Ever since I began working on sight reading, it feels as though things have stepped into high gear for me. That, and maybe the fact that more sunshine always makes things better (yay for spring!). I recently completed a fascinating course on the study of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas on Coursera by Jonathan Biss. The 32 piano sonatas have always been on my radar to play, since they are considered the pinnacle of piano literature. But I held off learning them in the past since I wanted to make sure that I had the right background going on – hence my choice of a Mozart sonata earlier. The course served as a wonderful introduction to the sonatas to both performers and listeners alike. It opened a new door essentially, and perhaps gave me the nudge that I needed to dive in.
Two weeks ago, I finally began my journey. I picked one up that I liked, and deciding not to overthink it too much, began to play. Beethoven sonatas are really something else. I am a firm believer that playing a piece rather than just listening to it brings out a whole new connection with the music and the composer. And this has never been more true than with these sonatas. The moment I began to play, it felt so entirely different from my Mozart piano sonata. It blew me away, despite my fumbling through the music by sight. I chose the Pastorale (op 28) for its beautiful melody and it’s readability. Starting out with something as notorious as the Hammerklavier would’ve been positively suicidal.
The Pastorale opens with a repeating tonic in D, low on the bass. And the moment I began it felt as though I was stepping into a deep ocean. Even with a conservative piece like the Pastorale where Beethoven followed the rules more or less, the sheer dominance of his musical personality comes out. I have an immense amount of fun practicing it. It has all kinds of details in the music unlike anything I have seen before – the staggering sfozandos (heavy accents), subito piano (sudden shifts in dynamics from loud to soft), and the long arching melodic lines.
Just beginning to play this has me already looking at the other 32 sonatas. If I were to play them all, it would be one of decade long projects at a minimum. There’s no doubt though that these sonatas are worth every second. They are widely considered the pinnacle of pianistic literature, and it really comes out when one plays them.
While I’m working on my musical Everest, there are few other hills and mountains on the way that I plan to climb. I am currently working on two podcasts – one for each movement of the Mozart sonata. The third movement is indeed a Rondo movement, and yes, I am procrastinating learning it the best I can. I know that I should learn it soon to complete the sonata – but really, six long pages of counterpoint with the typical Mozartean humor of it-looks-easy-but-it’s-not. Can you really blame me? I also have the rest of the Bach partita ( no.6 in e minor) to memorise, and so far it is living up to its reputation of being one of the harder partitas. I also have my eye on a wonderful d minor Bach piano concerto that I am itching to try out!
My plate is certainly full this summer, but I am brimming with excitement for all these pieces – ok maybe not the Mozart rondo – but the rest for sure! I hope to have pictures of my garden up soon as well. My audience starting out this spring seem to be two little dove lovebirds who have made a comfy nest in the fuchsia plant. Until then!