Patrick Rucker Friday, February 15, Beethoven took greater care of his sketchbooks than he did of his finished manuscripts. Beethoven used it from late through early , covering its pages with several hundred sketches and drafts, including early ideas for both the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, as well as for the Triple Concerto and Fidelio. But the most extensive sketches are those for two large-scale works, each of which would be a pivotal landmark in its genre: the Eroica Symphony and the Waldstein Sonata. Born in Vienna, Waldstein lived in Bonn from early , where he was made a knight of the Teutonic Order and became a privy councillor to the Archbishop-Elector. The most obvious feature distinguishing the Waldstein from the 20 sonatas Beethoven had already published is its extraordinary technical challenge, well beyond the ken of any amateur pianist of the day.
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Patrick Rucker Friday, February 15, Beethoven took greater care of his sketchbooks than he did of his finished manuscripts. Beethoven used it from late through early , covering its pages with several hundred sketches and drafts, including early ideas for both the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, as well as for the Triple Concerto and Fidelio.
But the most extensive sketches are those for two large-scale works, each of which would be a pivotal landmark in its genre: the Eroica Symphony and the Waldstein Sonata. Born in Vienna, Waldstein lived in Bonn from early , where he was made a knight of the Teutonic Order and became a privy councillor to the Archbishop-Elector. The most obvious feature distinguishing the Waldstein from the 20 sonatas Beethoven had already published is its extraordinary technical challenge, well beyond the ken of any amateur pianist of the day.
An extraordinary sense of propulsion is established at the outset of the opening Allegro con brio , also without parallel in Beethoven. Moreover, as Charles Rosen pointed out, many harmonic, figurative and textural procedures that had formerly been reserved for concertos are introduced into the framework of a sonata for the first time, lending the Waldstein its special drama and brilliance.
Beethoven himself never played his sonatas publicly, though it seems his pupils Carl Czerny, Dorothea von Ertmann and Ferdinand Ries did. Two pupils of Czerny who would become prolific teachers themselves, Liszt and Theodor Leschetizky, established the pianistic bloodlines leading back to Beethoven that, as demonstrated in this discography, are still traceable today.
My choices were motivated by the diversity of approach the Waldstein has inspired, the chance to advocate for lesser-known recordings and, of course, personal preference. One of his favourite recital programmes began with the Hammerklavier , followed by Opp and and the Waldstein , and concluded with the Appassionata. There is also a tendency, typical of the period, to short-change rests. What does emerge is a structural grasp that lends the sonata a compelling expressive arc, without stinting on detail.
The sprightly, brilliant and beautifully paced Prestissimo coda of the last movement is a sheer delight. In many ways, his Waldstein is typical of his way with the middle-period sonatas: extremely rapid outer movements, sometimes hectically rushed, and an extraordinarily slow middle movement that collectively result in a cohesive and intellectually compelling performance of singular power.
Another Schnabel trademark, figuration played with great expressivity, is also prominent throughout. One of the strongest techniques in modern piano-playing was still relatively intact. Walter Gieseking , on the other hand, came of age during the 20th century, and his Waldstein , recorded in , exhibits some aspects recognisable as 19th-century holdovers and others as more modern.
The Allegro con brio , played without repeat, is one of the more relaxed of the recordings examined here. There is little of the flawless legato and intellectual rigour of Schnabel or the robustness of Backhaus. The Adagio molto of the middle movement is sped up to an andante comodo , mitigating its contrast with the outer movements. In his defence, Harold Schonberg observed that listening to Gieseking after the Second World War was almost like hearing a different pianist.
In concert, Rudolf Serkin projected a disarmingly human persona. One felt in the presence of a formidable musician, deeply reflective, always modest and self-effacing, who shared with his listeners both the loftiness of his goal and, however unwittingly, the herculean effort its achievement cost him. However, it was her widely admired recordings of the violin sonatas with Szymon Goldberg the following decade that secured her reputation as a Beethoven interpreter.
In her Waldstein , the opening repeated quavers create an uncanny sound, evoking lower strings using the smallest bow strokes, as though a continuously sounding triad were pulsating. Throughout the movement, the dynamic elements of the sonata-allegro dialectic are vividly characterised.
The Introduzione describes a new landscape, self-contained and rhetorically poised. When profound introspection yields at last to open vistas, the music embarks on a lofty trajectory that lasts until the Prestissimo coda, which erupts in a celebration so ebullient that its earthy roots cannot be denied.
However complicated the artistic legacy of Emil Gilels may have become in light of post-Soviet historiography, the high standards of his pianism remain inviolable.
His recording for DG was intended as part of a complete set of Beethoven sonatas left unfinished at his death. The Adagio remains imperturbable throughout, resulting in a Rondo that, despite all its sonorous beauty and indisputable decorum, is slightly anticlimactic.
Listeners with no first-hand experience of the iconoclastic, fiercely contrarian pianist Friedrich Gulda who, from the s, actively pursued interests in jazz and composition alongside his career as a classical pianist, may be surprised to hear in his Waldstein scant evidence of the improvisational freedom or personal utterance his extra-classical interests might suggest.
If less strait-laced than his Bach performances, this taut and stringent Waldstein from seems little concerned with variety of touch or colour. As befits a career in which Beethoven has occupied prime real estate, the Waldstein of Alfred Brendel commands great authority. Had Brendel not written perceptively about many aspects of Op 53, it would be obvious from his performance alone that his final conception emerged only after all possible interpretative implications were scrutinised and weighed.
When Daniel Barenboim first played the 32 Beethoven sonatas in Tel Aviv in , he was the youngest pianist in recent memory to play the entire cycle publicly. Yet the flipside of this Olympian conception is a certain sense of removal from emotional immediacy. The performance of this particular sonata seems curiously free of spiritual struggle, without which an urgent sense of resolution remains remote.
This is no engine firing on all cylinders but an implacable forward surge, fuelled by boundless exuberance. Once the development really gets cooking, conscientious artists will sometimes over-characterise the thematic hide-and-seek, creating an inadvertently comic effect. He creates a steady build almost from the beginning of the development, incrementally increasing in tension and mass until we feel perched at the summit of a towering mountain range.
When the definitive cultural history of music-making after the Second World War is written, surely the so-called Historically Informed Performance movement will loom large. For pianists, its influence has spread beyond practitioners of early instruments and enriched mainstream pianism.
Listening to Brautigam, we hear the special qualities of clarity and definition, the pure colour palette, the differentiation of registers and the altered proportions inherent in early 19th-century pianos. But we also hear ardent, witty, perceptive music-making of breathtaking virtuosity and charm. The shapely phrasing and flowing contours make this a sensually beautiful reading. Not surprisingly for a pianist who excels in many varied repertories, Lortie seems fully present in every bar.
Surely few pianists are more dedicated to Beethoven than Haefliger, and his programming is a strong argument for recording the sonatas over an extended period rather than during the two- or three-year total immersion that many pianists have required to record all The outer movements of his Op 53 are not overly fast but appropriately energetic.
Beautifully shaped phrases are set in textures of sumptuous variety. Osborne has an amply equipped arsenal of attack-and-release strategies throughout his range but his infinitely calibrated dynamics are most remarkable at the soft end of the spectrum. The intricate drama of the development unfolds with an urgency that keeps you on the edge of your seat, uncertain of the outcome. The remaining peaks and valleys are navigated without misstep and always with an eye towards grandeur.
Certainly flight informs the finale, but so do the roar of cataracts, the progress of mighty rivers, great winds and abundant sunshine. The same freshness of vision encountered in his superb Rachmaninov recordings is evident, as though the interpretation had been painstakingly built from the ground up, free of preconceptions or received wisdom. The Rondo seems somehow restrained, as if Giltburg were bridling his natural instincts.
The qualities of this piano, which can sound so exotic to us, were in fact typical of the instruments Beethoven knew and loved. They have certain things in common. Recreating this unique masterpiece via the medium of recording, all seem to have done so with great conviction and from a full and open heart.
The earliest is that of Lili Kraus, whose conception strikes a balance between extroversion and inward eloquence, bringing to mind some of the finer aspects of European sensibilities before the Great War. Over the course of 27 riveting minutes, Steven Osborne creates a trenchant musical narrative spanning three disparate movements, suggesting a compelling spiritual journey of transformative power.
Jonathan Biss launched his highly regarded Beethoven sonata survey in and it continues with annual releases. There is something elemental in the way Biss evokes the titanic Beethoven but he does so with the most exquisite, unforced, multi-dimensional sound, rendering it profoundly human. This article originally appeared in the January issue of Gramophone.
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Beethoven's ‘Waldstein’ Sonata: a guide to the greatest recordings
Beethoven 's Piano Sonata No. Completed in summer and surpassing Beethoven's previous piano sonatas in its scope, the Waldstein is a key early work of Beethoven's "Heroic" decade — and set a standard for piano composition in the grand manner. The sonata's name derives from Beethoven's dedication to his close friend and patron Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein of Vienna. Like the Archduke Trio one of many pieces dedicated to Archduke Rudolph , it is named for Waldstein even though other works are dedicated to him.
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.21 in C major “Waldstein” Analysis
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