In recognition of the 250th anniversary of his birth, we are thrilled to present the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and his influence on all that followed him as we celebrate our 13th season of the Piano Project. Few composers have been the subject of as much consideration, reflection, and constant re-assessment as Ludwig van Beethoven whose music is widely regarded as seminal to the history of Western Music. He became the fountainhead for all that succeeded him proving Mozart’s prediction that “he would make himself a name in the world.” Distinct from his predecessors and all that followed him, Beethoven was a visionary whose determination to compose as he must, opened the door to the Romantic era that ensued for a full century. Indeed, it’s tempting to consider how far beyond his own capabilities he would have gone had he not composed in total deafness for half his life.
By age 15, Beethoven was already playing the entire Well Tempered Klavier and throughout his life, developed into mastery the sonata-form principle which to this day remains as sturdy and fundamental to the history of Western music as it did from its first appearance in the mid-18th century. After Johann Sebastian Bach, Beethoven is the only composer whose style seemed to be in a constant state of transformation. From the earliest works – the Piano Sonatas, Op. 10, the Violin Sonatas, Op. 12, and the String Quartets, Opus 18 – Beethoven established a distinctive style of music that essentially had no comparison with works of his contemporaries. He described it as embarking upon a new path. While his music is a definite outgrowth of the masterful works of Haydn and Mozart, it is that sense of unfolding transformation that is key to his influence on all that followed him throughout the 19th century and beyond. This was music that held a vision beyond the imaginative forces of the age in composition and instrumental technique. It has been suggested that the art of the keyboard is founded upon three great monuments: Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier, Beethoven’s sonatas and the works of Chopin. To quote William McNaught: “As music they stand out clear and distinct; but in their technical nature they are closely allied, for each is a plan for the employment of ten fingers on a keyboard… Bach’s system was based on the absence of sustained tone, Chopin’s on its presence and plentiful usage. By this token, two forces were involved in the long transition – the natural evolution of the art; and, acting upon it, the evolution of the instrument. Beethoven was the prime mover of both conversions.”
Just as Mozart brought opera to the keyboard, Beethoven brought human speech to the piano where every utterance is an expression of deep emotion. Could there be a Schubert or Brahms and all others without a Beethoven? He was a man of his time who awakened to the works of his forebears and forged his own future. In his own words: “I have never thought of writing for reputation of honor. What I have in my heart must come out; this is the reason why I compose.”
Piano Project 2021