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Beethoven Op. 109 (Read 9759 times)

Offline john11inc

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Beethoven Op. 109
« on: February 23, 2011, 11:38:53 PM »
Can someone recommend a recording to me?  I literally can't find a single one that I like.

Just to broaden this topic, seeing as how I never see anyone talking about the 109, why do you think it is performed so infrequently, compared to 81a, 106, 110 and 111?
If this work is so threatening, it is not because it's simply strange, but competent, rigorously argued and carrying conviction.

-Jacques Derrida


http://www.youtube.com/user/john11inch

piano sheet music of Sonata 30


Offline ahinton

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #1 on: February 23, 2011, 11:42:15 PM »
Can someone recommend a recording to me?  I literally can't find a single one that I like.

Just to broaden this topic, seeing as how I never see anyone talking about the 109, why do you think it is performed so infrequently, compared to 81a, 106, 110 and 111?
Is it really so much more infrequently performed than any of the other four of Beethoven's last five piano sonatas (i.e. 101 and the last three that you mention here)?

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline john11inc

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #2 on: February 24, 2011, 12:23:34 AM »
Is it really so much more infrequently performed than any of the other four of Beethoven's last five piano sonatas (i.e. 101 and the last three that you mention here)?

Best,

Alistair

Not so much Op. 101, but definitely much less than the others.  Obviously I don't have a handy chart or something, but yes, I would say that it is an unequivocal fact that Op. 109 is performed (and recorded) considerably less than the ones I listed.  Ironically, Op. 101 is my third-favorite behind Opp. 109 and 111.  Maybe the effort required to perform 101 and 109 well doesn't pay the dividends of audience "wow" that a pianist thinks he or she should deserve upon a strong performance of them?

Thanks for your suggestion regarding a recording; I'll look into it!
If this work is so threatening, it is not because it's simply strange, but competent, rigorously argued and carrying conviction.

-Jacques Derrida


http://www.youtube.com/user/john11inch

Offline djealnla

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #3 on: February 24, 2011, 05:22:14 AM »
Can someone recommend a recording to me?  I literally can't find a single one that I like.

Just to broaden this topic, seeing as how I never see anyone talking about the 109, why do you think it is performed so infrequently, compared to 81a, 106, 110 and 111?

I started a thread on this a while ago, if you would like to have a look:

http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=38864.0

As for Op. 109 being underrated, it certainly is overshadowed by Op. 111 in the pianistic world (try the search function on this site and you will see what I'm talking about). I don't know why pianists might be afraid of playing it in public, but I think Op. 106 gets played even less (unless your name happens to be Maurizio Pollini).

Perhaps it's one of those pieces with an "intangible depth", which the idiotic, "OMG-let's-start-coughing" audiences would never get? The passage starting at approximately 39:55 in the following video is one of the most assholic moments in the history of recorded sound:


Offline djealnla

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #4 on: February 24, 2011, 05:26:21 AM »
Thanks for your suggestion regarding a recording; I'll look into it!

Alistair wanted to recommend Jonathan Powell's performances, but was too shy to do so. ;)

Offline ahinton

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #5 on: February 24, 2011, 05:54:07 AM »
Not so much Op. 101, but definitely much less than the others.  Obviously I don't have a handy chart or something, but yes, I would say that it is an unequivocal fact that Op. 109 is performed (and recorded) considerably less than the ones I listed.  Ironically, Op. 101 is my third-favorite behind Opp. 109 and 111.  Maybe the effort required to perform 101 and 109 well doesn't pay the dividends of audience "wow" that a pianist thinks he or she should deserve upon a strong performance of them?
Possibly.

Thanks for your suggestion regarding a recording; I'll look into it!
Yes, I know that I omitted to make one! There are just so many that I don't feel that I could recommend any particular one...

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline ahinton

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #6 on: February 24, 2011, 05:56:09 AM »
Alistair wanted to recommend Jonathan Powell's performances, but was too shy to do so. ;)
Excuse me? On what label is Jonathan Powell's recording of the work? It's news to me that he has recorded it.

Do you make a habit of trying to speak for others, by the way?

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline pianisten1989

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #7 on: February 24, 2011, 06:31:24 AM »
I feel the same way as John, actually. It such a great sonata, but I haven't heard a recording that I am really satisfied with. Guess we have to play it ourselves, eh?

ahinton: Oh, come on! Don't be so full of yourself that you can't take a joke!

Offline tsaij

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #8 on: February 24, 2011, 07:22:57 AM »
myra hess. not always the most adventurous, but she's one of those whose playing always has a distinct 'rightness' about it....

Offline ahinton

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #9 on: February 24, 2011, 09:13:31 AM »
I feel the same way as John, actually. It such a great sonata, but I haven't heard a recording that I am really satisfied with. Guess we have to play it ourselves, eh?
It is indeed - and maybe you're right - although that won't help non-pianists like me!

ahinton: Oh, come on! Don't be so full of yourself that you can't take a joke!
I'm not full of anyone in particular and can take a joke as long as it is one.

Anyway, back to the topic; I suppose that you could start with Pollini on DG but, as I said before, there are just so many that it would be incredibly difficult to single out just one recommendation above all others, even in the somewhat unlikely event that the person doing so had actually listened to every recording of the sonata that has ever been made commercially available (in fact, that wold almost certainly make such a recommendation even harder still!)...

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline pianowolfi

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #10 on: February 24, 2011, 11:39:49 AM »
Gilels.

Offline kevinr

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #11 on: February 24, 2011, 01:44:39 PM »
The recording that had the greatest impact for me was by John Ogdon, many years ago, broadcast on Radio 3. This may be partly because it was the first time I had ever heard this sonata. I don't know whether it's still available.

The live performance that stands out was by Richard Goode on the South Bank, about 10-20 years ago. He has recorded the whole cycle of course but I have not actually heard his recording of Op 109. But if I had to purchase one right now I might go for him on the strength of my memory of his live performance.

Incidentally, when the whole cycle is performed in chronological order I think this sonata gets a raw deal. This is because it occurs as the first item in the final recital (Op 109, 110, 111) and I don't think it really belongs as the first item in any recital. . At the end of each of these 3 sonatas I have the feeling that there's nothing more to say for now and it's time to go home (with no encores).

Offline ahinton

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #12 on: February 24, 2011, 02:01:37 PM »
Incidentally, when the whole cycle is performed in chronological order I think this sonata gets a raw deal. This is because it occurs as the first item in the final recital (Op 109, 110, 111) and I don't think it really belongs as the first item in any recital. . At the end of each of these 3 sonatas I have the feeling that there's nothing more to say for now and it's time to go home (with no encores).
I can understand that feeling although (since djealnla mentioned Jonathan Powell), I admit that I would have been disappointed (at the very least!) had he ended a certain recital with Op.109 (which he had placed second, after Chopin's Polonaise-Fantaisie), because my Sequentia Claviensis would not then have received its première on that occasion and Mr Powell's programme would have been 90 minutes + an interval shorter (that said, those two works were one incredibly hard act to follow!)

Best,

Alistair
Alistair Hinton
Curator / Director
The Sorabji Archive

Offline djealnla

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #13 on: February 24, 2011, 03:18:05 PM »
Beethoven's late music in general is very enigmatic, and his Op. 109 is probably his most unusual piece (as well as one of the most misunderstood ones). It starts with a vivace movement (one with a ridiculously short exposition at that). How many pieces by Beethoven (or any Classical-era composer) start with a vivace tempo indication? I think only two (not including this specific piece). After that you do not have a slow movement, but a polyphonic piece with three voices (not unlike a Baroque sinfonia) marked prestissimo. Subsequently you have the largest movement of the whole piece, which turns out to be an andante. This movement also serves to "complete" the "unfinished" first movement. I think Schiff said that this piece (the sonata, taken as a whole) does not begin and does not end, and I have to agree with him on that.

In short, the piece is unorthodox in many respects, its form being one of them.

I'm inclined to believe that the reason why I find so many recordings of this piece unsatisfactory has to do with the contrasts found in it. Look at the first movement: a rapid opening is followed by a slow lyrical melody. After that you hear arpeggios all over the piano, with chords/intervals separated by several octaves appearing a few times. Then you have a scale across the piano, which is followed by the development section (notice that the exposition doesn't get repeated). After the development has ended, we arrive at the recapitulation, and we see the contrasts of the opening again: notes in the piano's lower registers contrast with rapid runs and long phrases in the piano's upper registers, as if they were thunderbolts out of a blue sky. The first movement ends peacefully, but it is followed immediately by the tempestuous second movement. The third movement is no exception; the rapid runs at the end of the third variation are followed by a lyrical passage, which sounds as if it were taken from one of Beethoven's last string quartets. The lively contrapuntal 5th variation suddenly leads into a calm section which builds to a gigantic climax. And the end of the sixth variation we are faced with a wash of sound (although the physical aspects of Beethoven's piano should be kept in mind here), which is suddenly followed by a slightly altered version of the opening (which is to be played pianissimo).

My point is that this sonata is very difficult to play well simply because a pianist will inevitably have a hard time making sense out of its inner contrasts and sudden shifts of mood and expression. That is probably the reason why no interpreter really excels at this piece, when it is taken as a whole. The only movement that I have heard really satisfactory renditions of is the second, since it's not so different in character from the "stormy" movements we have come to know from Beethoven's other piano sonatas (such as the Pathetique, Tempest or Appassionata).

I apologize for going into my "verbose mode". :P

Offline prongated

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #14 on: February 24, 2011, 08:12:17 PM »
Just to broaden this topic, seeing as how I never see anyone talking about the 109, why do you think it is performed so infrequently, compared to 81a, 106, 110 and 111?

I guess you mean a paid recital in public? Because up here in Toronto where I study, about 1/4 of the piano student population plays it. From what I gather, it seems to be a very popular one among students than just about any other Beethoven sonata actually...

Offline djealnla

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #15 on: February 24, 2011, 10:49:21 PM »
I love this piece. :-*

I really don't know what makes it so special, but I know that it makes my life special. :)

Offline birba

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #16 on: February 25, 2011, 06:49:09 AM »
I agree with you.  After the 111, it's definitely my favorite.

Offline djealnla

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #17 on: March 04, 2011, 08:43:23 PM »
I would say that it is an unequivocal fact that Op. 109 is performed (and recorded) considerably less than the ones I listed.

Well, let's try YouTube and Amazon and see what happens:

YouTube search results:

"Beethoven Sonata 28" - approximately 2,900
"Beethoven Sonata 29" - approximately 2,340
"Beethoven Sonata 30" - approximately 2,650
"Beethoven Sonata 31" - approximately 3,040
"Beethoven Sonata 32" - approximately 967

"Beethoven Op. 101" - approximately 496
"Beethoven Op. 106" - approximately 371
"Beethoven Op. 109" - approximately 425
"Beethoven Op. 110" - approximately 492
"Beethoven Op. 111" - approximately 460

The interesting thing here is the very different positioning of Op. 111; first it ends last, but then it ends right in the middle.

I'm also not surprised to see the Hammerklavier at the bottom of the second list, for I always thought of it as the most neglected late piano sonata by Beethoven.

Amazon.com search results in "Music":

"Beethoven Sonata 28" - 580
"Beethoven Sonata 29" - 282
"Beethoven Sonata 30" - 557
"Beethoven Sonata 31" - 442
"Beethoven Sonata 32" - 533

"Beethoven Op. 101" - 364
"Beethoven Op. 106" - 225
"Beethoven Op. 109" - 474
"Beethoven Op. 110" - 287
"Beethoven Op. 111" - 397

Offline daniloperusina

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #18 on: March 07, 2011, 01:42:27 AM »
At one point Gilel's recording was very important to me. Now I ususally listen to Schnabel's. But does your question mean that you don't find any of the easily available recordings, ie Brendel, Arrau, Pollini etc satisfying? Why not, if so?

I'm surprised to hear of the slighter popularity of 109, since my experience was the opposite. I used to play it, but shyed away a bit because it seemed like everyone favoured it among his last sonatas, more than 111. Maybe I need to rethink!:)

Offline gvans

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #19 on: March 07, 2011, 02:39:14 AM »
I personally like Alfred Brendel's Op. 109. Claude Frank has a beautiful rendition as well.

Offline whitewhim

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #20 on: March 17, 2011, 08:28:22 AM »
Schnabel.

SCHNABEL!  :o

I cannot for the life of me understand why Schnabel's name often goes unmentioned in these discussions. Schnabel wished only to play music that was "better than could be played", and he did it better than anyone else from the 20th century. I knew there was something special about op.109 when I listened to Ashkenazy and Brendel, and later Rosenbaum, but my first-hearing of Schnabel's recording remains one of the most cherished moments of my life.

Listen to it and you'll see why :)

Offline retrouvailles

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #21 on: March 17, 2011, 08:52:54 AM »
Schnabel.

SCHNABEL!  :o

I cannot for the life of me understand why Schnabel's name often goes unmentioned in these discussions. Schnabel wished only to play music that was "better than could be played", and he did it better than anyone else from the 20th century. I knew there was something special about op.109 when I listened to Ashkenazy and Brendel, and later Rosenbaum, but my first-hearing of Schnabel's recording remains one of the most cherished moments of my life.

Listen to it and you'll see why :)

The one major thing working against Schnabel is something he had no control over: the sound quality in most recordings I've heard of him is atrocious. When I listen to a work, I have to enjoy it in all aspects, and that includes how the sound quality is. Perhaps many of the others here have the same rationale as I do.

Offline birba

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #22 on: March 17, 2011, 09:46:43 AM »
Schnabel.

SCHNABEL!  :o

I cannot for the life of me understand why Schnabel's name often goes unmentioned in these discussions. Schnabel wished only to play music that was "better than could be played", and he did it better than anyone else from the 20th century. I knew there was something special about op.109 when I listened to Ashkenazy and Brendel, and later Rosenbaum, but my first-hearing of Schnabel's recording remains one of the most cherished moments of my life.

Listen to it and you'll see why :)
Let's not forget Becky's grandfather studied with Schnabel... ::)

Offline djealnla

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #23 on: March 18, 2011, 08:23:24 AM »
This is rather off-topic, but how in the world am I supposed to play those polyrhythmic trills in the last movement? I'm finding them completely unplayable. :-\

Offline scottmcc

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #24 on: March 18, 2011, 12:39:24 PM »
Let's not forget Becky's grandfather studied with Schnabel... ::)

yes but that was only after he exhausted all the possibilities of Anton Rubinstein...   :-\

Offline daniloperusina

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #25 on: March 25, 2011, 03:01:08 AM »
The one major thing working against Schnabel is something he had no control over: the sound quality in most recordings I've heard of him is atrocious. When I listen to a work, I have to enjoy it in all aspects, and that includes how the sound quality is. Perhaps many of the others here have the same rationale as I do.

Of course you're right about that.
But I would also like to adress a factor with his recordings that I like a lot. To quote Alfred Brendel: "Not everything in music should be audible". The quote is approximate, but this idea that sometimes you should only hear the effect of the notes, and not necessarily so much the notes themselves, is something I strongly beleive in. I think for instance of the left-hand accompaniment in Schubert's Gb Impromptu. To me, the listener should not always be able to hear the all the notes being played there, rather just the murmuring effect they cause. That is very difficult to achieve with today's super-clear recordings, but with Schnabel you really get more of that.

Offline perfect_pitch

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #26 on: March 25, 2011, 05:55:51 AM »
This is rather off-topic, but how in the world am I supposed to play those polyrhythmic trills in the last movement? I'm finding them completely unplayable. :-\

Easy - practice. Learn it slowly, practice, get it faster.

EASY!    ;D

Offline danielo

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Re: Beethoven Op. 109
«Reply #27 on: November 20, 2016, 07:53:43 PM »
James Rhodes did a wonderful programme on Opus 109 on his Piano Man programme on Sky Arts......beautiful and moving performance of the stunning last 7 variation movement as well. He divides critics but I just love his interpretation of this.
Here are the links....first one is the interview part of the programme and the first movement....second is that 3rd movement in full




Learning:

Rachmaninov Preludes Op10 1, 4 and 5
Chopin Ballade in G Minor
Chopin Etude Op10 No 2
Schubert Impromptu No 3