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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Artur Schnabel plays Beethoven sonatas

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For the third and final installment in our abbreviated look at Beethoven piano sonatas, let’s turn to a pianist who made the first-ever recording of the entire corpus, and evaluate how well these interpretations have stood the test of time.

Artur Schnabel (1882 –1951) was an Austrian-born classical pianist, composer and pedagogue. Among the 20th century's most respected and important pianists, Schnabel has few equals, especially in the Austro-German classics, particularly the works of Beethoven and Schubert.

Schnabel was the first pianist to record all of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas The recordings were made in Abbey Road Studios in London on a C. Bechstein grand piano between 932 and 1935, seven years after electrical recording was invented.

Although Schnabel had refused to make recordings for years, he agreed to take on the project. The Beethoven Society began distributing Schnabel's recordings of the sonatas in March 1932, issuing a total of twelve volumes through 1937.

The recordings continue to amass universal recognition and have received numerous honors. In 1937, Gramophone wrote of the recordings: "To [his] technical mastery Schnabel adds and fuses an intensely intelligent, not merely 'intellectual' mind ... The result is a perfectly blended interpretation of the music as a spiritual expression and as a musical organism."
In 2014, William Robin of The New Yorker wrote that Schnabel "remains the eminent Beethoven interpreter on record" when discussing his recordings of the piano sonatas. The recordings were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1975 and into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2018.

Read more here.

To my ear, you need to compare Schnabel to, say Wilhelm Kempff or Wilhelm Backhaus, near-contemporaries of his and certainly recognized Beethoven interpreters in the classic German style. Schnabel never resorts to “flash” in his performances – the music gets to take center stage, guided by a solid hand, never pretentious.

I was pleased to find the entire set on YouTube (link below), though I retained a few sonatas for your consideration, and posted them in a dedicated archive page.

Happy listening!

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas:

  • No.13 in E-Flat Major, Op.27, No.1 ('Quasi una fantasia')
  • No.22 in F Major, Op.54
  • No.24 in F-Sharp Major, Op.78 ('For Therese')
  • No.25 in G Major, Op.79 ('Cuckoo')
  • No.26 in E-Flat Major, Op.81a ('Les Adieux')
  • No.27 in E Minor, Op.90

Artur Schnabel, piano

Warner Classics – 0190295975050
Format: 8 x CD, Compilation, Remastered, Mono
Recorded 1932-35 in No. 3 Studio, Abbey Road, London.
Remastered 2015-16

Discogs -

YouTube -

Internet Archive -


  1. Parley's Avatar
    I can’t understand your phrase, ‘never resorts to flash’. To me there is plenty of that in these performances and why not?
  2. Parley's Avatar
    I can’t understand your phrase, ‘never resorts to flash’. To me there is plenty of that in these performances and why not?