Hyperion Records

Piano Sonata in C minor, Op 111
1822; No 32

'Beethoven: The Last Three Piano Sonatas' (CDH55083)
Beethoven: The Last Three Piano Sonatas
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDH55083  Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service  
'Stephen Hough in recital' (CDA67686)
Stephen Hough in recital
Movement 1: Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato
Track 7 on CDH55083 [9'29] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service
Track 2 on CDA67686 [8'22]
Movement 2: Arietta: Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile
Track 8 on CDH55083 [17'24] Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service
Track 3 on CDA67686 [16'19]

Piano Sonata in C minor, Op 111
Although it took him well over a year to compose his last three piano sonatas, Beethoven spoke nothing but the truth when he declared that they were written ‘in a single breath’. Sketched at the same time and inspired by a similar vision, they can be taken together to add up to one vast work on the same philosophical theme. In each one of them serenity is glimpsed at a fairly early stage and, against all the odds, is secured at the end.

In the very last in the series, the Piano Sonata in C minor, completed in 1822, the vision is particularly elusive and its ultimate realization particularly sublime. The first movement, beginning with an implacable Maestoso challenge that three times defies the establishment of any definitive tonality, is a tremendous struggle. When it eventually finds its way into C minor, by way of a long low trill and a decisive change of tempo, it is to launch a fierce attack led by a peremptory three-note motif. As the salient feature of the first subject, that motif dominates the whole movement. Its dynamic grip is avoided only by the second subject which, briefly but significantly, affords a glimpse of the ideal in A flat major at the top end of the keyboard. Although it has no place in the contrapuntal development, the second subject is somewhat expanded in the recapitulation, where it not only reappears in C major but also uses its persuasive influence to bring about a quiet ending in that more peaceable key.

The precarious achievement of serenity is one thing. To sustain it is quite another. The second movement—an Arietta with a series of variations in which everything seems to change but in which everything fundamental remains the same—is a uniquely inspired eternity of serenity. The tempo seems to be twice as fast for the fugato of the second variation and faster again for the third, although in fact it is only the note values which change. The syncopations in the fourth variation are no more than superficially disturbing, since the long-preserved triple pulse is still perceptible below the surface and, eventually, on the surface too. There is only one significant change of key—brought about, after more than ten minutes of C major, in a long series of trills—which amounts to an affirmation that no serious threat to C major serenity exists. The Arietta melody, now restored to its original shape and its original key, aspires to the higher regions of the keyboard where, accompanied by the flickering arpeggios and trills since imitated by generations of visionary composer–pianists, it finally achieves its apotheosis.

from notes by Gerald Larner © 2009

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