I am way behind on this, I know, but it is time to say something about “Hammerklavier” and move on.
But where to begin? As a piano operator, I can’t even begin to touch this piece, and as a musician, I’m not sure where I land, to be frank.
It is simply bigger, fuller, greater, and deeper than any music I have ever tried to bring to life. As a trombonist, I play an instrument with a distinct lack of serious music by great composers, and with the possible exception of the concert by Christopher Rouse, I would say that there isn’t anything that even comes close to this piece. As an ensemble musician, my experience of a piece is very different from that of a soloist, or even of a clarinetist or violinist. Yes, I’ve played a Brahms symphony, but I had to sit and listen to the first three movements before playing a single note. And the conductor was in charge. And of course, I conduct, but it has never been my privelege to lead any of the band music that begins to approach the level of this sonata–I’m thinking of Colgrass’ Winds of Nagaul or Husa’s Music for Prague.
So my encounter with Opus 106 has been somewhat stunning. Of course I have listened to and studied epic music before, but to imagine the range of expression and technique required here of a single musician brings to the fore to an even greater degree the scope of this piece.
Beethoven has been percussive before. He has been formally extensive before. He has been contrapuntal before. He has waxed philosophically before in slow movements. But here, every measure seems endowed with a depth, a seriousness–this is truly what people mean by “late Beethoven.” There is no orchestration to distract from the absoluteness of the music in piano writing–there is only music, on this very imperfect instrument where notes decay too quickly and half a composer’s energy is given to making them last longer.
If I tried to name specifics, this post would be pages long. I could spend the next year working out this piece, but it is time to move on–to three more titanic pieces!
I’m still looking for suggestions for what to study next… lately I’ve thought about Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, as well as continuing to ponder the Mahler symphonies.