Beyond the many accolades Murray Perahia has received for his activities as a pianist, he must also be recognized for having overseen the 2005 release of a CD set derived from the master classes of the legendary pianist Alfred Cortot at the École Normale de Musique in Paris from 1954-1960. It is engrossing listening for pianophiles.
In one session, Cortot discusses Beethoven’s Sonata in E major, Op. 109, and begins by playing three chords: E major, E minor, E major. In his analysis, this is the essence of the Sonata — this motion, eventually, back to E major.
Tonight’s program follows the same plan — a path from the freighted E minor of Bach’s Partita to the radiant E major of Chopin’s final Scherzo. And here, at the heart of the program, is that very Beethoven Sonata.
In 1820 Beethoven had started work on not only the Ninth Symphony and the Diabelli Variations, but the Missa Solemnis as well. During this period of creative magnificence he also produced his three final piano sonatas, each an experiment in form.
Op. 109 opens in a sweeping exhalation, like a speaker encountered in mid-sentence. Sounding like an improvisation, it ends as it begins, on the wing (when has a vivace sounded so calm?), and is followed immediately by an angry, prickly, minor-key prestissimo — briefer even than its predecessor. The final movement is a kind of balm. Technically a theme with six variations, the movement opens and ends in the warmth of serenity, daring not to conclude with a bang, but with a sigh. Look closely at the words with which Beethoven instructs the performer at the beginning of this final section, Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung (songfully, with utmost feeling). Gesangvoll — the vowels rhyme approximately with the fawn’s foal. Gesangvoll. A cherishable word to be spoken aloud.
Grant Hiroshima is the Executive Director of a private foundation in Chicago and the former Director of Information Technology for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.