Recorded on 04/29/2008, uploaded on 01/17/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Beethoven composed the op. 109 Piano Sonata in 1820 and it is the third of the five piano sonatas grouped under his late period style. Like the other compositions of his final years, the op. 109 sonata exemplifies that musical language that was unique to Beethoven-unabashed simplicity against daunting complexities and emotionalism that caresses the human soul and plunges to its depths in the same magnificent stroke.
The first movement builds on a compositional thread that began in the early piano sonatas. In the Pathétique sonata, Beethoven experimented with the return of the Grave introduction at key structural points of the sonata form. Later, in the Tempest sonata, he took the opening Adagio, a mere arpeggiation of the dominant chord stretched over one and one-half measures, and expanded it into a quasi-recitative in the recapitulation. In this movement, Beethoven assigns two contrasting tempi and time signatures to the themes of his sonata form. The first is an eight measure vivace tune of rustic simplicity embellished by a charming sixteenth-note figuration. The second, like the Tempest, grows out of a sudden arpeggiated diminished seventh chord (i.e., dominant harmony). This section, an Adagio, takes on the character of a written-out improvisation and calls on the pianist's expressive powers to give meaning to its rapid arpeggios and shifting harmonies. This movement, in a diminutive form, anticipates the thematic dichotomy of the op. 130 string quartet.
Following the gentle E major close of the first movement, the prestissimo second movement erupts in the key of the parallel minor and with an impassioned ferocity. In orthodox terms, it is best described as a scherzo without an accompanying trio. Categorizations aside, this movement reflects the studied contrapuntal style of Baroque keyboard music infused with the spirit of the Romantic scherzo-an obvious consequence of Beethoven's studies of the works of Bach and Handel. The movement's main theme eloquently reflects the triadic contour of the first movement's principal melody.
The last movement, however, displays even more originalities thus making this entire sonata a unique experiment in Beethoven's late artistic endeavors. It is essentially a straightforward theme and variations (a form not uncommon for the finales of sonatas and symphonies), yet it begins in a slow Andante belying its purpose as a final movement. Instead of recalling the grand finales of Beethoven's previous sonatas, it reminds the listener of his most heartfelt adagios. A finale in a slow tempo has the prominent merit of the emotional weight it gives to the ending of a composition. Despite this inherent advantage, it is a technique that has been little used and rarely to such good effect. The theme is quite regular in construction consisting of two eight-measure sentences, each repeated, in triple time. The andante tempo persists until Variation III where brilliant scalar passages burst in forte at an allegro tempo. This quickly gives way to the original tempo and a graceful variation in 9-8 time. The fifth variation, again marked Allegro, recalls the contrapuntal texture of the second movement. Finally, the last variation returns to the Andante again and builds to the one of the most emotional climaxes in all of Beethoven's music. After a prolonged dominant pedal brought out by constant trills the theme returns in its original form to close out one of Beethoven's most original and beautiful compositions for piano.
Vivace ma non troppo - Adagio esspressivo
Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung
Beethoven transformed an extraordinary vision of the universe into sound. He explored and exposed the mysteries of nature and of the heavenly spheres; the ultimate harmony and peace; the rhythm of life itself-and the revelation of it all.
With the opening Vivace, one embarks on a spiritual journey that leads to the other shore. The sudden dynamic shifts from forte to piano in the Adagio espressivo seem to speak of the vacillation between what in Heidegger's words is described as "the concealedness and unconcealedness of Beings." The Vivace returns, building to a most effulgent development and then restatement of the opening material before the Adagio espressivo speaks once again. The movement closes in an atmosphere of introspection and holiness.
The Prestissimo leaps into being out of the silence in which the first movement ends. In the third movement, a set of variations marked Songful, With Deepest Feeling, one experiences the transformation of the theme: its voyage and arrival. Beethoven inscribed his manuscript of this movement, "The Spirit that binds together noble and virtuous souls, a Spirit that Time cannot destroy." One hears the awesome beauty of silence contrasted with a tremendous blaze of light, completely transcending the piano. With an incredible stroke of genius, Beethoven restates the theme at the end of the work but in the context of profound holiness. Minsoo Sohn
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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