Focus on Beethoven

Introductory Remarks

All lecture recitals share the following common features: Presentation of selected biographical and historical background material Readings from contemporary sources - letters, diaries, journals etc. Discussion of musical structures, compositional techniques emotional content of the work(s). musical examples on the piano.

All musical matters are presented by the pianist. Everything else is the domain of another speaker, preferably an actor or actress.

As a rule the actor begins the evening. At some point the pianist takes over, and from here on the two alternate. In programmes with only one musical work (the Hammerklavier Sonata or Pictures at an Exhibition) the first half of the evening is taken up with discussion, the second devoted to the musical performance. In programmes with more than one musical work, each piece is introduced, discussed and played before the next one is reached.

“My angel, my all, my very self”
Beethoven and the fair sex

“Only love - love alone - has the power to give a happier life – o God – let me finally discover the one who will strengthen me in virtue and lawfully be mine”


The sweets of love and the bond of marriage remained throughout Beethoven’s lifetime an unfulfilled dream. His amorous relationships ended in disappointment, and in one case in a personal tragedy. The identity of “the immortal beloved” remains even today unclear.

Sonata No. 24 in F sharp Major opus 78 (1809)

Dedicated to the Countess Therese von Brunsvik
  1. Adagio cantabile – Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Allegro vivace

Sonata No. 28 in A-Major opus 101 (1816)

dedicated to the Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann
  1. Etwas lebhaft und mit der innigsten Empfindung
    • (Allegretto, ma non troppo)
  2. Lebhaft. Marschmäßig (Vivace alla Marcia)
  3. Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll
    • (Adagio, ma non troppo, con affetto)
  4. Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr, und mit Entschlossenheit
    • (Allegro)

Sonata No. 30 in E-Major opus 109 (1821)

composed for Maximiliane Brentano
  1. Vivace, ma non troppo – Adagio espressivo
  2. Prestissimo
  3. Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung

Die “Diabelli” Variations opus 120

In March of 1819 Anton Diabelli, a young Viennese composer and music publisher, hit upon the idea of inviting fifty of the foremost contemporary Austrian and Hungarian composers to contribute one piano variation each over a waltz freshly composed by Diabelli himself for the purpose. The resulting collective work was expected to boost the reputation both of the publishing house and the individual composers. Having rejected the collective idea as beneath his dignity Beethoven eventually produced a colossal work comprising 33 variations, arguably his greatest single work for the piano. Regarded until the last decades of the 20th century as cold, dauntingly intellectual and abstract, the Diabelli Variations provide endless fascination both in the overall conception and in Beethoven’s extraordinary and loving attention to detail.

Ludwig van Beethoven:

33 Variations over a Waltz by Anton Diabelli opus 120

The Hammerklavier Sonata opus 106

The Hammerklavier Sonata (1817 / 18) is a milestone in the classical piano literature and one of Beethoven’s very greatest works. Not surprisingly it has been subjected to intensive analysis both of form and content. Its composition liberated Beethoven from the paralysing artistic and spiritual crisis of 1812-16 and ushered in the final efflorescence of his genius. The Hammerklavier Sonata is the first of a line of masterpieces dating from the last decade of the composer’s life.

Ludwig van Beethoven:

“Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier” in B-Flat Major opus 106

  1. Allegro
  2. Scherzo: Assai Vivace - Presto – Prestissimo
  3. Adagio Sostenuto: Appassionato e con molto Sentimento
  4. Largo - Allegro Risoluto (Fuga a tre voci, con alcune licenze)

“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy”
The three last Sonatas opus 109, 110 & 111

Represent the final upper storeys of the towering edifice of the 32 piano sonatas. At the time of their composition in Vienna (1820-1822) Beethoven, unmarried, deaf, in bad health, paranoid and irascible, lived with his nephew Karl in a state of indescribable domestic chaos. These unfavourable, external circumstances had little if any effect on the sublimity of the music.

Sonata No. 30 in E-major op 109 (1821)

  1. Vivace, ma non troppo – Adagio espressivo
  2. Prestissimo
  3. Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung

Sonata No. 31 in A flat-Major op. 110 (1822)

  1. Moderato cantabile, molto espressivo
  2. Allegro molto
  3. Adagio, ma non troppo
  4. Fuga: Allegro, ma non troppo

Sonata No. 32 in c-Minor op. 111 (1822)

  1. Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato
  2. Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile

Beethoven and Schumann

Time and again the romantic composers set out to measure themselves against the Titans of the past. Enkindled by Liszt’s plan to errect a monument in Bonn to the memory of Beethoven, Schumann confronted the challenge of the traditional classical sonata form and produced a work not only reminescent of Beethoven but also thoroughly his own, heady, tempestuous and romantic. Entries from his diaries show that Schumann himself was deeply moved by the work. In a letter to Clara Wieck he wrote: “The first movement is probably the most passionate thing I have ever written – a cry of anguish for you.” To the critic Hirschbach he stated that at the time of composition he was convinced that the first movement represented the highest expression of which he was capable. Insights are given into the form of the work and the parallels to Beethoven.

Part 1

Ludwig van Beethoven:

Sonate Nr. 18 Es-Dur op. 31 Nr. 3 (Die Jagd)

  1. Allegro
  2. Scherzo: Allegretto vivace
  3. Menuetto/Trio: Moderato e grazioso
  4. Presto con fuoco

Sonate Nr. 24 Fis-Dur op. 78

  1. Adagio cantabile – Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Allegro vivace


Part 2

Robert Schumann:

Fantasie op. 17 (1836/1838)

  1. Durchaus phantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen
  2. Durchaus energisch
  3. langsam getragen

The “Goldberg” Variations
Johann Sebastian Bach

The historical origins, the overall musical plan and structure, the canons

Masterpieces from the German Romantic Movement

Robert Schumann

The F Sharp Minor Sonata opus 11

Johannes Brahms

Three Intermezzi and Rhapsody opus 119

Franz Schubert

The B Flat Major Sonata D 960

Modeste Mussorgsky
Pictures at an Exhibition

The original paintings of Mussorgsky’s friend Victor Hartmann are quaint, eccentric but essentially harmless, (in marked contrast to the music they inspired). However, the abstract ballet planned and sketched by Wassily Kandinsky during his period at the Bauhaus in Dessau is a work of art in its own right. Little known as it is, it provides a remarkable complementary extention to Mussorgsky’s music.

What about a spot of Schönberg?

The piano music, the theory of harmony, atonality, dodecaphony, the friendship between Schönberg and Kandinsky, their artistic and spiritual affinities, Schönberg’s relationship with the other members of the “Blue Rider” group.


Michael Leslie


Michael Leslie