Earlier this month I made public my goal to be able to play all of the 32 Beethoven Sonatas in about 2 years. With that in mind, I set myself the shorter term goal of learning the last of his Sonatas, op. 111 in C minor, over the month of January. It has not been easy! I am a pretty quick learner at this point - years of leaving things to the last minute have helped me hone my ability to learn fast. But even so, squeezing in the hours around all of my other responsibilities - for example, practicing for other concerts, teaching, taking care of my children, etc. - has been difficult.
But today, on the last day of January, while practicing in a lovely home in Dublin, I played through the entire piece. It is a privilege to know the piece much more intimately than when I started. And it is good to know that while a month of sporadic work has been enough to get the notes in to my fingers, it is nevertheless a piece that will, I'm sure, reveal more and more to me as I live with it longer. In fact this is why I started my Beethoven project with this piece - I am counting on the blessing of time to help me digest this piece more fully.
My students know that I love to say how tired I am of the sound of the piano, which is partially true (but not totally). One of the remarkable things about op. 111 is the way it sounds so unlike a piano piece to me. Perhaps it is fitting that it is his last piano sonata (although several important piano pieces, most notably the "Diabelli" Variations, were written later) as the first movement sounds to me more like a symphony and the second like a string quartet, the genre which seemed especially to captivate Beethoven in his later years. By the time this piece was written Beethoven was, I believe, totally deaf, and he was writing, perhaps, not for the earthly instruments we hear every day, but for the heavenly sounds he could hear in his own mind. It presents the wonderful challenge of creating this palette of colors on the piano.
Now tomorrow, my day is filled with a master class at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, a radio broadcast, and a rehearsal with some old friends (all former winners of the Dublin International Piano Competition) of fun, entertaining music for as many as 8 pianists at once (including arrangements of Flight of the Bumblebee, the William Tell Overture, and "Tea for Two.") It may not be op. 111, but it has its place too!