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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Glenn Gould Plays Beethoven – Piano Sonatas 5-10

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Today’s Cover2Cover post launches a three-part series of shares of Beethoven piano sonatas. I avoided programming Beethoven so far in 2021, simply because we had so much of it last year for the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. However, one area we did not dedicate much Tuesday Blog posts on last year was the vast corpus (32 in all) of his piano sonatas, spanning the whole arc of his career as a composer. Over this short set, we will consider almost half of those – 15 in fact – which reminds us that not all Beethoven sonatas are created equal, and that even the “short ones” pack a good punch!

Two of the posts planned in this short series feature Glenn Gould as the performing artist. The choice is no coincidence – we are entering our tenth year of Tuesday Blogs and Gould is a frequent guest around here… If you scan the Gould discography, you’ll find that after Bach, Beethoven is probably the composer Gould recorded the most, be it in his many years at Columbia/CBS or in some of the CBC archival broadcast recordings re-issued on their “Perspectives” series.
Gould recorded all the concerti, bagatelles, variations and of course most (not all) of the piano sonatas. In fact, Gould did something almost sacrilegious, issuing the triptych of the last three piano sonatas as his second release for Columbia in 1956! This was an interesting choice for a rather young pianist, when these mature Beethoven sonatas are usually left for mature artists to perform.

The two discs featured today – six sonatas in total – cover two complete sets (op. 10 and 14), plus the more familiar Pathétique sonata. Gould is in fine form (humming along, as usual), and his performance of the op. 10 set feels especially inspired. Beethoven composed these sonatas early on in his career and for himself as a touring pianist. Gould shows incredible dexterity and deftness – he plays the fast parts really fast, the slow parts lyrically (noteworthy for Gould who’s never sentimental…). His Pathétique is performed in “puritan” mode, where he scrupulously sticks to Beethoven’s indications with little to no ornamentation. The music speaks for itself, and it does so eloquently.

Happy Listening!

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No.5 in C Minor, Op.10, No.1
Piano Sonata No.6 in F Major, Op.10, No.2
Piano Sonata No.7 in D Major, Op.10, No.3

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Piano Sonata No.8 in C Minor, Op.13 ('Pathétique')
Piano Sonata No.9 in E Major, Op.14, No.1
Piano Sonata No.10 in G Major, Op.14, No.2

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Glenn Gould, piano