Even as he struggled with the onset of deafness, Beethoven took the piano sonata into new realms of expressive power and beauty.
Beethoven started writing piano sonatas as a boy of 13, and his 32 ‘adult’ sonatas span his full composing career. Five sonatas are represented on this disc: the earliest of these, the Sonata Pathétique (№8), marks a period of transition in Beethoven’s professional life, from being famous as a virtuoso pianist who also happened to write music, to being a composer first and foremost. (Pathétique here doesn’t mean ‘pathetic’; the French word refers to music which is very passionate and emotional, especially with feelings of pity, grief and sorrow.)
The ‘Moonlight’ Sonata (№14) comes from Beethoven’s early years in Vienna, a time when he was experimenting with form and looking for a wider range of expression. Instead of being in sonata form, with its emphasis on contrast and direction, its opening movement is calm and tranquil throughout. Sonata №18, ‘The Hunt’, was written a year later: its cheerful mood is astonishing, given that this was also the time when Beethoven was almost suicidal with despair at the onset of deafness.
The ‘Waldstein’ Sonata (№21) and the ‘Appassionata’ Sonata (№23) were written a few years later, in the period when Beethoven was writing his ‘Eroica’ Symphony and other ‘heaven-storming compositions’, full of striking power and energy.
1-3. Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 ‘Waldstein’ 4. Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 ‘Appassionata’: I. Allegro assai 5-7. Sonata, quasi una fantasia (Piano Sonata No. 14) in C-sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 ‘Moonlight’ 8. Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major, Op. 31 No. 3 ‘The Hunt’: II. Scherzo 9–11. Sonata Pathétique (Piano Sonata No. 8) in C minor, Op. 13