It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that 2020 marks the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827), without doubt one of the greatest composers of all time.
Inevitably, concert programmes, air waves and the media will be suitably saturated throughout the year. And the celebrations start here…
The Beethoven 2020 Diary from Bärenreiter is a simple idea, brilliantly executed. Essentially this handsomely presented pocket diary offers an overview of the man and his music, presented in daily bite-sized chunks.
And for the record, generally I chuck pocket diaries straight in the bin.. this one, however, is a definite keeper!
Undertaking a complete recording of the 32 published Piano Sonatas of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) remains one of the monumental challenges for any concert pianist, and with the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth next year it’s likely that the many accounts on disc will come under greater comparative scrutiny than ever.
Enter Igor Levit, who has previously impressed critics and audiences around the world both in recital and on disc. A Sony Classics artist, Levit is flying the flag for one of the world’s largest labels with his new 9CD set of the Sonata cycle, released this month.
These are interpretations which inevitably face comparison with the legendary recordings by such luminaries as Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Kempff and Friedrich Gulda, beloved cycles by Stephen Kovacevich, Alfred Brendel and Claudio Arrau, and the more recent accounts by Paul Lewis, András Schiff, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and (revelatory on fortepiano) Ronald Brautigam.
With such high stakes, let’s find out how Levit’s cycle fares …
“Since my youth I have been fascinated by sonata form and, over a period of some forty years, all the programmes I have performed have been centred on works in that form. Therefore this book is a labour of love as much as, hopefully, a useful guide to some of the most marvellous music ever conceived.”
So writes Michael Davidson of his superb book The Classical Piano Sonata, which has since its publication in 2004 become something of a classic itself, and an indispensable guide for every serious pianist and music-lover.
Let’s take a closer look at the book, and evaluate what it is which makes it such an essential addition to the pianist’s library…
I often remind pupils and friends that the piano repertoire is an extraordinary treasury, and one which after several lifetimes of exploration would still yield up new gems and discoveries.
As if to prove the point, when I returned from a recent break in Moniaive I was surprised and delighted to see – among the packages awaiting me back at home – a splendid hardbound volume of piano music by Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748-1798), submitted for possible review by distributer Universal Edition on behalf of publisher Edition Dohr Köln.
Neefe’s name might be recognised by some as the composer of a charming Menuetto featured in ABRSM Grade 1 piano a few years ago.
But those who search the more distant recesses of their memories may recall mentioning him in their school-day essays about Beethoven; Neefe was young Ludwig’s principal piano teacher in Bonn.
As such, Neefe’s own compositions surely played a significant role in the latter’s music education, and thus attract peculiar interest. To what extent does his music inform Beethoven’s – and stand as a precursor to it?
Furthermore, as Beethoven’s piano teacher, Neefe himself joins the pianist lineage of those many of us who have traced our teaching line back to Liszt, Beethoven and beyond. This again adds personal resonance, however vague, in discovering his music.
In my recent review of Schott’s ‘My First Schumann’ I concluded :
“This is a collection that will “keep on giving”, with such a great selection of pieces for students to enjoy over a number of years… ‘My First Schumann’ is a brilliant introduction to one of the world’s greatest ever piano composers. Highly Recommended!”
Hot on its heels comes the latest book in the series, ‘My First Beethoven’. Can it repeat the success of the previous book?