Although the interpretative analysis of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas undoubtedly
represents an absolute highlight in the life of any pianist, these exceptional
compositions nevertheless require a superb technique, a highly personal commitment
and an in-depth emotional analysis. On the one hand, to quote Hans von Bülow’s
famous statement, the 32 Sonatas represent the “pianist’s New Testament” – which
definitely complies with the emphatic, canonical impetus of the compositions.
On the other hand, however, they can be regarded as an oeuvre in progress,
i.e. with regard to their extremely individual and personal shaping of the
basic model of the sonata.
It is almost impossible to comprehend Beethoven’s achievement in the
creation of his piano sonatas. During the huge span of time between his Op.
2, dating from 1793-95, and his Op. 111, dating from 1821/22, he came up with
no less than 32 “propositions” for compositional solutions, whose
respective differences can be assessed as distinctive and radical. Alfred Brendel
commented on the works: “Beethoven does not repeat himself in his sonatas.
Each work, each movement is a new organism.” Beethoven approached the
sonata form itself as a problem in both composition and technique, in the solution
of which he would not permit himself any repetition – the respective
differences between the thematic material made this an imperative. Consequently,
the piano sonatas became an open forum for Beethoven’s experiments. In
particular, the elements of the creative processes of composition are concentrated
here as if in a burning glass, and can be seen in all their variety. Here,
on his very own instrument – the piano – Beethoven experimented,
discarded and developed his material. He set new standards, which in turn
became the standards for generations to come.
The Sonata in E flat, Op. 7 dates from 1796/97, and was first published in
1797 in Vienna. Beethoven dedicated it to one of his pupils, the Countess
Babette von Keglevich. The work occupies an important position among the
as demonstrated not only by the fact that it possesses its own individual
opus number between the groups Op. 2 and Op. 10, but also by the title. For
first time, Beethoven uses the title Grande Sonata. And Op. 7 is without
a doubt “grand”.
Apart from the Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106, this sonata is the longest
in this genre: besides containing the greatest number of bars, it also takes
time to play. But if one ignores this background – which often detracts
from the understanding of the essence of the composition –, forgets
the rather clueless nickname Der Verliebte, and dedicates oneself to the
then one is presented with the image of a masterpiece which is far ahead
of its time. The Sonata Op. 7 offers a refreshing new starting point for
solution to the problems of the finale. The solution is already to be found
in the immense dimensions of the first movement, which is written in sonata
form: the final movement is no longer capable of outdoing the virtuosity
and the drama of such a first movement. And consequently, Beethoven deploys
another type of finale in his sonata cycle with this gracious rondo. In its
inner tranquillity and lyricism, this finale provides a balance to the motorial
impetus, constantly propelling the music forward, which is so audible at
the beginning of the sonata. In addition to these major innovations in form,
is also worthwhile taking a quick glance at the structure of the first movement.
With his open style of shaping the main theme, Beethoven transferred the
actual thematic-motivic material of the development and presented it already
exposition, thus shifting the basic emphasis within the sonata movement.
The Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 represents the first major peak in Beethoven’s
sonata composition. It dates from 1798/99 and was first published in Vienna
in 1799. The work, which he dedicated to his patron and friend Prince Carl
von Lichnovsky, bears the title “Grande Sonata Pathétique”,
chosen by the composer himself.
In the first movement already, Beethoven enters into absolute no-man’s
land with a 10-bar grave introduction, derived from the tradition of the symphony.
This returns at important cornerstones within the movement – i.e. at
the beginning of the development and before the Coda – and provides
a strong contrast to the pressing and aggressive gesturing of the main part
the Allegro di molto e con brio. This dialectic consists of slow and fast
segments and determines both the structure and the content of the first movement.
a signal, Beethoven links dramatic effects to individual experiences: crashing,
chromatically descending scales, diminished seventh chords and wild octave
tremolos dominate the musical scene.
Following the dramatic beginning of the work, the song-like Adagio offers
both pianist and audience pure relaxation: it is an “oasis of hymnic serenity” (Kinderman)
in the key of A flat.
The lyrical melody soars upwards from the middle to the high register, supported
by a contrapuntal bass line and harmonic swirls.
In the Rondo-Finale, which demonstrates a clear dependency on the main sonata-movement
form, the vacillation between doubt and hope is clearly recognizable, until
an abruptly descending triad energetically and relentlessly wipes away all
The Sonata in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2, is chronologically the last of
the three sonatas recorded here. Together with its sister work in E-flat,
Op. 27 No. 1, it dates from 1800/01 and was first published a year later
Beethoven dedicated the C-sharp minor work to the Countess Giulietta Guicciardi,
whom he greatly admired. Both Op. 27 Sonatas are subtitled “quasi una
fantasia”. Beethoven’s decision to fuse fantasia and sonata here
allowed him to greatly expand the formal structure of the work, while nevertheless
at the same time closely establishing the network between the individual movements.
As does the Sonata in E-flat, Op. 7 discussed above, Beethoven’s so-called “Mondscheinsonate” (=
Moonlight Sonata; Ludwig Rellstab’s title is equally ineradicable and
inappropriate for the work) has the honour of representing a further innovative
approach to his concept of the sonata. The first movement (Adagio sostenuto)
no longer keeps to the main sonata-movement form: it remains a slow movement
with an unusually undecided structure. Whereas during his first creative
phase, Beethoven seeks to provide the first movement with an evenly matched
in the Finale, thus he accepts the challenge here of working out a development
which is oriented towards the Finale.
Continuous quaver triplets on top of octaves in the bass provide support,
and counterbalance the melancholy melody. The open structure demonstrates
it comes to being an improvisation. The middle movement –
a pithy Allegretto – follows on attacca. Franz Liszt described this lyrical
mood piece as a “flower between two abysses”. An intermezzo before
the Presto-Finale – the objective of the entire musical development – makes
its entrance, forging ahead vehemently. In the main key, the broken triads
of the first movement reappear in altered form as aggressive “sound-chains” with
the ensuing blows of the chords. The intensity of expression of this finale
exceeds anything so far written by Beethoven. He constructs a virtually orchestral
sound-world, before concluding the work in apocalyptic fashion with an improvisatory,
Mari Kodama was born in Osaka, Japan and began playing the piano at the age
of three with her mother. Her family moved to Europe when she was six. Eight
years later she entered the Conservatoire National Superieur de Paris aged
14, where she studied piano with Germaine Mounier and chamber music with Genevieve
Joy-Dutilleux. Three years later, she obtained the premier prix and completed
her studies with honours (cycle de perfectionnement) at the age of 19. While
still a student, she won prizes at several international competitions (including
Jeunesse Musicale de Suisse, Viotti - Valsesia, Citta di Senigallia, and F.
Busoni in Bolzano).
After completing her studies, she was immediately invited by the London Philharmonic
Orchestra to play Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3, followed by a recital
at the Southbank Centre. Gramophone reviewed her later recording of this work
under conductor Kent Nagano as follows: "Mari Kodama's tone is beautifully
shaded and she makes a lovely, liquid sound… piano playing of a distinctive
sensitivity…It all adds up to a genuinely fresh, and refreshing view…" Since
then, she has given concerts in Europe, USA, Singapore and Japan, where she
made her orchestral debut in Tokyo under Raymond Leppard in Ravel’s Piano
Concerto in G.
Major orchestras with which Mari Kodama has performed include the Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Halle Orchestra,
Norddeutsche Rundfunk, Dutch Radio Chamber Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, American
Symphony Orchestra and the NHK. She has played under the baton of conductors
such as Charles Dutoit, Frans Brüggen, Raymond Leppard, Kent Nagano, and
Bernhard Klee. She has also performed at the festivals in Salzburg, Evian,
Aix-en-Province, Montpellier, Verbier, Aldeburgh, Ravinia and Aspen, as well
as at the Hollywood Bowl (USA), Midsummer Mozart (USA) and Saito Kinen (Japan)
Her chamber-music activities include concert tours with Mstislav Rostropovich,
and this summer (June 2003) sees the opening of her own festival in San Francisco,
in which she is playing with the Trio Plus from Vienna. Mari Kodama has also
worked with pianists Tatiana Nikolaeva and Alfred Brendel.
Highlights of recent seasons include recitals at Mostly Mozart Festival (Lincoln
Center), the Bard Music Festival (playing Schoenberg) and the Midsummer Mozart
Festival (with Mozart Piano Concertos in San Francisco, Berkeley and Stanford).
In her New York recital debut, Mari Kodama played in Carnegie Hall. She also
performed in the Ravinia Festival’s Rising Stars Series and at the Aspen
Music Festival, and gave concerts with orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic
(at the Hollywood Bowl) and the San Diego Chamber Symphony. In autumn 2000,
she began her second complete Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle in Los Angeles and
Pasadena. The Los Angeles Times reviewed her Beethoven as follows: "She
has an elegant touch, an admirable sense of quality and a rhythmic scrupulousness.
She thinks in keyboard colors and has a rainbow of tints at her disposal. There
is a feline grace to her phrasing. Also feline is the way she will pounce on
a percussive passage -- suddenly, boldly, precisely, as if for the kill --
and from that comes her most dramatic playing. Her tone (…) was rich
“Fine as this well-recorded Beethoven disc sounds
through two speakers, it becomes more vivid and lifelike when experienced
in its full SA-CD multi-channel glory.” --Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
“Kodama (like Kempff, in his more classical manner) rescues this music
from self-parody, and the “Moonlight” is the best thing here:
a real chase through a stormy night on the moor, Brontë style” --Paul Ingram, Fanfare
“Three of the best-known of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas are beautifully
played on this new recording…Kodama easily accommodates the manifold
difficulties of the Appassionata’s finale with clean articulation
and consistent beautiful tone. --Robert Benson, classicalcdreview.com
as on her previous album the Japanese pianist enchants with her vigorous, precise,
rigorously detailed approach which at the same time always shows in a convincing
way the message behind the notes carefully balancing the big lines and beautiful
details…Here we see the ideal mixture of music and technique”. ---Attila Csampai, FONO FORUM