photo: Bravo!International Festival 2019
Can one ever tire of Beethoven? I have lived much of my life blissfully exploring the nooks and crannies of his art. Even after working with one of his pieces a full year I could still discover something new each day: a motivic relationship, a philosophical meaning, a more complex and greater depth of feeling…. He is undoubtedly the Shakespeare in the world of sound.
Beethoven Bookends illuminates the breadth of his genius, guiding the listener from Opus 7, Beethoven’s personal favorite of his early sonatas, through the charming and varied Bagatelles Opus 119, culminating in his transcendent final sonata, Opus 111.
The “Grand Sonata,” so nicknamed by Beethoven, is rooted in the classical sonata tradition, though one can already see his impatience with the limitations this tradition placed on his myriad paradigms of expression. In Opus 7 we see an expanded form to accommodate the varied sounds and broader expressive palette of the symphonic orchestra. The nobility, depth, and spaciousness evoked in the second movement creates for us a new and profound experience.
Beethoven’s Bagatelles Opus 119 are best described in Berlin’s Allgemeine musicalische Zeitung review at the time of Germany’s first publication of the score: “A rapid glance shows us eleven pieces of music on a small scale; but an infinite amount lies bewitched in their magic circle!....veritable little pictures of life…” Some lyrical and introspective, some energetic, some humorous, these no doubt were the inspiration for Romantic era composers’ “character pieces.” The last piece of the set, sublime in its simplicity, was my personal farewell to many inspirational years at the Aspen Music Festival.
Opus 111, Beethoven’s final sonata (what could follow?) is thought by many to be the greatest work ever written for the piano. With it he has thrown structure as it had been known completely to the winds. The first movement (in c minor) portrays the tumultuous struggle between fate and humanity’s powerful emotional responses, transforming at the end (C major) into a feeling of reconciliation with what’s presented to us in our lives. There are no greater contrasting keys than c minor and C major. The second and final movement immediately lifts us beyond the turmoil of our earthly existence into the spiritual realm. It is ineffable, mystical, and without end, the piece seeming to continue without sound as the final rest lifts us to heaven…. Enjoy! — Antoinette Perry
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