Please wait...

Hyperion Records

CDA67518 - Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1
Pietrasanta C02.15 by Caio Fonseca (b1959)
Reproduced by kind permission of the artist /

Recording details: September 2005
Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Dobbiaco, Italy
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Ludger Böckenhoff
Release date: October 2006
Total duration: 77 minutes 16 seconds


'Angela Hewitt's first instalment in a projected Beethoven sonata cycle offers intelligent, stylish and often illuminating interpretations … fusing poetry and passion, Hewitt lets her long hair down and her fingers run wild' (Gramophone)

'Every bit as intellectually lucid, technically secure and focussed, as her Bach … this exhilarating clarity of thought is matched by her clean incisive sound (well caught by the recording), and helps to contribute to the striking sense of purpose in these relatively early and still essentially classical works' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Angela Hewitt brings her trademark intelligence and poise to these fine recordings … in [the Appassionata] she shows a firm grasp of the work's majestic architecture, realising each dramatic climax while steadily sustaining its momentum. But it is in the slow movements of the other two sonatas, especially the D major, that Hewitt is at her most affecting, her depth of feeling equal to the 'great expression' demanded by the composer' (The Observer)

'As this impressive new disc shows, it is a mistake to try to pigeon-hole Angela Hewitt' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Clarity, elegance, intelligence, a belief in letting the composer speak: the winner of the Gramophone Artist of the Year award parades her qualities in the first of a new Beethoven series that balances the overfamiliar Appassionata with the connoisseur’s Op 10 No 3 and neglected Op 7. There’s not a dead note anywhere. The largos find her piercing the depths; she’s equally impressive at quicksilver turns and tumbling cascades' (The Times)

'There's red-hot fire in Hewitt's belly as she tackles these three Beethoven masterpieces. The two earlier sonatas … glitter with adroit wit. The 'Appassionata' is startlingly explosive—as it should be' (Classic FM Magazine)

'A very promising start to another Beethoven cycle … if Hewitt continues on this trajectory, her Beethoven sonatas should be as enriching as her Bach has proved to be' (Fanfare, USA)

'Hewitt meets Beethoven head on. It will not do to call her a woman pianist. She is a pianist's pianist, period, pure and simple, capable of holding her own with any number of brilliant men who have recorded this music. She has formidable finger strength. Her pianissimos have elegance and discretion, but her fortisssimos and sforzandos are clarion calls to rouse lovers of romanticism. Her response, say, to those familiar knuckle-crunching demands of the Appassionata's last movement is gasp-inducing, yet she never blurs a note or lets a chord get crowded or ugly' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'She throws herself into it body and soul, giving the disc the frisson of a concert performance (without so much as a smudged note), the thrill of a first hearing' (International Piano)

'After a magnificent series of Bach recordings, star pianist Angela Hewitt now turns her attention to Beethoven's piano sonatas and if future releases are anything to go by this first disc, we are in for one of the most rewarding cycles of modern times. Her choice is well judged with Op 10 No 3 and the F minor Appassionata paired with the fiery Op 7, a lovely cocktail if there ever was one' (

'There's nothing in the packaging or labelling of this, her first Beethoven CD, that promises recordings of all the sonatas, but don't be too surprised if that's what we eventually get. The three here are so good that Hewitt's countless fans are unlikely to sit still for anything less than a complete cycle … once again she uses the superb sound of her instrument to create music of the greatest beauty' (Ottowa Citizen, Canada)

Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1
Presto  [7'16]
Largo e mesto  [11'02]
Rondo: Allegro  [4'23]
Allegro  [4'49]
Allegro assai  [9'22]
Andante con moto  [5'46]

Angela Hewitt is rapidly establishing herself as one of the great pianists of our age, her concert career expanding as rapidly as her discography, so it seems only right that, following her success in tackling one of the pillars of classical music in Bach, she should tackle another in Beethoven.

This volume commences a survey of Beethoven sonatas which will couple the well known, in this case the ‘Appassionata’, with the comparatively neglected, here the grandest of Beethoven’s early sonatas, his Op 7. The disc is completed with a superb performance of Op 10/3, one of the early sonatas where Beethoven can be seen breaking the bounds of convention to create the style which would define the great works of his middle period.

All the pianistic hallmarks of Hewitt’s Bach are also to be found here—clarity, attention to detail, singing lines and, above all, a rhythmic drive which energizes and propels the music forward.

This looks like being the start of another very important series of recordings.

Other recommended albums
'Bach: The English Suites' (CDA67451/2)
Bach: The English Suites
Buy by post £20.00 CDA67451/2  2CDs  
'Beethoven: Serenade, Quintet & Trio' (CDA67526)
Beethoven: Serenade, Quintet & Trio
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67526 
'Handel: Harpsichord Suites' (CDD22045)
Handel: Harpsichord Suites
Buy by post £10.50 CDD22045  2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)  

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven hardly need an introduction these days. They have become such a standard part of the repertoire that many will say another disc of them is superfluous. My experience has shown me, however, that while many of the sonatas have become far too hackneyed and distorted by ‘tradition’, there are others, such as the Opus 7, which are much less often performed and which give special delight to those who are not yet familiar with them. My intention, therefore, in presenting this first disc of a series devoted to Beethoven’s sonatas, is to mix one very popular one (in this case the ‘Appassionata’) with one lesser-known (Op 7), and one which is favoured by piano students (Op 10 No 3).

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn on, we think, 16 December 1770. The uncertainty lies in the lack of documentary evidence, but we know that he was christened the following day, which was customary. His ancestors were tradesmen from Mechelen (in what is now Belgium), but his grandfather was musical and moved to Bonn in 1733 to become a court musician. Ludwig’s father, Johann, a professional singer, in turn became employed at court, but also taught the clavier and played the violin and zither. His mother, Maria Magdalena, was widowed before the age of nineteen, and subsequently married Johann Beethoven in 1767. Their first son, Ludwig Maria, died after only six days. After the birth of Ludwig, the composer, came five more children, but only two, Carl and Nikolaus, survived beyond the age of three.

Ludwig’s father soon saw that his son had talent, and he was a strict teacher, making him get up at all hours to practise and beating him when he made too many mistakes. His lessons included those on the violin and, later, on the viola and organ as well. Unlike Mozart, he was not encouraged to compose as a child, and in fact his father tried to discourage him from ‘scraping away’ at nothing on the violin rather than playing something properly from the music. Johann did, however, promote his son in public, and on 26 March 1778 presented him in his first known public performance in Cologne, billing him as a six-year-old (when in fact he was seven); but Johann Beethoven didn’t have the staying power that Leopold Mozart had, and Ludwig never became a touring child prodigy. He made only one long trip in his childhood and that was with his mother to the Netherlands when he was twelve years old (during which he performed several times). Later in life Beethoven hated child prodigies, and he didn’t even want to hear Liszt, but finally relented, saying: ‘All right, for God’s sake, bring me the rascal!’

From his mother Beethoven received a precious gift: the desire to love virtue. ‘From childhood on, my heart and soul were full of the tender feeling of goodwill’, he wrote in the famous Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802. She was a lady who rarely smiled, and who considered suffering a necessary part of life. By the time Ludwig was an adolescent, her husband was quickly becoming an alcoholic, and life could not have been easy. Her death in 1787 at the age of forty was a great shock to Ludwig, and left him to care for his younger brothers.

Like Mozart with Salzburg, Beethoven outgrew his native Bonn in a relatively short time. He had received invaluable training there from the court organist, Christian Gottlob Neefe, who had introduced him to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, then still circulating only in manuscript copies. By the time he turned fifteen he had composed, among other works, three piano quartets, three piano sonatas (WoO47), and a set of variations for piano. At the age of sixteen he went to Vienna with the intention of studying with Mozart, but barely two weeks later returned home because of his mother’s final illness. It was thought the two at least met, and that Mozart declared: ‘Watch out for him, he will have something to tell you.’ Beethoven wasn’t to return to Vienna until six years later, by which time Mozart had died.

When Beethoven did finally settle in the musical capital, he soon became the hotshot virtuoso that everybody had been looking for since Mozart’s death. At his debut there on 2 March 1795, he performed a new piano concerto (whether this was the C major or the B flat major still seems open to discussion). His compositions were soon published and being heavily subscribed to, which brought him prosperity and an ever-increasing list of aristocratic patrons.

Most interesting to the pianist are the comparisons that were made between the keyboard styles of Mozart and Beethoven. Carl Czerny (who studied with Beethoven from 1801 and remained a friend for the rest of his life) tells us that Beethoven found Mozart’s way of playing too reminiscent of a harpsichord touch—choppy and detached—and that Mozart’s students also played in that way. It was brilliant playing, to be sure, as well as witty, but the pedal was rarely used if at all. On the other hand, Beethoven combined his passion and strength with his most outstanding feature—that of his smooth cantabile playing. He used the pedal in a new and daring way, thus creating many unheard-of tonal effects. Rather than brilliant elegance, he showed a grandiose spirit which especially came to the fore in his adagios. He made full use of the possibilities of the constantly developing fortepiano. In 1796, Beethoven wrote to the piano manufacturer Andreas Streicher:

Undoubtedly, the manner of playing the piano is as yet the least developed form of instrumental playing. One often imagines one is listening to the harp [harpsichord], and I am happy, my dear friend, that you are one of the few who realize and feel that one can also sing on the piano, so long as one has feeling. I hope that the time will come when the harp and the piano will be regarded as two completely different instruments.

Beethoven’s set of three sonatas that made up his Op 10 was nevertheless published in Vienna in September 1798 with the description ‘for the Harpsichord or for the Fortepiano’. No doubt this was just an attempt by the publisher to get the people who still owned a harpsichord to buy them, as it would take a large stretch of the imagination to think of them as harpsichord music. Czerny, who left us an invaluable document entitled On the Proper Performance of all Beethoven’s Works for the Piano Solo (now published by Universal and edited by Paul Badura-Skoda), called the Sonata in D major, Op 10 No 3 a ‘grand and significant’ piece, and indeed it is the first masterpiece in the cycle of sonatas. The opening Presto requires a meticulous attention to detail which is often neglected—beginning with the opening that is marked piano until the sforzando on the pause (there is no crescendo, however tempting it might be to insert one). As with so much early Beethoven, a bravura technique is required, but that alone is not enough. The magnificent slow movement, Largo e mesto, is a very intimate utterance. Sir Donald Tovey (whose edition of the Beethoven Sonatas is I think still one of the best), gives the following advice: ‘The details of phrasing and tone-colour have been provided with extraordinary precision by Beethoven himself; and if you simply make sure that you are playing what is written you will go far to realize the tragic power that makes this movement a landmark in musical history. Do not try to understand before you do as Beethoven bids. The people who “understand” great music beforehand will never see anything in it except a mirror of their own minds. The player who obeys orders faithfully will be constantly discovering their real meaning.’ I have quoted these words in full as I feel they are of the utmost importance.

Out of the despair of this movement, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, arrives the Menuetto, taking us back to the major key. I feel it shouldn’t arrive smiling and insouciant, but rather be conscious of what has preceded it—at least until the Trio begins, where Beethoven’s humour takes over. How easy yet clever it is to present its subject in the left hand with two different articulations—once detached, once slurred.

The Rondo finale is unusual. No ‘big theme’ here; simply a rather insignificant motive of three rising notes upon which he constructs the whole movement. Czerny witnessed the fact that Beethoven often used such sparse material to improvise an entire piece. Its inventiveness, abrupt changes of mood, expressive pauses, and especially its capricious ending that dissolves into thin air make it a challenge to the performer. Tovey tells us that in some early editions, some ‘silly person’ inserted a crescendo at the end to make it, presumably, more effective.

If any proof was needed to show that early Beethoven is not just imitation Haydn or Mozart, then surely the Sonata in E flat major, Op 7 would be the best example. It was published in 1797 with the title ‘Grande Sonate’ which indeed it is, being the longest of his sonatas until the ‘Hammerklavier’, Op 106. Czerny suggested that this sonata, rather than Op 57, should have been called ‘Appassionata’. The key to the opening movement, marked Allegro molto e con brio, is to find a tempo that suits everything and at which you can play the difficult bravura passages. Too fast an opening will give you big problems later on. It is a wild piece, with almost jazzy syncopations and stabbing sforzandos, but is constructed with meticulous care. The colour change to C major for the Largo, con gran espressione startles us but immediately calls our attention to expect something different and exceptional. This noble movement would have been a wonderful vehicle for Beethoven to show off his cantabile playing and generous spirit. The expression opens up when the pizzicato bass is added—a wonderful effect. When the theme appears high up in the keyboard in B flat major, there is a sublime, peaceful radiance that is broken after only a few bars but which can be savoured nevertheless. As in the finale of Op 10 No 3, the silences brought on by the rests must be full of expression and not sound ‘empty’.

The Allegro third movement returns us to playful mood in a less sophisticated manner than Op 10 No 3 but is full of humour and charm. Its middle section, in E flat minor, is made up of rumbling triplets that contrast totally with what has come before. The colour of this passage would probably have sounded very different on Beethoven’s piano than on most modern instruments, and I think we need to keep that in mind when playing it. The fourth pedal on my Fazioli piano which I used for this recording works wonders here, bringing the hammers closer to the strings while at the same time lowering the keys so that the action is much shallower, enabling a swift, clear, and yet quiet execution.

As Tovey has suggested, if the first movement of this sonata looks forward to a new style of writing, the finale, Poco allegretto e grazioso, is one of the last examples of his early style. The Rondo melody is a long, meandering one which lends itself easily to ornamentation. Its charm is broken, however, by the middle section in C minor, which suddenly takes off using what was an accompanying figure to propel it forward (Czerny says this section can be taken a bit faster than the rest). When the Rondo theme returns it is as if nothing has happened, and the movement ends in the most unassuming way. Perhaps if it ended loudly this piece would be performed more often. Beethoven dedicated this sonata to one of his piano students, the Countess Babette von Keglevics, who lived not far away at the time; Beethoven often turned up at her house for lessons still wearing his slippers, dressing gown, and a peaked nightcap.

Now we must fast forward to 1804 when Beethoven began work on the real ‘Appassionata’, the Sonata in F minor, Op 57. In the meantime much had happened. He was in the middle of the most fertile period of his life, having brought out three symphonies, including the ‘Eroica’ which set new standards on all fronts. The beginning of this ‘heroic’ stage also included the ‘Waldstein’ Sonata and the Triple Concerto. In his daily life he was coming to terms with his increasing deafness, and two years previously had written his heartbreaking Heiligenstadt Testament in which he confesses the affliction that he tried to hide. He had also fallen in love with the Countess Guicciardi, the first of many women who were unattainable. While his hearing failed, however, his music became bolder, more powerful and more innovative.

The ‘Appassionata’ (the title was added by the publisher Cranz when a version for piano duet was issued in 1838) was Beethoven’s own favourite piano sonata until he wrote his Op 106. In 1803 he had been given an Erard piano which had an extended range of five-and-a-half octaves, and he uses this at the very beginning of the piece, going down to the lowest note available—the bottom F. Nowadays it can seem all too commonplace. Given the energy and force that Beethoven was by then putting into his works, it is not surprising that the instrument was worn out by 1810. Czerny calls this sonata ‘the most perfect execution of a mighty and colossal plan’, and advises the player to observe strict time, except where marked. Tovey, saying that no piano work of Beethoven has suffered more from that vile thing known as pianistic ‘tradition’, also urges us to trust Beethoven and play what he writes. There are numerous places where we are used to hearing dynamics that are simply not there, or tempo changes that are not indicated at all. The extremes of the piano are used to great effect—for example at the recapitulation when the left hand quietly drums out the low repeated C (which must be done without changing fingers to get the best effect). The ‘fate’ motive made famous in his Fifth Symphony is everywhere, contrasting with the second subject which has that wonderful Beethovenian warmth and expansiveness.

Instead of a proper slow movement, Beethoven doesn’t delay the action more than necessary, giving us a set of variations on a drastically simple theme (in fact it is no ‘theme’ at all, but rather a series of chords). The tempo of Andante con moto is another marking that is frequently ignored. Abruptly interrupting this extemporization comes a crashing diminished-seventh chord, announcing one of his greatest examples of keyboard writing, the final Allegro ma non troppo. Ferdinand Ries, a student of Beethoven and one of his biographers, relates how this movement came about. Ries went for a lesson and found Beethoven working something out at the piano, but seeing that it was a nice day they decided to go out for a walk instead. On the mountain slopes Ries suddenly heard a shawm playing a beautiful melody; he called attention to it, but Beethoven couldn’t hear anything. For many hours he was preoccupied with his own thoughts, humming out phrases and singing aloud. When they returned home Beethoven immediately sat down at the piano and played what later became the last movement of the ‘Appassionata’. The most remarkable thing about this movement is how much of the power is held back until the very end when all is unleashed. Czerny imagines ‘the waves of the sea on a stormy night, whilst cries of distress are heard from afar’. Perhaps it is not necessary to be quite so graphic, but the two-note sighing figures do certainly give that impression. Nobody had written anything nearly as powerful for solo piano before that, and it remains to this day a landmark in musical history.

Angela Hewitt © 2006

Other albums in this series
'Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1' (CDA67633)
Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67633 
'Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 2' (CDA67755)
Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 2
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67755 
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2' (CDA67605)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67605 
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2' (SACDA67605)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Buy by post £10.50 SACDA67605  Super-Audio CD  
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3' (CDA67797)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67797 
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4' (CDA67974)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67974  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
   English   Français   Deutsch