Sun, rain, snow, sun, snow, hail, rain… In April we have seen our share of crazy weather. Yesterday afternoon I caught this sight of the sun through our trees while I listened to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor, Op. 10. By the time I started to write this post, it was raining again. And it felt good to sit inside in my warm study and to listen to Beethoven. I believe that even in the darkest hour, Beethoven’s sonatas could give me comfort, strength, hope. The music invades my mind and I can’t think of little else. When I let go, I can lose myself, drown, be absorbed, melt in it, fuse with it. The incredible lightness of playing piano… Again and again, I am impressed by the world’s great pianists, in this case Maurizio Pollini, who has recorded Op. 10 with the label Deutsche Grammophon.
The lightness of piano playing
For several weeks, I have now been practising Bach’s Prelude in C major from the Well-Tempered Clavier. For a few days, I have struggled with bars 18 to 24, but the day before yesterday I finally managed to play the whole piece as legato* as my teacher expects me to play it. And it sounded so good, that I lost myself in the piece! The incredible lightness of playing piano… What a magnificent experience, despite the fact that I had to start all over again. And I wonder how many such wonderful moments professional pianists experience during their career. The euphoria of finally mastering something that they considered tricky, difficult, impossible. It must be like reaching the peak of a mountain. But is there a point at which the thrill is gone? When playing piano recitals just becomes a job like any other?
A wild sequence of thoughts
Beethoven wrote the Piano Sonata No. 5 between 1795 and 1797, the piece was published in 1798. It is worthwhile to listen to what contemporary critics had to say about Op. 10. “[Beethoven’s] many ideas lead to a wild sequence of thoughts, one heaped on the other, and grouped in a bizarre way which quite often produces an artificial darkness or dark artificiality”, wrote the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, edited in Leipzig. It also opined that Beethoven was a master pianist, but a less accomplished composer.
Dark? Artificial? Wild? Bizarre? I can find none of that in Op. 10! De gustibus non est disputandum… Critics and the audience were exposed at their time to a different kind of music, and Beethoven’s innovative and daring style struck many. With the benefit of 200 years of hindsight, the audience of today has long made its peace with Beethoven and even with more daring composers like Schönberg, Shostakovich and Ligeti. How about Cage or Rihm? Glass and Adès? Birtwistle and Saariaho? Weird stuff? What will the audience say in 50 years? Will it have made its peace with those composers too? I bet it will. And it will lose itself in Boulez piano pieces like I lose myself today in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5 and Bach’s Prelude.
© Charles Thibo