The Thirty Two Piano Sonatas

Daniel Barenboim, whom we have already met in these postings (see 28th.May 2007) comes to the end of a series of sell-out performances of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas in London’s Royal Festival Hall tomorrow evening. He is performing the cycle in several major European cities. When the Argentinian pianist was only an eleven year old, he was described by the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler as a’ phenomenon’. His subsequent multi-talented career has more than justified that description. There are many websites detailing and applauding his achievements.

During his earlier years he was associated with a group of performers which included his late wife, the cellist Jacqueline du Pré, who died so tragically in 1987, as well as the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. He also accompanied Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in lieder recitals. His discography is huge with recordings of the great classical piano solo and concerto, operatic and orchestral works.

Now known as much as an eminent conductor as a soloist, he is also honoured as an humanitarian who expresses a commitment to peace and reconciliation in practical rather than political ways, notably by his creation of the West- Eastern Davin Orchestra (see our blog 23rd.May.) In his fascinating 2007 BBC Reith lectures ‘In the Beginning was Sound’, he explored the significance of music as part of the human story.

Beethoven’s sonatas are regarded as the Everest that any considerable pianist is challenged to climb. The young British Pianist Paul Lewis has been touring the world giving performances of all the sonatas, and has recorded them on the Harmonia Mundi label. I am in process of collecting them and, as I compare them with recordings by another artist, am enormously impressed with his spontaneity but also his imagination and rythmic control.

We shall be going to a recital by Lewis in April, and look forward to that.

Writing in today’s Guardian, Martin Kettle – who has been attending Barenboim’s concerts –refers to the sonatas as Beethoven’s ‘imperishable achievement’, and says that in them he went further towards expressing the human spirit in sound than anyone before or since. So hail Barenboim!, and the many artists who have recorded the sonatas (I have traced at least 25 currently available on CD’s). But most of all, hail that troubled, brilliant, adventurous genius, Beethoven himself!

B.R.