Igor Levit plays Beethoven (3 of 8)
The 32 piano sonatas in 8 concerts
Citizen – European – pianist. These concepts not only characterise Igor Levit as a public figure, but also as an artist. For him, art and society are by no means separate spheres. And he will follow this credo in his interpretations of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, which he will perform on eight separate evenings at Musikfest Berlin 2020.
Igor Levit’s history with Beethoven began 18 years ago, when the then 14-year-old first heard the “Missa solemnis” and found himself overwhelmed. Shortly afterwards, he studied one of the first sonatas by Beethoven, which was to stay with him for several years. In 2010, he undertook to perform and record all the sonatas – he had already caused quite a stir with a sensational interpretation of the “Diabelli Variations”. He finalised the complete recordings of the sonatas in 2019. In 2020, he will present these 32 pieces at the Berlin Philharmonie as part of the capital’s Musikfest.
The sonatas encompass a creative period of around a quarter of a century. Their composition began at a time when Beethoven was a celebrated piano virtuoso in Vienna – although what he truly wanted was to be recognised as a composer – and ended after the death of the woman who was perhaps his “Immortal Beloved”, in the midst of his work on the “Missa solemnis”. Beethoven covered the entire cosmos of what appeared conceivable in sonatas at the time, from the “easy” pieces, which he adapted to the taste and playing ability of their recipients, to the bold works that pushed the established limits, such as the “Hammerklavier”- or the final Sonata in C minor. Levit does not play the sonatas in the chronological order of their creation: Instead, he juxtaposes pieces of a different type from various periods of Beethoven’s work, creating pairs that have a contrast-rich relationship with each other. He wants to establish dialogues rather than a catalogue. They demand a common foundation but also, above all, evident differences. This enhances the clarity of contours and, thus, the eloquence of Beethoven’s music.
Pianist Igor Levit has been involved with Beethoven’s sonatas for more than half his life-time. Involved? This may be too weak a word. The sonatas occupy and challenge him; he struggles with them – mentally, spiritually, physically. Music means an existential experience and exertion to Levit, an unconditional commitment of the self to this communication with the written work, to this coaxing of its secrets. He does not see himself as a Beethoven-specialist. His musical interests range from Bach and his era to contemporaries of quite different styles. He pays no attention to the approbatory documents of the so-called classical music scene. Each performer, he says, is responsible for what they play, how they play it and how they contextualise it. However, it is also part of this responsibility to follow one’s path to the end. This is what Igor Levit is currently accomplishing with his complete performances of all Beethoven’s sonata.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Sonata No. 5 in C minor op. 10,1 (1795/96)
Sonata No. 19 in G minor op. 49,1 (1797)
Sonata No. 20 in G major op. 49,2 (1776)
Sonata No. 22 in F major op. 54 (1804)
Sonata No. 23 in F minor op. 57 “Appassionata” (1804/05)