This fifth volume of the complete keyboard Sonatas by Beethoven recorded on the fortepiano includes five gems. None of them, with the possible exception of op. 81a, ranks among the most famous and performed of Beethoven’s thirty-two Sonatas; yet, they are all masterpieces in their own style and fashion. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, by listening to this particular album, many stereotypes about Beethoven and his music should be easily dispelled.
Beethoven himself was partially responsible for the establishment of such stereotypes; much would be done, however, by posterity, and in particular by the Romantic generation. Beethoven was the first musician to be revered as a genius; prior to him, genius was something more typically associated with scientists, literates, at times with visual artists. Musicians were seen, by the large public, as craftsmen rather than artists proper.
Then came Beethoven, and with him the opportune circumstances which fostered such idolization. In the era when Enlightenment was giving way to early Romanticism, music acquired an increasing weight as a symbol for culture, or as the epitome of culture itself; Hegel posited music as the highest creation of the Spirit, and the Romantics would consider music as their new religion – from Wackenroder onwards.
Beethoven’s personal story, with the tragedy of deafness, was also a determining factor for singling him out as an exceptional figure. His life embodied the idea of the tragic Romantic hero, who, faced by a pitiless and merciless fate, stands against misfortune and bears it with courage. Putting it bluntly, the Beethoven who wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament became the only Beethoven, to the detriment of the complexity of his personality and character.
Finally, as the bourgeoisie became increasingly interested in music, and particularly in the piano, a plethora of new amateur musicians joined the market. On the one hand, they were the target of the music publishing market, which was obviously interested in promoting the figures of some particularly fascinating musicians as myths to be revered. On the other hand, the average level of musicianship decreased: prior to 1800, music was played mainly by professionals or by aristocrats who had so much free time to devote to music that their level could often be compared with that of professionals. After 1800, the ranks of amateur musicians were so crowded that quality was an impossible aim. This made figures like Beethoven’s stand out even more clearly, and gain acceptance as truly mythical personalities.
This all concurred to create a “persona” of Beethoven which could be very different from the actual Beethoven. And this phenomenon was certainly amplified by Beethoven’s posthumous fame, particularly as fostered and promoted by his erstwhile students. On the one hand, their witness was considered as reliable since they had had firsthand knowledge of the master, and at times had worked very closely and for years with him. On the other, the public failed to adopt a more critical stance, for instance by distinguishing between what was objectively known of Beethoven and the ex-students’ recollections, or by forgetting that such witnesses might have (even in perfectly good faith) agendas of their own, for which a certain view of Beethoven could be useful. Only in recent times has the witness of Beethoven’s students be questioned seriously, at times revealing accounts which should at least be defined as partial.
Thus, the myth of Beethoven came to life, and it proposed to the public the figure of a towering and constantly surly genius, whose inspiration came almost in the fashion of raptures, and who lived in an entirely spiritual world, mainly inaccessible to lesser mortals. The “proper” interpretation of his music could therefore be transmitted only by those who had been close to him, or who claimed a comparable intensity of inspiration, allegedly allowing them to access the composer’s “intentions” and inner thoughts.
Many of these elements, as previously said, will melt as snow by listening to these Sonatas. Here, surliness is almost inexistent; Beethoven reveals himself as the amiable composer of amiable music. There is plenty of humour, and this was a trait Beethoven maintained throughout his life, and in spite of the tragedies he did live and experience. It was often a rather boyish kind of humour; rarely it took the shape of Haydn’s feline irony or of Mozart’s refined musical jokes (his non-musical jokes were not that refined). Yet, humour it was, and Beethoven’s music speaks volumes about the joviality of its composer. As he wrote himself, and precisely in the Heiligenstadt Testament, his nature was naturally attracted by human relationships and sympathy; where he failed to cultivate them, the responsibility had to be sought in the conditions of his health, rather than in his choices or in his character.
Sonata op. 14 no. 2 was written before the tragedy of deafness hit Beethoven. The circumstances and exact dates of its composition are unknown, but by December 1799, when it was published in Vienna by Mollo, it was ready, together with its companion, op. 14 no. 1. Possibly, Beethoven had imagined (and even promised to Mollo) a set of three Sonatas, one of which could have been op. 13, the Pathétique. The pair of Sonatas is dedicated to Baroness Josephine von Braun, née Höfelmüller, whose spouse would become the owner of the prestigious Theater an der Wien. The second of the two Sonatas, recorded here, is a small masterpiece with an engaging freshness of inspiration, a luminous character, and a captivating simplicity and sweetness. The usual conflict between the two principal themes is substantially reduced in the first movement; they certainly differ from each other, but neither loses the overall serenity which dominates this Sonata. The second movement, a simple Theme with Variations, renounces virtuosic pretenses, offering us the pure enjoyment of a seducing melody with charming decorations. The third and last movement is, untypically, a “Scherzo”; it has a brisk pace and capricious first theme, whilst the second part is dominated by the lively but serene steps of the Viennese Ländler, the ancestor of the Waltz.
The interpretation of this Sonata has been influenced by the anecdotes transmitted by Schindler who argued that it embodied a dialogue among lovers. He maintained that such a dialogue was found in both Sonatas of op. 14, but that in the second the opposition of the two main principles was at its highest. In his opinion, Beethoven used to label them respectively as the pleading principle (das Bittende) and the contrasting principle (das Widerstrebende). Indeed, as said before, this opposition is found much more pronouncedly in other works by Beethoven; here, the differentiation – obviously needed in a Sonata form – does not undermine the overall serenity and spirit of the works.
Another lady – but one who was certainly more important in Beethoven’s life than Baroness von Braun – is the dedicatee of op. 78. Therese Brunswik was a longtime friend of Beethoven and possibly the “immortal beloved” (though speculation on the latter’s identity is still open). Beethoven’s choice to dedicate to her what was one of his favourite Sonatas (at least according to another of Beethoven’s pupils, Carl Czerny) is certainly meaningful. In spite of the many years and experiences which intervened in Beethoven’s life between op. 14 and op. 78, here too simplicity is the key.
After a short introduction, the first movement develops in a mood of particular tenderness and warmth, whilst the second movement (Allegro vivace) is built over a rather blunt and concise motif. Yet, as is always the case with Beethoven, this very bluntness is the secret for development, growth, repetition; the mood is one of genial frivolity and lightness, and this Sonata once more invites the listener to a sincere and cordial enjoyment.
Sonata op. 79 unites the qualities of cheerfulness and radiosity to a writing style which is accessible even to an average amateur. It is one of the Sonatas which are still employed, until present day, as preparatory for more demanding works by Beethoven. Not only from the technical, but also from the musical viewpoint it is not extremely complex; the first movement is entirely built on one of the most foundational elements of Western music, i.e. the triad. It becomes, in the movement’s development, a cuckoo-call, which is transformed into a display of minor virtuosity with lengthy hand-crossing passages. The Siciliana at the Sonata’s heart is delicate, expressive, pre-Romantic, but its melancholy is never too tragical and never too desperate. Feelings and emotions are painted in watercolours, not frescoed. The theme of the Rondo’s refrain is derived from an early work by Beethoven, the Ritterballett WoO 1, written already in 1790-1, and in particular from its Deutscher Gesang (German Song).
Sonata op. 81a certainly belongs in another category. It is a majestic, demanding work, but, once more, one with plenty of good humour in spite of its subject matter. Similar to J. S. Bach’s Capriccio sopra la lontananza, this Sonata tells the listener about the departure of a dear one – in this case, Archduke Rudolph, one of Beethoven’s main patrons and friends, who is also the work’s dedicatee. Beethoven pointedly complained with the publisher (Breitkopf) about the French translation of Das Lebe Wohl into Les adieux (and, in fact, it is by the latter French title that the Sonata is most commonly referred to today). In a literal translation, “lebe wohl” is live well, so it is a wish of good health and good spirits to the one it is said. On the other hand, “adieu” is to God, so it has a character of definitiveness which the German version lacks. Beethoven observed that “lebe wohl” can be said only from one person to another, and “heartily”, whilst adieu can be used for a crowd or even for an entire city.
The introductory theme recalls an idea found in Florestan’s “In des Lebens Frühlingstagen” from Beethoven’s Fidelio, and it underpins the entire first movement. The expressive heart of the Sonata is found in the second movement, depicting the friend’s absence with touching expressiveness. The third movement, portraying the friend’s return, enters abruptly with a cascade of notes and with sudden happiness, which still leaves room, at times, for an aura of sacredness.
Finally, Sonata op. 90 is perhaps the most Schubertian of all Beethoven’s Sonatas. The first movement, tight in its compactness, is entirely played on the contrast between a more incisive and a more tender idea; here, our usual (though not entirely reliable) source, Schindler, suggests that it was meant to portray the dedicatee’s struggle between sense and sensibility with regard to his love for an opera singer. The second movement, with its exquisite tenderness and lyrical character, would therefore portray the two lovers’ eventual union. What the music tells us, however, is that Beethoven expresses an almost otherworldly serenity here, renouncing his usual habit to get to the point directly, and lingering in the contemplation of beauty just as Schubert used to do.
Together, these Sonatas invite us to join Beethoven’s genius in an encounter with his most serene self, and to dispel some prefabricated myths we might have believed about him and his personality.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2023
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.