Opus 106 in B flat major, otherwise known as the "Hammerklavier." This term means 'hammer on the keyboard.' When you hear the opening material it will be so obvious!This is known as the most difficult Beethoven sonata and also one of the longest, with an average performance lasting up to 50 minutes! Please try to listen to Artur Schnabel play the entire thing! It will be worth it!
Opus 101 in A major marks the beginning of Beethoven's Late Period. The Late Period is characterized by a more mature and refined sound. By this time in his career Beethoven truly became the composer we know and love. The piano had once been much smaller than we know it to be today. Beethoven was one of the first composers to compose for the newly expanded keyboard.Opus 101 was composed in 1816. The four movements all have very descriptive titles:1. Etwas lebhaft und mit der innigsten Empfindung. (Somewhat lively and with innermost sensibility.)2. Lebhaft, marschmäßig. (Lively, march-like.) 3. Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll. (Slow and longingly.) 4. Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr und mit Entschlossenheit. (Swiftly, but not overly and with determination.) Not only can we hear Beethoven's use of the extended keyboard, we get to experience one of the most beautiful opening melodies ever written.Emil Gilels' extraordinary interpretational skills make this performance a real tear-jerker. Get out your kleenex!
Opus 90 in E minor is the last of what is known as Beethoven's Middle Period. The two movements have been named "Kampf zwischen Kopf und Herz" ("A Contest Between Head and Heart") and "Conversation mit der Geliebten" ("Conversation with the Beloved"). The reason for this seems to be a fabrication of Beethoven's assistant, Herr Schindler. According to Schindler, this sonata was dedicated to Beethoven's patron and friend Prince Moritz von Lichnowsky, who, at the time, was courting a woman he intended to marry. The programmatic titles refer to Lichnowsky's intense feelings. However, these feelings can indeed be heard in the sonata, whether or not they were true. Emil Gilels plays for us once again.
Opus 81a, or "Les Adieux," ('The Farewells') in E flat major is the most difficult Beethoven sonata in terms of emotional maturity. Great technique means nothing in this piece if it is not accompanied by very cultivated expression. Each movement of this sonata has a programmatic (themed) title. Normally, movements are simply named after their tempo marking, such as 'Allegro,' or 'Andante.' The movements here are "Das Lebewohl" (The Farewell), "Abwesenheit" (The Absence), and "Das Wiedersehen" (The Return). It is believed that the farewell is to Beethoven's patron Archduke Rudolph, who was run out of Vienna by Napoleon in 1809.You can in fact see that Beethoven himself titled these movements, unlike other sonatas which were named by editors. In the score, which you will be able to see in the following video, Beethoven wrote the word "Lebewohl" over the first three chords.Once again we are serenaded by the expert hands of Artur Schnabel.
Another composition from 1809, Opus 79 in G major is the shortest sonata with more than two movements. The movements are named as such: "Presto alla Tedesca," "Andante," "Vivace." The Italian term 'alla Tedesca' means 'in the German style.'We once again have Annie Fischer playing for us.
Opus 78 in F sharp major, or "À Thérèse," was written in 1809. It is named so because it is dedicated to Beethoven's student, Countess Thérèse von Brunswick. Many scholars speculate that she, and not her sister Josephine von Brunswick, was in fact Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved." Here we have the great Maurizio Pollini playing for us. An Italian musician, he has performed as both a pianist and conductor.
The famous 'Appassionata!' This one, in F minor, was composed in 1805. While it is incredibly difficult to play, the opening theme is merely built upon an F minor arpeggio! It sounds so much more complex than that. It is an unusual sonata, for it ends in tragedy. Most sonatas, if featuring tragic sounds at all, usually resolve to a happier sounding ending.Arthur Rubinstein, the namesake of the Rubinstein Competition, was a Polish-American pianist, and one of the most highly regarded performers of the century.In his younger years, Rubinstein could get away with very little practice. However, after the birth of his children, he wanted to set a better example, so he re-learned all of his repertoire. This enabled him to really 'get' the music he was playing. He realized that music is not just about playing the right notes, and learned to look behind the notes to find the meaning of the music. This is a lesson we all must remember at one time or another.
Opus 54 in F minor was composed the same year as the Waldstein sonata, 1804. It is not a well known sonata, being overshadowed by its opus neighbours, Waldstein and Appassionata. It is also quite short, with only two movements and a normal performance ranging around 12 minutes. It is quite humorous as well, an many musicologists believe Beethoven is here making fun of uncreative composers.We listen once again to the great Artur Schnabel.
Opus 53 in C major, otherwise known as the 'Waldstein' sonata, was composed in 1804. It is called so for a good friend and patron of Beethoven, Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein. He supported Beethoven's career and commissioned many works from him. This is one of the most difficult Beethoven sonatas to play.Despite the difficulty of this piece, Maestro Arrau plays it with such ease. Pay attention around 2:30 for a shot of his strong fifth finger in action on some chords!
This is considered the easiest of all the Beethoven sonatas, next to its sister sonata Opus 49 No. 1. It is in the key of G major, as opposed to its sister in G minor. The two movements are 'Allegro ma non troppo' and Tempo di menuetto.'Today we hear our first female performer of the countdown. Unfortunately there are not many of us! Annie Fischer was a Hungarian pianist. She was praised for her profound and genuine playing as well as her technical prowess.