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Alfred Brendel, On Music: Collected Essays
Beethoven, Complete Piano Sonatas, A. Brendel
Alfred Brendel: The Farewell Concerts
Several complete cycles of the Beethoven piano sonatas are being performed in Washington at the moment, from Till Fellner and François-Frédéric Guy (a marathon nine-day performance, concluding this Sunday), as well as local versions by Yuliya Gorenman (ongoing at American University) and Anne Koscielny (ongoing at Howard Community College), leading Anne Midgette to ask the question, What do the Beethoven sonatas mean? in the Washington Post. So, it was a helpful way to organize one's thoughts about the Beethoven sonatas to hear Brendel, who has performed the complete cycle himself, quite famously, speak about how he views the contrasts of the sonatas. He spoke of various attempts -- by historians, aesthetic philosophers, and musicians -- to analyze how Beethoven used the different aspects of music (more than just tempo) to tell a story, some more plausible than others. How can one reliably understand what Beethoven's various gestures might mean, especially in so many cases when the composer left no indication of his intentions?
As Brendel sees it, the clues are mostly right there in the scores themselves. He referred to some sources, mostly writings by or attributed to Beethoven, but he also went so far as to dismiss some extra-musical information often treated as reliable, most famously Anton Schindler's recollection that sonata no. 17 (op. 31, no. 2) was best understood in reference to Shakespeare's The Tempest (Tovey and many other historians and later writers led the way in this dismissal of Schindler's interpretations). Brendel spoke of many of the characters he identified in his own interpretation of the sonatas: dancing, singing, speaking, as well as four that he identified with the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth.
Jeffrey Johnson, Pianist Alfred Brendel Gives Master Class On The 'Character In Music' — And His Own (Hartford Courant, November 13)
Timothy Mangan, What makes music beautiful? Alfred Brendel knows (Orange County Register, October 27)
The next event sponsored by Washington Performing Arts Society is the keenly anticipated multimedia concert by Leif Ove Andsnes (November 20, 7:30 pm), combining a performance of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with projected images by South African visual artist Robin Rhode, at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.