About this Recording
8.571283 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas Nos. 8 and 29 (Biret Archive Edition, Vol. 8)
English 

The FINNADAR RECORDINGS of IDIL BIRET

Idil Biret started recording for the Finnadar in 1972, following a proposal from Ilhan Mimaroğlu. At the time Mimaroğlu, a composer of electronic music, was working as a producer for Atlantic Records in New York, mostly with its co-founder Nasuhi Ertegün. Finnadar label was founded as a subsidiary of Atlantic, one of the few imprints within the major-label corporate structure devoted wholly to contemporary music (1). In a rare interview he gave in 2001, Ilhan Mimaroğlu described his goal for founding Finnadar records:

It was in the early seventies that I started Finnadar Records with an LP of my electronic music and continued throughout the years, primarily with recordings of contemporary compositions, with a view to also offer to the public performers who should be better known, among which Turkish pianists Idil Biret and Meral Güneyman.(2)

During an association with Idil Biret that lasted over ten years nine LPs were issued by Finnadar with recordings of many contemporary works including those by Boulez, Berg, Webern, Miaskovsky, Boucourechliev as well as some classical works by Beethoven, Chopin and others (see discography below). The recordings received great critical acclaim in the US and Europe and the Boulez Sonata no.2 was selected as the “Record of the Month” by Stereo Review magazine. Biret later recorded all three Boulez Piano Sonatas for Naxos which received a Diapason d’Or of the year 1995 in France and sold 30,000 copies within six months of its release. The recording of the Berlioz/Liszt Symphonie Fantastique received special attention on both sides of the Atlantic as it was one of the first forays into recording and performing piano transcriptions—a widely practiced art in 19th century that had fallen out of favour in the 20th century. Idil Biret performed the Berlioz / Liszt work at recitals all over the world including New York, London, Paris, Munich, Milan and helped establish respect for the performance of piano transcriptions once again. On the base of these performances and the Finnadar recording she then went on to record for EMI the complete symphonies of Beethoven in the piano transcriptions by Liszt and performed all the nine symphonies in four recitals at the Montpellier Festival (broadcast live by Radio France Musique) during the Liszt Centennial in 1986.

Sadly, the adventurous label Finnadar did not last long and folded in the early 1980s. In a brief note, the ex-RCA executive Jack M. Einhorn explains some of the reasons for the early demise of Finnadar:

I first became aware of Idil Biret from her outstanding recordings for Ilhan Mimaroğlu’s Finnadar label—an imprint that went ill-distributed by the powers-that-be at then-Warner Distribution (Finnadar was affiliated with Atlantic Records in the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic triumvirate). Her recordings of piano works by Boucourechliev, Miaskovsky, and Berlioz (by way of Liszt) made a strong impression, one that has not faded from this listener’s memory. Warner Distribution’s bread and butter in the late 1970s and 1980s was rock and pop and the Warner sales force had a genuinely bad attitude toward classical music, jazz and world music. The salespeople were somewhat surprised that Nonesuch was selling so strongly (could it have been the fact that it was a budget label with a broad but genuinely interesting repertoire base and a great promotional team at Elektra?), and used the false comparison between Nonesuch (budget) and Finnadar (a bargain at full price in my less-than-humble opinion) to marginalize the latter label, which only found a foothold in Tower, a few chain stores, and indy stores with big Classical selections—that is, if the pop-brained salesperson even bothered to call the releases to the attention of the Classics buyer.

Thank God for Klaus Heymann who has given terrific artists like Idil Biret the exposure that they truly merit. (3)

Ahmet Ertegün gave the copyrights of all her Finnadar LPs (then owned by Warner/Atlantic) to Idil Biret shortly before he passed away. Idil Biret would like to express her gratitude to the Ertegün family and to Ilhan and Güngör Mimaroglu for making possible the release of her early Finnadar recordings on the Idil Biret Archive label.

Şefik B. Yüksel

(1) Dave Lewis, All Music Guide
(2) Interview with Mehmet Dede in New York, 2001
(3) From a letter to Şefik B. Yüksel by Jack M. Einhorn, 27 May 2000

 

DISCOGRAPHY of IDIL BIRET / FINNADAR (ATLANTIC RECORDS)
SR9004 Boulez – Sonata No. 2; Webern – Variations Op. 27 (1973)
SR9008 Berg – Sonata Op. 1 (1975)
SR9013 Ravel – Sérénade Grotesque, Gaspard de la Nuit; Stravinsky – The Five Fingers, A Waltz for Children, Petrouchka Three Scenes (1976)
SR125 Prokofiev – Sonata No. 2; Chopin Two Mazurkas; Scriabin Sonata No. 10 (1977) Direct to Disc in a single take without edits (Limited Edition of 5500 copies)
SR9021 Mimaroğlu – Session; Castiglioni – Cangianti; Boucourechliev – Archipel IV; Brouwer – Sonata “Pian e Forte” (1978)
SR9023 Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique, piano transcription by Liszt (1979)
SR9029 Rachmaninov – Prelude C sharp minor; Miaskovsky – Sonatas Nos. 2 and 3; Scriabin – Five Preludes Op. 74 (1980)
SR9035 Mahler – Piano Quartet; Franck – Piano Quintet (1982) with the London String Quartet (Carl Pini, Violin – Benedict Cruft, Violin – Ruşen Güneş, Viola – Roger Smith, Cello)
SR9046 Beethoven – Sonata No. 8 ‘Pathétique’; Sonata No. 29 ‘Hammerklavier’ (1986)

 

Music notes

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 ‘Pathétique’
Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 ‘Hammerklavier’

Beethoven composed the Sonata in C minor, Op. 13, between 1798 and 1799. It is not clear if Beethoven issued the name ‘Pathétique’ or if it was so dubbed by Hoffmeister, the publisher of the first edition. It was written in the early Viennese period at a time when the composer was rather prolific in the sonata genre. The three Op. 10 sonatas had come the year before, and the two Op. 14 sonatas were completed shortly after the ‘Pathétique’. It was during this time that Beethoven first became aware that his hearing was impaired.

The ‘Pathétique’ has only three movements, as do many of the sonatas of that early period. The inclusion of an introduction was not traditional. It is, however, in this introduction that Beethoven gives us the material which he uses throughout the sonata. The notes C–D–E flat are seminal; they are most noticeably found in the secondary theme of the first movement, once again in the inversion in the second section of the slow movement, and forming the opening theme of the last movement. Although the first movement is fairly standard in its adherence to sonata-allegro form, the recurrence of material from the introduction prior to the development, and again before the final section, is noteworthy.

It is Beethoven’s contemporary Schubert, who is remembered above all else for his beautiful melodies. Surely none of that great songwriter’s melodies can surpass the sublime beauty of the theme of the second movement of the ‘Pathétique’ (Adagio cantabile).

The last movement is in typical rondo form. Rondo was common in the final movements of sonatas and concertos of the time, the salient features being that the theme (or A section) appears, followed by new material (B section), followed by the theme (A section), followed again by new material (C section), etc. This movement is a model of classical seven part rondo form (ABACADA). The final presentation of the theme is followed by a brief coda in which Beethoven characteristically demands greatly contrasting dynamics and utilizes silence as a dramatic influence.

Beethoven began the Sonata in B flat, Op. 106, in the fall of 1817 and completed it late in 1818. It is dedicated to his friend, sponsor and pupil, Archduke Rudolf. It was his first major work following what had been a musically barren and personally troubling period in which he experienced poor health as well as anxiety over the fate of his frivolous nephew, Karl. No major work had been completed since 1817. His most recent work of any magnitude had been the now-famous song cycle, An die Ferne Geliebte, which was completed in April of 1816. During the years 1817–18, Beethoven began work on several compositions including a piano concerto, a piano trio and a string quintet. In the fall of 1817 he even accepted a commission from the Philharmonic Society of London for two symphonies. The aforementioned were put aside in favor of composing the ‘Hammerklavier’. It is almost certain that Beethoven was totally deaf in 1818, the year in which the greater part of the sonata was written.

The designation ‘Hammerklavier’ simply indicated the instrument for which the sonata was intended. It was the German word commonly used in Beethoven’s day for pianoforte. It distinguished the piano from other keyboard instruments, or “Klaviers,” especially from the harpsichord on which a plectrum plucks the strings as opposed to the piano on which a hammer (leather-covered in Beethoven’s day, felt-covered on a modern instrument) strikes the string. Beethoven subtitled the three sonatas of the late period, Op. 101, Op. 106, and Op. 109, “für das Hammerklavier,” or “for piano.” The popularity of Op. 106 has caused it alone to retain the name as a means of identification.

In this massive work, by far the longest (nearly 1200 bars), and most difficult of all his piano sonatas, Beethoven displays an extreme departure from his own sonata style in many respects. Although it may certainly be viewed as evolutionary in terms of the composer’s personal musical development, it stands alone among the sonatas; for the ensuing sonatas do not appear to be a logical continuation or outgrowth of Op. 106. Although the final three do present innovations (for example, the fugue in the slow movement of Op. 110), these are far less extended forms which are harmonically less daring. Neither is there evidence in earlier sonatas of a continuous evolutionary process leading up to Op. 106. The content of this sonata makes it more akin to the string quartets of the last period, and the Ninth Symphony. Certainly it takes its place alongside these works as being among Beethoven’s greatest creations. The movements are unified by the ever present descending intervals of thirds. Avoidance of dominant harmony in places where it traditionally might be expected allows the work to continue to such a great length.

The rhythmic and melodic motifs in the large vertical sonorities forming the opening four bars of the Allegro appear subsequently in the development of the movement in an imitative fashion overlapping in a stretto-like manner reminiscent of a fugal episode. It is clearly an omen of the last movement’s fugue. Indeed, it is this small motif that is used by Beethoven over and over again in this movement; sometimes occurring in its entirety and sometimes fragmented as in the closing bars where he first exploits the rhythmic motif of the first four notes and then later on the last three chords of these opening bars. All this is part of the greatness of Beethoven; of his amazing ability to relentlessly utilize the smallest germ of an idea to sustain, to build suspense, and to create the overwhelming drive that captivates the listener.

The second movement is a Scherzo which in Italian means “joke.” This is the most light-hearted of the four movements. It was Beethoven more than anyone else who was responsible for introducing the scherzo into sonatas, symphonies, and quartets etc. It replaces the traditional minuet. Although Haydn sometimes used the term “scherzo” in his works, it is almost impossible to discern his scherzo from his minuets. The two forms are related by 3/4 meter. It is in Beethoven’s works where we observe a distinct scherzo style.

The beautiful Adagio sostenuto makes demands on the pianist that are a merciless test of skill and musicality. The movement is riddled with crescendos and ritardandos to be executed over a short period of time, and others which are spread over many measures. It opens with an ascending third, A–C sharp, thus hinting at A major but establishing F sharp minor in the second measure. So, we have the harmonic relationship of the descending third (A–F sharp) with which the composer was preoccupied throughout the work. The movement is prophetic in that it foretells harmonic relationships and chromaticism that were to fuel the next generation of romantic composers. The movement ends with a firmly established tonality of F sharp major.

The last movement opens with a remarkable introduction marked Largo. This fantasia-like section starts with a succession of F’s followed by three ethereal chords that could easily be called Wagnerian. Beethoven keeps the third of each of these chords in the bass and moves the bass downward in thirds clearly making the descending third an integral part of this movement as it was in the three movements preceding it. In the second bar we find the first hint of the fugal subject in the descending 32nd notes in the left hand. There are erratic changes in tempo and an eclectic representation of styles: the Wagnerian chords; the contrapuntal scale passages; several measures of imitative counterpoint; and the big A major chords toward the end which give way to F major and form a huge cadence clearly establishing the B flat major tonality of the fugue into which we are led without pause. It is as if the introduction were a struggle from which the contrapuntal forces emerged victorious.

The fugue is a baroque form which has been revived by composers including those of the present day. It is known that Beethoven copied examples of Bach’s counterpoint into his sketch book during the time he was writing Op. 106. But, the similarity with the baroque style of Bach ends with the fact that Beethoven incorporates the essentials of fugal style into the movement. It is a fugue in three voices, and he takes some liberties with the form. Nevertheless, we expect and are given the required exposition-episode relationships. There is a counter theme, as well as other devices of fugue: stretto, augmentation, inversion etc. But, most importantly there is the overwhelming stamp of Beethoven: the violent trill on the second note of the subject; the evasive harmonic relationships; and the modulations to remote regions. There are eight dramatic fugal sections which give the listener the impression he is hearing a set of variations.

Ahmed Tahir
Faculty, The Juilliard School

 

(Music notes are from the original LPs Finnadar SR 90460-1-E)


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