Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas embody the core of the piano repertoire. It is in the realm of these works that his immense expressive range, limitless powers of invention and technical mastery were first manifested, and every facet of his genius is reflected in them. As a group the sonatas seem to take on a life of their own; we are not simply hearing 32 magnificent individual pieces. Rather, we are listening to an integrated body of music. Relationships between sonatas, or even groups of sonatas, composed at different stages of his career, take the piece of thematic connections within an individual work.
Most importantly, it is possible to trace Beethoven's development from sonata to sonata. We hear how he continually tried new ideas, discarded some of them, stretched others in novel ways, and then moved on to different challenges and areas of concern. It is no wonder that the sonatas -- from the muscle-flexing exuberance of the early ones, through the brilliance and heroic drama of his Appassionata and Waldstein, to the haunting, other-worldness of his late works -- sound as fresh and innovative as they did 200 hundred years ago.
We are exceedingly fortunate that Beethoven was born exactly when and where he was born. Although Haydn and Mozart are no longer viewed merely as preparatory stages leading to his appearance, as they generally were in the nineteenth century, the complexity of the miraculous language known as tonality, and the sophistication of the high classical style had only melded together within the previous two decades, reaching a level that made it possible for a Beethoven to mine their treasures and infuse them with as intense a personalization, and as wide a range of dramatic narratives as Western music has witnessed. Throughout his career, he would systematically question, stretch, and challenge virtually every compositional principle his great predecessors had handed down. Nevertheless, he did so without overthrowing or discarding any of them. For all his reputation as a musical revolutionary, he was content to work within the system throughout his career.
Delving deeply into Beethoven's creativity -- his mind, really -- for over two years has been exhausting, but exhilarating. In working through those sonatas I'd played (and recorded) earlier, I was amazed at how immeasurably my perceptions of those pieces have deepened. Richard Goode told me my life would never be the same afterward, and he was right.
About the author of this article
In a career spanning more than five decades, Robert Silverman has climbed every peak of serious pianism: lauded performances of the complete sonata cycles by Beethoven and Mozart; concerts in prestigious halls across the globe; orchestral appearances with many of the world’s greatest conductors; and award-winning recordings distributed internationally.
Recognized as one of Canada’s premiere pianists, Robert Silverman has reached a level of musical and technical authority that can only be accomplished after years of deep commitment to the instrument and its vast literature. Many aspects of Silverman’s playing are frequently noted: a polished technique, an extraordinary range of tonal palette, an uncanny ability to sing his way into the heart of a phrase, and probing interpretations of the most complex works in the repertoire.
For more information on Mr. Silverman and to hear his wonderful playing, please click on the following links: