The signature. The first movement alone of this piece is breath-taking. “Inter Lacrimas et Luctum” the composer wrote on the score dedicated to Ignaz Freiherr von Gleichenstein, his long-time patron and friend. In the midst of tears and sorrow – in 1809, when the score was being printed, Vienna was occupied by Napoleon’s troops, and for von Gleichenstein, member of the Austrian war council, it was a bitter time. Ludwig van Beethoven, who had condemned the imperialist dreams of Napoleon a few years earlier, was no less afflicted. The Cello Sonata in A major (Op. 69) illustrates this mood. At the same time its combative parts are encouraging, a cry of revolt. A very, very impressive composition.
There is something like a genealogy of sound: a piece that strikes you by the fact that it reminds you of something that you have heard from another composer. It may belong to an earlier or a later period or both, but you see the lines connecting the dots on the musical chart. Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major (Op. 18) is such a piece. I first heard Franz Schubert’s more mature quartets, pieces he wrote under the monumental influence of Beethoven. And I heard Joseph Haydn, Beethoven’s teacher of whom he soon emancipated himself, exploring and transgressing the limits of Haydn’s sound as Schubert explored and went beyond Beethoven’s sound.
I remember a teacher on a mission impossible: He tried to fascinate us for the saga of Prometheus, the bad boy of the Titans in Greek mythology: First Prometheus deceived Zeus, the top Titan, by stealing the meat meant to be a sacrificial offering and gave it to mankind of whom Prometheus saw himself as the protector. Zeus deprived mankind then of the use of fire, but Prometheus stole the divine fire and again gave it to man. As a punishment Zeus had Prometheus chained to a rock in the Caucasus and every now and then eagle shows up and gnaws at his liver. As terrific as Prometheus fate is, I wasn’t interested AT ALL at the age of 15 or 16.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major (Op. 53) is one of those ambitions of mine. Some day in the future, I will be able to play this overwhelming piece. Overwhelming because it overwhelms me each time I listen to it. Overwhelming because it commands respect to the apprentice I still am. This love affair started with a recording by Alice Sara Ott. I moved on to the release of Emil Gilels’ performance and ended up with Alfred Brendel’s recording, apparently the gold standard when it cones to Beethoven interpretation.