Studying Beethoven

Beethoven’s Sonatas for Piano and Violin were some of my early favorites as I embarked on a journey of discovery about my new instrument five years ago.  The Kreutzer and Spring Sonatas in particular – numbers nine and five respectively – have become some of my favorite music for the instrument.  I’ve been able to hear both performed live, starting with Joshua Bell playing the Kreutzer Sonata with pianist Sam Haywood at Symphony Center in 2015.  Last spring, I saw Itzhak Perlman and Rohan DeSilva play the Spring Sonata at the Lyric Opera House.

My first exposure to the sonatas, however, came in the form of YouTube videos of Anne Sophie Mutter with pianist Lambert Orkis.  The duo recorded all ten in 1998 concerts in Paris, bagging a Grammy for the collaboration.  The pair’s command of the music shines through the less-than perfect nature of the now 20-year-old recordings; those performances are considered definitive in the repertoire.  Despite her acclaim, I have yet to see Anne Sophie perform any of the sonatas – alas they are again not on the program for next March, when I plan to see her at Symphony Center for the third time.

Mutter’s command of these musical masterpieces outshines others I have found on YouTube.  Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve undertaken a journey through the ten sonatas after watching a half-hour walk-through by superstar violinist Leonidas Kavakos.  He approaches them one by one, movement by movement, discussing the ways the sonatas speak to him, highlighting musical points of interest with his own violin along the way.

A longstanding adoration of the Ninth Symphony is probably the root of my love for Beethoven, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate a great deal of his work.  I’ve just downloaded a big biography by Jan Swafford that I’m going to start wading through, which will undoubtedly provide me with more context for the sonatas.  While it’s true that Anne Sophie isn’t playing them next year, she is playing Beethoven’s Ghost Piano Trio with Lambert Orkis, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for insights on that work as I read too.  And next May, Perlman will be at Symphony Center with Evgeny Kissin; their program is currently dangling the Kreutzer, subject to change, of course, as the programs of living legends often do.

Thanks for reading.


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