabel us - Schnabel - immense but the recordings are ancient. When I first heard him I was surprised how idiosyncratic he actually sounds.
    Pollini - great on the late sonatas as is Graffman and Solomon.
    The list is endless - so many have something to say yet no-one says it all! Which is what Beethoven would have wanted!
    I don't agree at all. I have found my endgame recording in Stewart Goodyears recent cycle. For me, that's simply as good as it gets. I've gotten rid of about 5-6 cycles after getting Goodyears.
    It has been a lot of searching and endless hours of listening...

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Last edited by millionrainbows; Feb-27-2014 at 18:14.

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