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Complete recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas
October 20, 2011 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Artur Schnabel was the first pianist to record all of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas. He would not be the last.

An accomplished and charming guide to this music is Andras Schiff, whose marvelous talks on each of the works appeared in the blue previously.

I have read high praise of the cycle by Annie Fischer.
posted by Trurl (22 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Schnabel is, of course, unimpeachable. But after listening to many, many Beethoven players, I have to say that there's no-one who brings Ludwig alive for me like Stephen Kovacevich does.
posted by liminalrampaste at 7:34 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you only have time to listen to one Beethoven piano concerto, may I recommend No. 30. Towards his later life, Beethoven hit highs of expressiveness rarely heard in music. Sonata No. 30 was composed when Beethoven was pretty much completely deaf. When I listen to it I hear all the rage of a difficult creative life, and an ultimate reconciliation with that life.

It's the only piano concerto I know that consistently make me cry.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:50 PM on October 20, 2011


Crap. I meant sonata. Now I laugh.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:54 PM on October 20, 2011


Richard Goode recorded the set as well, in 1993.

Twoleftfeet: Oh, yes, Op. 109. It's beautiful. Very tricky to play, but very rewarding, even if you never quite get it right. (It's just a sonata, though, not a concerto -- a concerto is a piece for orchestra and a solo instrument!)
posted by mothershock at 7:54 PM on October 20, 2011


As did Russell Sherman, for GM Recordings here in Boston.
posted by cribcage at 8:11 PM on October 20, 2011


The idea of being a lonely composer, playing a solo instrument, a sonata, instead of joining a group in a concerto, was what made me laugh. Seemed right for that time in his life.

Beethoven fans should see In Search of Beethoven. It's streaming on Netflix, if you've got that. The guy was amazing on so many levels...
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:12 PM on October 20, 2011


ronald brautigam's set on fortepiano is great. best single sonata i've heard is a version of 32 by michelangeli in london in maybe 1980.
posted by facetious at 8:24 PM on October 20, 2011


Pity Richter didn't do a cycle or too many studio recordings of individual sonatas for that matter.
posted by Gyan at 10:40 PM on October 20, 2011


I don't understand why we need countless versions (still being continually produced) of every warhorse chestnut in the classical canon. Imagine if every single rock artist had to cover "Johnny B. Goode" on a record to be taken seriously.
posted by spitbull at 5:19 AM on October 21, 2011


Rock artists generally compose original music whereas pianists are performers (they may be composers as well but that's distinct), and performers are best gauged by performing something familiar. The LvB sonata cycle, in particular, is thought of as a rite of passage for classical pianists.
posted by Gyan at 6:08 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Peter Takacs from Oberlin just released a complete-complete set of the sonatas on Cambria. Our local classical radio station has been featuring them once per week and to my ear they are wonderfully well interpreted.
posted by billcicletta at 6:30 AM on October 21, 2011


Also, with all due respect to Mr. Berry, the Appassionata might admit more interpretive approaches than "Johnny B. Goode".
posted by Trurl at 6:37 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Beethoven piano sonata cycles, here's a survey of the ones released till 2005.
posted by Gyan at 8:08 AM on October 21, 2011


Also, with all due respect to Mr. Berry, the Appassionata might admit more interpretive approaches than "Johnny B. Goode".

Might it? Show your work. Implicit appeals to cultural hegemony don't cut it anymore.
posted by invitapriore at 9:25 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why we need countless versions (still being continually produced) of every warhorse chestnut in the classical canon

Well,
*Playing Beethoven sonatas well is a real (and rewarding) challenge, even for the good pianist. An important step in many artist's career.
*Listening to multiple interpretations of good classical music can be a true treat for those who like this kind of stuff.
*Since the discussion about how to play Beethoven is not concluded, contrasting versions - of warhorses and otherwise - actually do contribute to what Beethoven "is" to us.

Other than that, no, we don't need any of this...
posted by Namlit at 9:26 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


invitapriore: Might it? Show your work.

If only for the simple reason that the composer (Berry) has left us a sound reproduction of his performance, whereas all we have of LvB's composition is his manuscript. And musical notation underspecifies the information needed to reproduce the aural experience.
posted by Gyan at 9:50 AM on October 21, 2011


What, from an inside perspective, worries me more is not the argument that (for example) the Appassionata (because of its inherent complexity, length, accumulated reception history, goodness or whatnot else) should allow for many (adequate but different) interpretive approaches, but that it, in practice, often doesn't lead to such differences. With some (to me: interesting, or even exciting) exceptions, very many of the available versions out there are disappointingly similar to each other, including tempo choices, articulation, pedalling, slowing down and speeding up - the lot.

Other than that, various musical interpretations are very much a result of specific situations (even studio recordings), and in this respect there's really very little difference between Chuck Berry's various renderings of Johnny B. Goode, and what a pianist would do during different phases of his life with one and the same piece of whomever (or Beethoven).
posted by Namlit at 9:51 AM on October 21, 2011


If only for the simple reason that the composer (Berry) has left us a sound reproduction of his performance, whereas all we have of LvB's composition is his manuscript. And musical notation underspecifies the information needed to reproduce the aural experience.

It does, but there is a huge infrastructure in place, in the form of academies and teachers (and existing recordings!), that serves to restrict the space of admissible interpretations significantly.

Also, as Namlit implies, there's nothing to indicate that any particular recording is the gold standard for how a song should sound. There are plenty of covers out there that take significant liberties with the materials extracted from the original recording that we nonetheless regard as being the same song, so it seems to me that the interpretation space for something like "Johnny B. Goode" is at least as broad, especially when you consider that, in spite of rock and roll's status as a popular recorded music genre, it is in practice infused with some of the elements of aural folk culture that allow the same tune a wide variety of presentations.

On another note, you won't see that many different recordings of Johnny B. Goode because, like you said, there's a cultural predecent for writing original songs in rock and roll, but I sure do have a lot of different records with some form of "The Ballad of Omie Wise" on them, so I think the original comparison is flawed anyway.
posted by invitapriore at 10:49 AM on October 21, 2011


invitapriore: the interpretation space for something like "Johnny B. Goode" is at least as broad

Notionally, at least, a rendition of a classical piece aims to assert fidelity to the sheet music and the assumed Platonic or historically authentic performance (barring some accepted departures such as modern instruments or orchestral strength..etc). Whereas in the case of Berry/Goode, the tributes are deliberately imparting some distinction, even if they are modest. If those can be labeled 'interpretations', it's only by virtue of loose family resemblance of the process that a classical performer and the covering artiste undertakes with the source material. To categorize Goode covers as interpretations of the original song, i.e, aural expression, not the song as in lyrics alone, leaves the term 'interpretation' vacuous. It then implies that any derivative mapping from source to output, even if divorced from convention or plausible logic, is an 'interpretation'. Then, all musical works could potentially be interpretations of any other musical works, for want of some mapping scheme to be supplied.
posted by Gyan at 11:18 AM on October 21, 2011


To categorize Goode covers as interpretations of the original song, i.e, aural expression, not the song as in lyrics alone, leaves the term 'interpretation' vacuous. It then implies that any derivative mapping from source to output, even if divorced from convention or plausible logic, is an 'interpretation'. Then, all musical works could potentially be interpretations of any other musical works, for want of some mapping scheme to be supplied.

Your logic is a little opaque, here. I agree that the workings of the process of interpretation in classical music as opposed to folk or popular music are different, because of the fact that each performance of a song is imbued with a sense of being a unique entity apart from its content, but they're not as different as you say: I think that in most cases, although it isn't expressed this way, individual performances of a song also attempt to express the Platonic form of that song, in terms of not only its lyrics but its melody, harmony and structure. The difference is to be found in the degree of fidelity that is expected or possible, which in the case of popular song is difficult to characterize because it relies so heavily on audience consensus as opposed to comparison with a master document. I don't see how that conception of 'interpretation' admits arbitrary mappings from a given source to other works.
posted by invitapriore at 12:32 PM on October 21, 2011


the degree of fidelity that is expected or possible, which in the case of popular song is difficult to characterize because it relies so heavily on audience consensus as opposed to comparison with a master document. I don't see how that conception of 'interpretation' admits arbitrary mappings from a given source to other works

The 'arbitrary' part is the theoretical range that the looser sense of interpretation allows. Obviously, a cover, intended as a tribute, will seek to retain some essential characteristics from the original, usually by at least preserving the lyrics or some distinctive tune from the original, so that it can be appreciated as a cover. But the fidelity is not expected, in a prescriptive sense, like with a classical piece rendition. It just happens to turn out that way because the covering artistes usually intend to consciously evoke the reference. But a classical pianist who decided to reassign the values of notational symbols by playing a marked half note for twice as long as a marked whole note, and a C for a F and so on, wouldn't be "interpreting" the work (although ultimately this is also subject to audience consensus, but we aren't that deep down the rabbit hole yet). They'd be doing something else.
posted by Gyan at 12:50 PM on October 21, 2011


I don't understand why we need countless versions (still being continually produced) of every warhorse chestnut in the classical canon

thank god nobody said that before Glenn Gould got to Bach.
posted by sineater at 1:03 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


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