Pianist Anton Kuerti was born in Austria, grew up in the USA, and has lived in Canada for the last thirty-five years. His teachers included Arthur Loesser, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, and Rudolf Serkin. At [...]
They spoke about it
Beethoven: The Final Piano Sonatas
Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109
Few works make such a powerful impact in such a short space of time as the Sonata in E Major, Op.109. Each movement is like a haiku, beautifully formed, not wasting a word, yet making a very significant point. The first movement gives us perhaps the finest integration of Beethoven‘s formal and improvisatory styles, molded into a very tightly compressed, yet smooth sonata form. This results in an uncanny sensation of the utmost freedom superimposed on absolute order and organization—something one fervently wishes could also be achieved in the political sphere. The wild and tumultuous Prestissimo is a précis of sonata form, with every element reduced to a stark minimum. Here, its original furor dissipated, it is used in a flowing lyrical vein, but still retains a dark and threatening countenance. After this storm, what a beautiful sensation it is as the last movement sings out the heavenly theme for its variations. All turmoil is gone, and we are engulfed by serene yet powerful expression.
Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110
Op. 110 is the most accessible and the most popular of the late sonatas. Its unabashedly melodic opening tenderly sings out two consecutive full-fledged tunes, something almost unique among the Beethoven sonatas, which with rare exceptions start with ideas, motives or patterns, rather than singing melodies. The Allegro molto is a short, highly dramatic movement, serving the function of a scherzo, even though it is in 2/4 time. It is in the trio that we first visit mysterious, other-worldly realms found so often in the late works. A cascading figure with unpredictable chromatic aberrations, crossing through its own pointillistic accompaniment, gives a penetrating sense of anxiety and surrealistic confusion. The uniquely designed finale commences with an improvisatory recitative, clearly introductory in character, its harmonies and tempo wandering freely. The Arioso gives way to a fugue, and if the former was vocal, certainly the latter must be choral. After a second massive climax, the harmony unexpectedly sags down a half-step to G minor, and we find ourselves back in the Arioso, exhausted and weakened to borrow Beethoven‘s own terms. From here to the conclusion, the music swells and strains heroically, its expression disarmingly warm and open, inviting all to rejoice and resonate with its happy fervour.
Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
The contrast between the two movements of Op.111 could not be greater. The first is passionate, strident, angular, and complex in its moody key of C minor; the second, in the untroubled key of C major, is smooth, resigned, and transcendentally sweet. Some see here an initial portrayal of the strife and terror of the world which gives way to the peace and spirituality of the hereafter. The short introduction opens with three bolts of lightning, followed by a lengthy ebbing away, still in the same double-dotted rhythm as the opening, but the energy apparently sapped by the three spent bolts. The short and thunderous six-note flourish that opens the Allegro is enormously expanded into a theme by a series of extensions. The fact that everything important is proclaimed immediately and the rest of the theme is just an echoing, rambling extension, is what gives it such a powerfully assertive character. The Arietta, which is followed by five variations, is one of the most sublime and simple themes ever created. The first half of the theme is glowing, sweet, and untroubled, while the second, starting in A minor, contains a hint of darkness, as a small cloud temporarily casts a shadow.
© Anton Kuerti