Our relationship to Beethoven is a deep and paradoxical one. For many musicians, he represents a kind of holy grail: His music has an intensity, rigor, and profundity which keep us in its thrall, and it is perhaps unequalled in the interpretive, technical, and even spiritual challenges it poses to performers. At the same time, Beethoven?s music is casually familiar to millions of people who do not attend concerts or consider themselves musically inclined. Two hundred years after his death, he is everywhere in the culture, yet still represents its summit. This course takes an inside-out look at the 32 piano sonatas from the point of view of a performer. Each lecture will focus on one sonata and an aspect of Beethoven?s music exemplified by it. (These might include: the relationship between Beethoven the pianist and Beethoven the composer; the critical role improvisation plays in his highly structured music; his mixing of extremely refined music with rougher elements; and the often surprising ways in which the events of his life influenced his compositional process and the character of the music he was writing.) The course will feature some analysis and historical background, but its perspective is that of a player, not a musicologist. Its main aim is to explore and demystify the work of the performer, even while embracing the eternal mystery of Beethoven?s music itself. This season's Curtis courses are sponsored by Linda Richardson in loving memory of her husband, Dr. Paul Richardson. The Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation supports Curtis's lifelong learning initiatives.
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To examine the relationship Beethoven had with the piano sonata, we begin by looking at its origins. In this lecture, we will discuss the role of music generally, and of the sonata specifically, in the time of Haydn and Mozart. This lecture will also provide an introduction to the form of the sonata?to the psychological effect sonata structure has on the listener. This background will be necessary to appreciate the innovations Beethoven introduces.More
Beethoven?s work has traditionally been divided into three or four periods. This is problematic, for various reasons, but the first 13 of the 32 sonatas do, in a sense, form a unit. This lecture will focus on Sonata No. 4, Op. 7, which is the largest and altogether one of the most impressive of the early works. Topics will include Beethoven?s use of the piano and the use of the sonata as a ?vehicle? for the pianist, the ways in which this and other early sonatas conform to the model established by Haydn and Mozart and the ways in which they do not, and the foreshadowing of the fixations of the later years, while holding, at least on the surface, to the conventions of the time. Topics will include Beethoven?s use of the piano, and the use of the sonata as a ?vehicle? for the pianist, the ways in which this and other early sonatas conform to the model established by Haydn and Mozart and the ways in which they do not, and the foreshadowing of the fixations of the later years, while holding, at least on the surface, to the conventions of the time.More
Beethoven?s conception of the sonata was perpetually in flux, but the year 1801 is a particularly experimental one. The four sonatas Op. 26 through 28 (Nos. 14 through 17, chronologically) feature the most concrete innovations among the sonatas written up to that point, and are the focus of this lecture. There will be discussion of the relationship between the movements in a classical sonata, and the radical shift it begins to undergo at this point. We will also examine the ways in which these sonatas were influential to future generations of composers, which the earlier works, great as they are, were not. As a special feature for this lecture, a recording by a current Curtis student of the first movement of Op. 28 will be available on Curtis Performs.More
From 1793 until 1809, Beethoven composed at a steady pace. But for the next several years, he stalled dramatically, as he dealt with the onset of his deafness, severely trying personal circumstances, and the struggle to find what would become his late style, which to a remarkable degree involved the total reinvention of his musical language. This lecture examines the intersection of these three issues, and of his life and music more generally. Works discussed come from this comparatively fallow period and will include the Fantasy, Op. 77, which exemplifies the vital role improvisation played in all of Beethoven?s music, and the Sonatas Op. 78, and 81a, the ?Lebewohl.? The last of these is one of Beethoven?s only serious experiments with program music, which made it an important reference point for many 19th-century composers. Another topic will be the ways in which the works of this period seem to manipulate time, which was always one of Beethoven?s key fascinations, and becomes ever more critical moving into the late period. More