Piano Sonatas: No. 7 in D major op. 10/3
No. 14 in C-sharp minor op. 27/2 Sonata quasi una fanatasia “Moonlight”
No. 9 in E major op. 14/1 · No. 23 in F minor op. 57 “Appassionata”
Igor Kamenz, piano
Igor Kamenz, born in 1968, possesses an extraordinarily double talent. In his early childhood, he already conducted orchestras like the Bolshoy Orchestra or the Russian All-Union Radio Orchestra. For many years, he studied with Sergiu Celibidache and Vitaly Margulis. Awarded a total of 18 first prizes at international
piano competitions, he also embarked on a triumphant career as a pianist, focusing almost exclusively on this venture ever since. The FAZ described his playing style as “unbelievably beautiful” and spoke of “extraterrestrial musical talent” as well as of “almost incomprehensible virtuosity”. After recordings of works by Liszt and Rachmaninov, Igor Kamenz now presents himself with a selection
of Beethoven sonatas for OehmsClassics, among them the “Moonlight” sonata and the “Appassionata”.
Beethoven and the piano
A musical genius who has selected Vienna as his place of residence for the past two years. He is venerated on all sides due to his particular speed as well as to the exceptional difficulties he overcomes
with such effortlessness. A number of beautiful sonatas have been heard.” This is what Schönfelder’s “Jahrbuch der Tonkunst” reported in 1795 on “Bethofen”, who in his first years in Vienna was primarily
perceived as a piano virtuoso and brilliant
improviser in the salons of that city’s music-loving nobles. It is thus not surprising
that the overwhelming number of his compositions before 1800 – almost only chamber music – was dedicated to “his” instrument: twelve of his 32 piano sonatas were written before 1800; in almost all of his other compositions written for duo, trio or quintet, the piano dominates.
The piano sonata was Beethoven’s preferred
genre before 1800, after which he began venturing into string-quartet and symphonic territory. In the case of the piano
sonata, he didn’t have to fear being measured against his great predecessors Haydn and Mozart, whose three-movement
piano sonatas were never meant to compete against the large symphonic and string quartet sonata forms. In contrast, Beethoven’s first four piano sonatas and the Sonata in D Major, No. 7, op. 10 no. 3, composed in 1796/97, all had four movements,
and the title of his second-longest sonata (op. 7) “Grande Sonate”, also expressed
his high expectations. The ambitious
composer justified the work’s unusual technical demands by saying that he wanted
to “embarrass some of today’s piano virtuosos”,
“some of whom” were his “mortal enemies”. The greatest movement of the Sonata in D Major is the “Largo e mesto”, which according to Beethoven characterized
the “emotional state of a melancholic”. Its open subjectivity anticipates the tone of the 19th century. It is understandable why a reviewer of the three op. 10 sonatas – who had grown up with the galant style of the day – missed “clarity and grace” and criticized
the works’ “bizarre manner”, their “too free manner of composition” and their “often harsh-sounding passing tones”, through which “a dark artfulness or an artificial
darkness was brought about”.
The Sonata in E Major (No. 9, op. 14 no. 1) was written in 1798/99 together with the “Pathétique” Sonata (op. 13), and has often been underestimated as the “lighter” and “less significant” of the two. During his whole life, Beethoven made it a point to work simultaneously on several works with highly differing characters. Pigeonholing
Beethoven solely as a representative of the “heroic-pathetic” style leads almost unavoidably to a lesser appreciation of his supposedly “untypical” works, e.g. the even-numbered symphonies. Although the three-movement sonata is technically less difficult and lasts hardly longer than the Largo of the Sonata in D Major, its motivic relationships and development are exceptional.
“I am not very satisfied with the works I have composed until now. As of today I wish to turn a new leaf,” Beethoven supposedly
said in 1802. And again, it was the eleven piano sonatas he composed between 1800 and 1805 that became his experimental ground for trying out new compositional possibilities. The Sonata in C# Minor (No. 14, op. 27 no. 2) from 1801 is no longer oriented to the classical style of the “Grande Sonate”. Its designation as “Sonata quasi una Fantasia” (it was not given its moniker “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven) expresses the fact that the composer was thinking about more open forms. The preliminary last of his sonata compositions was the Sonata in F Minor (No. 23, op. 57) from 1804/05. Its title “Appassionata”
is likewise not from Beethoven, but does aptly fit the work’s passionate, eruptive character. After the Appassionata, Beethoven ceased writing sonatas for several years, during which he rededicated himself to string quartets and large orchestral
works. “God only knows why my piano music always makes the worst impression on me, especially when it is badly played,” he sighed in 1805 and wrote to a publisher: “I don’t really like to work on solo piano sonatas.”
After the 23 sonatas of the past ten years (1795–1805), he only wrote five in the following eleven years, before the last four piano sonatas, written between 1817 and 1822, one again became an experimental ground for his late style. “I have completely different things in mind”; “I sit and ponder and muse; I know what I want; but it doesn’t want to be put on paper.”
And then he turned away from the piano again and composed his last five quartets: “The piano is and remains an inadequate instrument.” In 1822, he wished that in the future, “I would write nothing except operas,
symphonies, sacred music, at the most, only quartets.” Although Beethoven always found the tonal and compositional possibilities
of the piano unsatisfactory, piano sonatas played an integral role in his compositional
development during his entire life. And there is a certain irony in the fact that Beethoven, despite his critical stance, was the first to transform the piano sonata into one of the major genres. Because his piano compositions demanded too much of the instruments of his time, both technically and in terms of sound, this gradually led to the development of the modern grand piano and was decisive in promoting the triumph of the piano in the 19th century.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler
Gerd Indorf is the author of the stanard
work Beethovens Streichquartette. Kulturgeschichtliche
Aspekte und Werkinterpretation,
Freiburg i.Br. 2004, 2nd ed. 2007.