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On Beethoven Sonatas (Read 2922 times)

Offline tengstrand

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On Beethoven Sonatas
« on: April 26, 2009, 05:39:45 PM »
Hello everyone,

in about a year I'm doing the complete set of Beethoven sonatas in a few places. Having audiences ask for a good reference to learn some more about the sonatas, I tried finding stuff on the internet. It was not too easy, the best was Schiff's series on BBC on the sonatas, but I found it slightly...uninspiring perhaps, but maybe it was just that it's very difficult to speak to an audience who has very different pre-knowledge. However popular you want to make the talking, you just can't explain much to someone who doesn't know sonata form, for example.

Other than that, I found basically nada that was serious. The Wikipedia entry on the first sonata for example, is stunningly pointless.

I have recently been given concerts with a Swedish rock star, an extremely creative and actually classical-oriented guy. All of a sudden I found myself having plenty of new listeners who got hooked on classical music. However, many of them think that they "lack the musical intelligence" to follow a Beethoven sonata, for example. That's baloney, so I decided to start writing a blog where I write about the sonatas.

Now, as I started, I realized there were many questions about how to play where I was not sure. So I added chapters called "On playing..." where I play some passages from the recording sessions and my idea is that anyone who has an opinion (and on Beethoven sonatas there are many...) can just add this in a comment.

Finally, I must add that I was surprised how much writing down thoughts on my playing made me think one step further. If it makes the playing better, I can't know, but I would recommend to anyone to now and then sit down and formulate in words what they want to do with a piece.

And so here it is:
http://beethovensonatas.wordpress.com/

Help me out, comment away...sitting with these sonatas all alone can make you go slightly crazy...

Thanks,
Per

Sheet music to download and print: Sonatas by Beethoven



Offline allthumbs

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #1 on: April 26, 2009, 06:24:56 PM »
Per

Here is something I posted a while ago with attached files of pianist Robert Silverman's liner notes from his complete Beethoven Sonatas CD set.


http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,26368.msg301059.html#msg301059

I hope this helps.

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Offline tengstrand

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #2 on: April 26, 2009, 06:36:06 PM »
Very good stuff, thanks, I hope I can quote some of this on my blog?

Per

Offline Karli

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #3 on: April 26, 2009, 07:06:25 PM »
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Offline iroveashe

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #4 on: April 26, 2009, 07:17:49 PM »
The only other thing I can think of I found on the internet besides Schiff's masterclasses are Barenboim's which, even if they're just a few and one movement alone per class, helped me understanding the Sonatas a little better.

The blog looks interesting and it's a good idea to share thoughts on each Sonata. One question though, for how long have you been studying the whole cycle?
"By concentrating on precision, one arrives at technique, but by concentrating on technique one does not arrive at precision."
Bruno Walter

Offline tengstrand

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #5 on: April 26, 2009, 07:39:36 PM »
Thanks for taking a look at it!

To play all of them kind of happened without planning actually, I was having one recital a year at a chamber music society in Sweden, and it turned into being a Beethoven-only series. So, I had to play 4 new sonatas each year at a recital finally reaching the end. That took ten years. And then, we all were like..."no, this can't be over..." so we decided to make it a series in 2010, one recital a week. Then two other venues wanted the series, too so I will play each program 3 times a week for 8 weeks.

I guess every pianist will have their own rhythm, but this worked out well for me. The last recitals, I always worked on 4 different sonatas at the same time for about 6 weeks before the recitals, and they really feed off each other. I would not be able to just plan to do all 32 before actually having played them first.



Offline Karli

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #6 on: April 26, 2009, 07:48:10 PM »
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Offline go12_3

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #7 on: April 26, 2009, 07:52:44 PM »
Thanks for taking a look at it!

To play all of them kind of happened without planning actually, I was having one recital a year at a chamber music society in Sweden, and it turned into being a Beethoven-only series. So, I had to play 4 new sonatas each year at a recital finally reaching the end. That took ten years. And then, we all were like..."no, this can't be over..." so we decided to make it a series in 2010, one recital a week. Then two other venues wanted the series, too so I will play each program 3 times a week for 8 weeks.

I guess every pianist will have their own rhythm, but this worked out well for me. The last recitals, I always worked on 4 different sonatas at the same time for about 6 weeks before the recitals, and they really feed off each other. I would not be able to just plan to do all 32 before actually having played them first.




Intesting series, tengstrand, and I'm sure many members will benefit from your progams.

best wishes,

go12_3
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Offline tengstrand

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #8 on: April 26, 2009, 08:20:32 PM »
you could say that it began with playing 4 sonatas and maybe having played two of them some years ago...but as the series went along, I ran out of sonatas played before so I started four new sonatas from scratch. It sounds tough, and it was, at least for me. But, jumping from one to another was actually pretty rewarding and facilitated the learning process. However, playing 4 new sonatas at the same recital was very hard.

Offline Karli

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #9 on: April 26, 2009, 08:37:43 PM »
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Offline go12_3

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #10 on: April 26, 2009, 09:21:59 PM »
Come to think of it----those Beethoven Sonatas are quite difficult in mastering the various passages and so forth(not going into details here), but in MY life time and that is all I care to work on, I only thoroughly learned, Sonata Op. 10 No. 1 and it was difficult to learn, along with the Moonlight Sonata(ahem,,,,only the slow movement).  But anyhow, each pianist has their own way of learning a piece......

best wishes,

go12_3
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Offline Karli

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #11 on: April 26, 2009, 09:27:29 PM »
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Offline tengstrand

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #12 on: April 26, 2009, 09:36:42 PM »
That is actually a good idea, Karli...to get into how to practice/learn the sonatas. I think I will add a page where I would get into that, since it's after all a huge part of playing them. Of course it's a personal process, and that's why it would be very interesting to have pianists/teachers and students comment on it, and sharing their views and methods.



Offline Karli

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #13 on: April 26, 2009, 09:39:29 PM »
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Offline go12_3

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #14 on: April 26, 2009, 09:47:17 PM »
That is actually a good idea, Karli...to get into how to practice/learn the sonatas. I think I will add a page where I would get into that, since it's after all a huge part of playing them. Of course it's a personal process, and that's why it would be very interesting to have pianists/teachers and students comment on it, and sharing their views and methods.




I don't have a method.....just one note at a time.....as I breathe in and breathe out....
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Offline iroveashe

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #15 on: April 26, 2009, 10:27:57 PM »
I assume you've listened to lots of different versions of the 32, who are your main influences?
"By concentrating on precision, one arrives at technique, but by concentrating on technique one does not arrive at precision."
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Offline allthumbs

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #16 on: April 27, 2009, 04:02:24 AM »
Very good stuff, thanks, I hope I can quote some of this on my blog?

Per

I don't see why not. When I e-mailed Mr. Silverman for permission to post his notes intially, he stated I could do what I wanted with it as he had already posted these notes himself anyway.
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Offline tengstrand

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #17 on: April 27, 2009, 06:07:12 AM »
I didn't listen to too many versions of the sonatas, I don't know why actually. Partly because there was not enough time. It might sound over-confident, but after some time one develops an instinct for fairly quickly deciding on how to play certain things. You try to go back to people having taught you, and Fleisher, Dominique Weber and Romuald Sztern's thoughts came back a lot to me. Fleisher and Weber especially in the slow movements, to try to find tensions that makes phrases move.

In the Hammerklavier I felt I really needed to listen to others, and the slow movement by Kempff opened up my understanding of that piece a lot. His recordings of the late sonatas are incredible. There are some Gilels recordings out there that helped a lot, too. Schnabel has done some great sonatas, especially the early ones. And there is a DVD with Arrau playing op. 111 which is my favorite of all piano things recorded.It might be somewhere on youtube?

Offline tengstrand

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #18 on: April 27, 2009, 07:14:06 AM »
Aaaaand now I started to look for Kempff videos on youtube and they all sounded not very good. How weird.

Offline scottmcc

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #19 on: April 27, 2009, 10:52:54 AM »
interesting journey, and best of luck with it--you've certainly chosen an ambitious goal!  I suggest you read Robert Taub's book "Playing the Beethoven Sonatas."  It won't go into as much depth as you would like, but it certainly has a number of insights into these great works.

Quick question...how many people have done the cycle of all 32 sonatas?  I think it's pretty low...maybe on the order of 50 or less.  pretty impressive!

Offline db05

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #20 on: April 27, 2009, 12:56:26 PM »
I don't have a method.....just one note at a time.....as I breathe in and breathe out....

go, if I did that, I would still be on my first piece right now. I hope you're not serious!
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Offline go12_3

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #21 on: April 27, 2009, 02:07:20 PM »
go, if I did that, I would still be on my first piece right now. I hope you're not serious!

Now, you know me better than that!  lol, I work my fingers so quickly!   ;)
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Offline iroveashe

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #22 on: April 27, 2009, 04:28:10 PM »
In the Hammerklavier I felt I really needed to listen to others, and the slow movement by Kempff opened up my understanding of that piece a lot. His recordings of the late sonatas are incredible. There are some Gilels recordings out there that helped a lot, too. Schnabel has done some great sonatas, especially the early ones. And there is a DVD with Arrau playing op. 111 which is my favorite of all piano things recorded.It might be somewhere on youtube?
For the Hammerklavier I usually go with Richter, though I haven't heard Kempff yet. Gilels is one of my favorites with the sonatas, and I understand your view on Arrau's Op. 111, it used to be my favorite interpretation of which happens to be my favorite sonata, until I discovered Annie Fischer, which I highly recommend. Here's the link if you're interested.
"By concentrating on precision, one arrives at technique, but by concentrating on technique one does not arrive at precision."
Bruno Walter

Offline birba

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #23 on: April 27, 2009, 04:32:30 PM »

In the Hammerklavier I felt I really needed to listen to others, and the slow movement by Kempff opened up my understanding of that piece a lot. His recordings of the late sonatas are incredible. There are some Gilels recordings out there that helped a lot, too. Schnabel has done some great sonatas, especially the early ones. And there is a DVD with Arrau playing op. 111 which is my favorite of all piano things recorded.It might be somewhere on youtube?
I did the course in Positano with Kempff, and I remember distinctly the day he played the hammerklavier, and, like you said, the slow movement was incredible.  He sounded like he was composing it as he went along.  Absolutely incredible.  We had to learn 8 sonatas for the course and it wasn't difficult, because we were young!!!!  I wish I had learned all of them when my mind was more supple.  Everything you learn before the age of 30 stays with you for life...All the best for your quest!!!!

Offline tengstrand

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #24 on: April 27, 2009, 06:09:35 PM »
I think there are more pianists than 50 who did the complete sonatas, no? Now when I'm doing it myself it feels like I notice people doing it left and right...but that might be me going a little nuts :)

I guess performing them within a fairly short time (4-8 weeks) is not so common. I just noticed that one of my old teachers will do them in Stockholm, and I know for a fact there are many, many of them he hasn't played yet, Hammerklavier being one of them. I can say right now: that will not be a fun experience for him. The last year before the cycle, one should not be learning notes but already having played them all at least once. And if you keep learning them, 2-3 a year, all of a sudden you realize whoa! I have played 25 sonatas!

Ha, I was thinking to myself after writing about recordings "damn, I forgot Annie Fischer!" Her op. 110 is one of my absolute favorites.

Birba, would you share some more of your experience at the courses with Kempff? If you do, I would love to read it.

I will check out the Taub book. Curiously, one cannot buy it on Amazon, it says something is wrong with it?

The studies and books I have found most interesting so far are books that handle music and history before Beethoven: to get to know J.P.E. Bach's music, the sensitive style, galant style, the mixture of them, Rousseau's influence on politics and arts and more. All those things put Beethoven's (especially his early) music in new context to me (sounds pretentious, I know, but it's great stuff!).

Offline iumonito

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #25 on: April 28, 2009, 12:08:58 AM »
This is very cool.  These are so very good works of art.

I think, though, that the much that has been written about the analysis of the pieces has neglected a major focus: their emotional content.  Perhaps it is because one sensitive enough to care about the emotional content will play them rather than talk about them.

So here is what I'll do.  Maybe it will take a lifetime, but I will make you little videos of the ones I play, and we can talk then.

Otherwise it is all empty chatter.  :)
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Offline napoleonspidgin

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #26 on: April 28, 2009, 04:57:02 AM »
Arnold Schoenberg's "Fundamentals of Music Composition" exclusively uses Beethoven's sonatas as examples.  If you want an analytical/theoretical perspective on why the sonatas are so important I think Schoenberg can you provide you with that.

Offline Karli

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #27 on: April 28, 2009, 05:16:11 AM »
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Offline iroveashe

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #28 on: April 28, 2009, 05:36:27 AM »
Maybe it's just the whole world somehow supporting what you are doing, and giving you secret signs that seem to blare out at you in just a particular way :).
Interesting theory, I see signs like that a lot but I never take them seriously or people think I'm crazy =P
"By concentrating on precision, one arrives at technique, but by concentrating on technique one does not arrive at precision."
Bruno Walter

Offline goldentone

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #29 on: April 28, 2009, 06:16:16 AM »
That is really something that you studied with Kempff, Birba.  John O'Conor is there now, and I have considered studying with him someday if I can.
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Offline goldentone

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #30 on: April 28, 2009, 06:22:06 AM »
Per, Garrick Ohlsson comments and plays passages from 10 sonatas on WQXR.  He is excellent.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  You should especially enjoy Opus 111.  If you have trouble with the links on the site, keep trying.  I had a little trouble.  They eventually should work.

By the way, nice to see you back! :)

http://www.wqxr.com/cgi-bin/iowa/air/features/article.html?record=5969
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Offline birba

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #31 on: April 29, 2009, 10:16:33 AM »
That is really something that you studied with Kempff, Birba.  John O'Conor is there now, and I have considered studying with him someday if I can.
I think O'Connor was there a few years before I was and Kempff was impressed with his playing.  But I kept understanding OKONO and thought he was some sort of japanese pianist.  Anyway, I was very diligent at first and tried to to keep notes in my music of things he said, but after a while I felt like I was missing something and preferred to just listen to him talk and play. A few things he said:  the slow movement in the d major op 10. no. 3 depicts a large hall with a corpse in a coffin at one end of it - he played it for us and it was exactly that.  The fourth concerto is the female ego, the emperor, the male; the "aurora" which is the italian subtitle to the Waldstein, is better suited to the sonata because the 2nd and third movements are exactly that and on and on.  But it was his "improvised" performance of the sonatas that remain in my mind the most.  And I think that's exactly what you have to do if you intend playing the whole series.  I don't think I would walk across the street to hear an "urtext" interpretation of the sonatas, following the dynamic and textual "instructions" to the letter.  The playing has to go beyond that, and if it entails taking certain personal liberties to find that interpretation, go ahead.  Listen to a recording of Kempff and follow the notes in your music.  He never follows what you're reading. He shortens rests, takes certain rubatos, changes accents, etc. etc. etc. He's already studied the text,  gotten the sense of what the composer's saying, and now delivers it in his way.  Of course, Kempff was a very prolific composer, and this added to his keen insight into what another composer was writing about.

Offline iumonito

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #32 on: April 29, 2009, 09:30:10 PM »
the slow movement in the d major op 10. no. 3 depicts a large hall with a corpse in a coffin at one end of it - he played it for us and it was exactly that.  The fourth concerto is the female ego, the emperor, the male; the "aurora" which is the italian subtitle to the Waldstein, is better suited to the sonata because the 2nd and third movements are exactly that and on and on.

Puke, puke, puke.

This type of imagery is precesily what I abhorr the most!

This approach to the emotional content of these masterworks is an anvil falling on the pinky of intelligence and sensitivity, the mannierisms that such childish thinking encourages and justifies like waterbaording the soul of listeners and students.

How can you capture the sublime exploration of human existence in the slow movements of say Op. 106 or Op. 10 # 3 with a picture taken out of the sadly limited writing of a thrashy novel writer?

Don't try, just play.
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Offline birba

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #33 on: April 30, 2009, 06:02:16 PM »
I don't think he was saying you had to have that particular picture in mind.  But many times it helps to have an image to convey.  "The sublime exploration of human existence" is a little vague, (and perhaps a bit trite).  That slow movement of op. 10 no. 3 is funereal, I think you'll have to admit.  It was only an idea.  A picture. 
Your reaction is a little extreme, I believe.

Offline tengstrand

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #34 on: May 11, 2009, 07:54:41 AM »
Sorry I haven't responded sooner, a little Emperor got in the way. I just put up a start on learning he sonatas, it's a beginning, I'd very much like more specific questions..

Thanks Goldentone for Garrick's series, the links worked perfectly. Really good, and also very fresh to hear his relaxed style of telling, not this "ahhh, I sat for five hours, alone, trying to find the magic formula for the beginning of the second movement of the fourth concerto". There's a lot of that stuff, and I just can't take it anymore.

I don't have a problem at all with the kind of mental pictures that people paint on pieces. It can unlock the imagination. And I wonder what people would say if Beethoven would have decided not to publish his titles for the sixth symphony and someone would say: "To me, this first movement is about awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country". He would be the laughing stock of many a snob.

In any case, if anyone has questions about how to practice and learn them, don't hesitate to ask. It amazes me how non-pianists love to read about this. I got a very good question the other day, if there are technical exercises that are good when playing those pieces. I'm still searching for an answer for that one...


Offline scottmcc

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #35 on: May 11, 2009, 11:42:25 AM »
I think that technical exercises with regard to the Beethoven Sonatas are likely to be insufficient, because they are constructed around musical ideas more than just specific techniques.  For instance, the pathetique, 1st mvt.  the grave section is mostly big chords, as well as a few little runs.  the allegro molto then introduces the octave tremolo, but then the second theme requires a number of hand crossings, and then the third theme is mostly fast alberti figures.  so...there's a lot of techniques to work on just within that one movement.  of course, exercises to address a specific trouble point are always a good thought.

however, I agree with your statement that work on scales and arpeggios is key, due to the repeated use of both throughout the sonatas.  I also think that in many ways the best way to get better at beethoven is to play beethoven.  he tends to repeat a lot of techniques across several sonatas, and so by learning all the techniques to play one sonata, you have unlocked the door to being able to play several. 

Offline giannalinda

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Re: On Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #36 on: May 17, 2009, 03:58:30 PM »
I really like the beethoven sonatas...Some of em are hard, and some easy, but every time i sit down at the piano I play a beethoven sonata before all my other stuff.
All the old members here I kno, uve been quite mean lately, even though I apologized so i would like to ask you to please if u dont have anything nice to say dont say anything at all. Thank you.