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8.578073-74 - Easy-Listening Piano Classics: Beethoven
Naxos’ Easy-Listening Piano Classics presents a delightful range of music from Baroque masterpieces to beautiful works of the Classic and Romantic eras, specially selected for discerning listeners to enjoy at home or work, while relaxing, entertaining or travelling.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was born in the city of Bonn, but moved in 1792 to Vienna, where he spent the rest of his relatively short (he died aged 56) yet highly productive life. While best known, perhaps, for popular large-scale orchestral works such as his concertos and symphonies, he also composed string quartets and other chamber music, songs and, of course, a large amount of music for his ‘own’ instrument, the piano. In each genre, Beethoven was to some extent a pathbreaker, transforming the models he inherited from his predecessors or the approach taken by his contemporaries into something radically unique and bequeathing to posterity music that pushed the bounds of politely regulated Classicism towards the highly personal drama of Romanticism.
When the young Beethoven arrived in Vienna, he quickly established himself as a virtuoso pianist—contemporaries had quite simply never heard anything like him before—and though deafness ended his career as a pianist, he continued to compose, ultimately publishing 32 piano sonatas (some early sonatas remained unpublished), several sets of piano variations, bagatelles and dances between 1793 and 1822, a representative selection of which are featured on Easy-Listening Piano Classics. Many of Beethoven’s piano sonatas have names that describe their character, though not all of these originated with the composer. For instance, ‘Pathétique’ is an abbreviation of Beethoven’s full title ‘Grande sonate pathétique’ (that is, ‘passionate’ rather than ‘pitiful’); the ‘Moonlight’ was so named by a music critic who thought of moonlight shimmering upon Lake Lucerne when he heard the first movement (Beethoven simply gave it the sub-title Quasi una fantasia, ‘Like a fantasy’); the ‘Kurfürstensonaten’ are pre-Viennese sonatas dedicated to the Elector (Kurfürst) of Cologne; ‘The Tempest’ comes from Anton Schindler’s claim that the sonata was inspired by Shakespeare’s play; ‘Pastoral’ was provided by one of Beethoven’s publishers.
In addition, Beethoven composed many shorter piano pieces, which he referred to as ‘Kleinigkeiten (Small Things) or Bagatelles’, though these should not be underestimated: while some are popular in style and suitable for amateur performers (such as the famous, and probably misnamed ‘Für Elise’) others are highly characterful miniatures that one writer has described as ‘lapidary, fragmentary, yes, even ironic’—true harbingers of Romanticism. Many of his dances (Minuets, Ländler, Ecossaises and so forth) also combine charm and sophistication.
Whether composing large-scale serious works for the enjoyment of connoisseurs or smaller popular pieces primarily designed to entertain, Beethoven was very interested in the piano, maintaining close contact with leading piano manufacturers in Vienna and London. The demands he made on both performers and the instrument itself contributed to the development of the modern concert grand. One observer wrote that when Beethoven played the piano ‘the music of the man’s soul passed over his countenance. He seems to feel the bold, the commanding, and the impetuous, more than what is soothing or gentle. The muscles of the face swell, and its veins start out; the wild eye rolls doubly wild, the mouth quivers, and Beethoven looks like a wizard, overpowered by the demons whom he himself has called up.’ Yet, whether seeking the sublime or appealing to the lighter sentiments, Beethoven’s music always communicates ‘From the heart…to the heart’.
If you’ve enjoyed this album, why not try these Beethoven titles as well?
8.550045 BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 8, 14 and 23
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