Official release: May 2021
Throughout the entire parable of Beethoven’s artistic life, his Piano Sonatas weave a red thread. They represent the composer’s journal; the expression of his most intimate feelings; an opportunity to explore infinite formal innovations; a testimony of the parallel evolution of the instrument and of its performing technique; but, above all, an inexhaustible treasure in which generations of pianists, analysts, composers and music lovers unceasingly find new gems.
Within this corpus of thirty-two works, the three Sonatas recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album constitute a trilogy, a triptych, but also a somewhat puzzling combination. Two of these three are among the best known of Beethoven’s entire output and among the all-time favourites of piano literature. Their popularity is testified by the spurious nicknames by which they are still referred to by pianists, teachers and listeners alike. In the Latin countries, Sonata op. 53 is commonly known as Aurora (“Dawn”), whereas north of the Alps it is more commonly alluded to as “Waldstein”. All over the world, Sonata op. 57 is known as Appassionata. None of these subtitles is due to Beethoven’s pen: “Waldstein” refers to the Sonata’s dedicatee, the Count Waldstein who was one of Beethoven’s aristocratic and munificent patrons; Appassionata was first found on the title-page of a posthumous version for piano duet, issued by the music publisher Cranz; and, as concerns the Aurora title, its origins – and indeed its justification – are lost in the mists of time.
So far, three titles have been cited for just two of the three Sonatas; this singles out op. 54 as the only one without a label and without a popular name. Though this may count as a fortune (some nicknames represent a true doom for the pieces they indicate), the fact is revealing. In the midst of the enormously fortunate Sonatas op. 53 and op. 57, the F-major Sonata op. 54 immediately appears as the forgotten or neglected one.
Yet, in spite of its superficial features, which are evidently different from those of her sisters, this Sonata illuminates Beethoven’s itinerary as fundamentally as the other two. This recording is therefore a particularly welcome opportunity to listen to these three works in a row, recognizing their unique individualities as well as their unsuspected consistency.
These three works were composed between 1803 and 1805. Beethoven was approaching his mid-thirties; he was still very young, by today’s standards, yet he had already an immense experience as a pianist and as a composer. The year 1800 has been defined, by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, as a “notational watershed”. Around that time, musical notation (especially of keyboard works) started to include an increasing number of performance indications, regarding tempo, articulation, dynamics, pedalling and other expression marks. This was, on the one hand, a consequence of the widespread use of the Hammerklavier, the fortepiano, with its timbral and dynamic possibilities, which were capturing the attention of piano-builders and composers alike. On the other hand, this practice revealed the composer’s interest in controlling the minute details of performance: the musical works became the expression of the artist’s soul, and therefore the composer had the right of dictating, in a most exacting fashion, how that expression had to be rendered.
In Beethoven’s case, two conflicting phenomena were paradoxically working in the same direction. From the one side, the composer’s hearing, by the time of the composition of these Sonatas, was already severely weakened. From the other, he was thoroughly enjoying the previously unheard-of possibilities of the magnificent Erard he had now at his disposal. Seemingly, there is a contradiction between the fascination for new sonorities and the increasing difficulty in appraising them. However, these two elements actually concurred in favouring the most daring explorations of the keyboard’s possibilities, and the attempt to notate them faithfully. Beethoven could and should imagine the sounds he wanted to realize, beyond the possibility of being actually able to hear them distinctly; this encouraged him to explore a sound which was, first and foremost, a mental phenomenon, a metaphysical idea. Consequently, he was compelled to find new ways for transmitting his musical imagination on paper.
Among the three Sonatas recorded here, it is possibly the earliest (op. 53) which reveals Beethoven’s experimental itinerary in the most striking fashion. One of the most impressive features of this superb Sonata is the daring use of the pedal. Beethoven’s indications require the pianist to purposefully blur the sound (even though this phenomenon is less marked on period instruments than on modern grands), and even to allow the entirely unorthodox blending of two conflicting harmonies, i.e. those of tonic and dominant. The effect is enchanted and enchanting, and bears witness to the forward-looking character of Beethoven’s explorations – in our ears, they are uncannily similar to “impressionistic” effects.
However, all three Sonatas have in common an equally impressive exploration of the form and of piano technique. It can be said that Beethoven brought the Sonata form to its utmost perfection, and at the same time undermined it. Beethoven had actively contributed to the crafting of the handbook rules for a perfect Sonata form, particularly thanks to his unequalled mastery in the creation of themes and motifs which were extremely well-suited to the thematic elaboration required in the development. In each of these three Sonatas, however, the seeds of a musical revolution which would ultimately destabilize this same form are clearly recognizable.
Sonata op. 53 opens with a theme which is not a theme: Alfredo Casella affirmed that it belonged to the world of noises rather than to that of sound proper, and even though this statement may be slightly exaggerated, it nonetheless contains a grain of truth. Its second theme is not in the key of the dominant, as per handbook rules, but rather at the tonic’s third grade. This is what normally happens in the minor-key Sonatas; thus, retrospectively, this choice makes the opening C-major appear as a “minor key”, and therefore gives a heavenly luminosity to the second theme, in the form of a transfigured Chorale.
In Sonata op. 57, Beethoven violates yet another fundamental rule (which he normally respected very faithfully): the two principal themes of the first movement should be as different as possible from each other. Here, the motivic material is virtually identical: both themes are built on the notes of the triad, and both share an identical rhythmic formula. In spite of this entirely unconventional (and potentially destructive) similarity, Beethoven manages to make them appear as different from each other as they should be. Paradoxically, the comforting quality of the second theme is reinforced by its capability to transform the dramatic and tragic potential of the first theme into a touching and lyrical episode of unearthly serenity.
Both of these great Sonatas share another uncommon trait: they lack a “proper” second movement, the slow oasis of contemplation and expressivity. In both cases, the virtuoso and hypnotic third movement is preceded by a short and concise introduction, and this move further compromises the compositional balance of the entire Sonata genre (though the result is, in both cases, astonishingly poignant). Indeed, Beethoven had earlier crafted a much longer and more ornate second movement for Sonata op. 53, but expunged it in favour of the short Introduzione which is now played in its stead. The original second movement has become an autonomous work, the Rondo favori WoO 57.
The innovations found in Sonata op. 54 are even more disconcerting. Here the very principles of the Sonata form are shaken to the ground. No movement “in the Sonata form” is found in this short and unforgettable composition. The first movement is declared to be a Minuet, but it is a very unconventional kind of Minuet – if a Minuet at all. The second movement is an equally atypical perpetuum mobile, with a tight pattern of imitations and canonic suggestions.
Together, these three Sonatas represent, therefore, a combination of entirely different moods and styles, and yet a consistent and coherent overall structure. Sonata op. 53 explores the piano’s timbres in an atmosphere whereby the most virtuosic elements appear as games of light, as almost miraculous and otherworldly sounds. Sonata op. 54 purposefully resumes and reinterprets musical elements from a chronologically not too distant (and yet stylistically infinitely removed) past, demonstrating how they could be transformed into new techniques in both the performative and compositional field. Sonata op. 57 opens the gates to the most impassionate and expressive Romanticism, with sudden outbursts and disquieting ebullitions of the musical material, while achieving a formal unity-cum-diversity which was almost unthinkable one generation earlier.
Together, and especially when played on the fortepiano as in this recording, they invariably and unfailingly convince, move and excite the listener, while showing Beethoven’s journey to the unexplored borders of music.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Paciariello, Maurizio (Fortepianist) attended Giuseppe Scotese’s classes at the “S. Cecilia” Conservatoire in Rome, where he got his diploma with top marks and distinction. Later, he took a higher studies course under Aldo Ciccolini. Then he completed further studies in chamber music with P. Badura-Skoda at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, and with N. Brainin at the “Scuola di Musica di Fiesole“. He received a prize at the 47th ARD International Competition in Munich in 1998, and debuted at the Carnegie Hall, New York, in 2003. His focus is the solo and ensemble repertoire, with special interest in performing on period instruments; in fact he currently has access to a small but representative selection of period instruments, including a copy of a late 18th century clavichord, an early 19th century Viennese Haselmann fortepiano, a Boisselot French piano from ca. 1840, and a 1885 Bosendorfer. His attention to early performance techniques has led to the realization of ambitious projects, such as a performance of Beethoven’s complete sonatas for violin and pianoforte on a 1804 Broadwood piano (Museum of the American Piano, New York), and his successful performance at the Cappella Paolina at the Quirinale in Rome. His recording debut came with the Concertos for pianoforte and orchestra by F. Kuhlau and F. Berwald with the Sassari Symphonic Orchestra, for Inedita. Also for Inedita he recorded Beethoven’s Concerto in E-flat major WoO 4 (1784), winning acclaim among critics in Italy and internationally. He followed up on his research into Beethoven’s youthful concertos with the Rondo in B-flat major and the Concerto in D op.61a, both greeted enthusiastically by international musicologists and a candidate for the Prix International du Disque, Cannes. The seventh volume of “Beethoven Rarities” (INEDITA), dedicated to a revision of Concerto op.58 in the 1808 manuscript version, and Concerto op.19 with the handwritten cadenza taken from the Kafka Skizzenbuch, earning 5 stars from Rivista Musica. He produced a CD dedicated to music for violin and pianoforte by the Norwegian composer C. Sinding (ASV), which won praise from Fanfare, BBC News, Guardian, Daily Telegraph. He has recorded the Sonatas of Lino Liviabella and Nino Rota for viola and Pianoforte with Luca Sanzò, and the complete works for violin and pianoforte by Ottorino Respighi, with Marco Rogliano (TACTUS). The CD (BRILLIANT) with Luca Sanzò of Viola and Piano sonatas by Paul Hindemith has received important recognition from Gramophone, Fanfare, MusicWeb International, Musica, Opusklassiek. In his review on Fanfare of the Three Hindemith’s Piano Sonatas (BRILLIANT) James H. North so describes Paciariello’s features: “a Gustav Leonhardt turned into a Van Cliburn”.
Ludwig van Beethoven: (b Bonn, bap. 17 Dec 1770; d Vienna, 26 March 1827). German composer. His early achievements, as composer and performer, show him to be extending the Viennese Classical tradition that he had inherited from Mozart and Haydn. As personal affliction – deafness, and the inability to enter into happy personal relationships – loomed larger, he began to compose in an increasingly individual musical style, and at the end of his life he wrote his most sublime and profound works. From his success at combining tradition and exploration and personal expression, he came to be regarded as the dominant musical figure of the 19th century, and scarcely any significant composer since his time has escaped his influence or failed to acknowledge it. For the respect his works have commanded of musicians, and the popularity they have enjoyed among wider audiences, he is probably the most admired composer in the history of Western music.