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The music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is the music of adversity and triumph. The final minutes of the Sonata in A-flat, Op. 110, are the most potent distillation of this emotional trajectory. Beethoven’s own indications in the score are telling. The two tragic episodes of the last movement are described as klagend or lamenting, and ermattet, exhausted. But at the end of this desolation, as though out of nowhere, nine expanding and ethereal G-major chords emerge. There is nothing like it in the entire piano literature.

In these pages not too long ago, Hugh Macdonald beautifully described Beethoven’s late quartets, as being “too far removed from the certainties of language to be lightly interpreted with any human reference.” That applies here as well. Of the fugue theme which follows these chords Beethoven writes “nach und nach wieder auflebend” – little by little coming back to life.

And then? And then…. An unstoppable upward flight? An overcoming of despair? Or as Alfred Brendel has called it, “a kind of euphoric self-immolation.”