[music] So, today’s lecture will be on the hurricane that is Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 57, the so-called “Appassionata.” It is, famously, not an easy piece to play, and it’s not a particularly easy piece to talk about either. This is partially on account of it being complex and mysterious, but a major source of the difficulty is the work’s massive popularity. The Appassionata entered the repertoire and the public imagination very quickly, and it has never left. Beethoven declared it his favorite among the 23 sonatas he’d already written. The first complete performance of the 32 sonatas came only late in the 19th century – Hans von Bülow was the pianist. But as early as 1838, when the great pianist Clara Wieck, later wife to Schumann and muse to Brahms, when she made her Viennese debut, it was the Appassionata that gave her her greatest success. In the 20th century, it was part of the performance repertoire of nearly every pianist of note, and it features in most of their discographies, as well. Just last year, at the piano auditions for the Curtis Institute, in this very room, there were about 120 applicants. Each was required to play a sonata by Beethoven or Mozart, of their own choosing; over 35 of them chose the Appassionata. To an only slightly lesser extent than the 5th Symphony, there is a myth around the Appassionata Sonata, and it’s a real struggle, when listening to a performance, to hear the piece and not the myth. As listeners to music, we are, all of us, very suggestible: we tend to hear what we expect to hear, and the stronger the expectations, the more likely this is to be the case. So when listening to the Appassionata, or when playing it, or analyzing it, the main task is to bring open ears – to reverse the curse of ubiquity, and to try to hear it as if for the first time. It is in that spirit that I would like to approach it now. One of the reasons, I think, that the Appassionata has so captivated audiences, is its unrelentingly tragic nature – its remorselessness. Beethoven wrote a great many pieces that begin in tragic mode, but there are surprisingly few that end up there as well. He very often wrote pieces with an anguish-to-triumph arc, like the 5th Symphony and the 9th Symphony. There are other pieces which don’t end in triumph, but still have a darkness-to-light narrative; you know the Sonata Opus 111 is a particularly magnificent example of that. Then there are pieces like the Kreutzer Sonata, which sheds its intensity in its last movement, replacing it with playfulness, even frivolity. And finally, there are quite a number of minor key pieces with misterioso endings, like the early C minor Piano Trio, or the A minor Violin Sonata. In all of these cases, the terror that defines the work’s opening ultimately morphs into something very different. So really, you can count on one hand the pieces with the kind of merciless quality one finds in the Appasionata, pieces which remain dark to the bitter end – bitter being the operative word. There is the Sonata Opus 27, Number 2, the ill-named “Moonlight,” but that piece is so formally experimental, it’s really a bit of a one-off, and anyway, it doesn’t have nearly the scope of the Appasionata – for one thing, it’s only about two-thirds as long. Then there's the C minor Violin Sonata Opus 30, Number 2; but while its last movement has a similarly terrifying coda, it can’t begin to match the Appassionata in terms of the depth of the drama. In some ways, the piece that comes closest to it is the extraordinary String Quartet Opus 131, whose last movement has a similar kind of controlled fury, which is then truly unleashed near the end. But even in this case, at the very last moment, the music shifts into the major mode. It’s not exactly light, but there’s a hint of compromise, which is not a quality one would ever associate with the end of the Appassionata. There is one piece that is a proper analogue to the Appassionata in terms of its start-to-finish darkness, and that is the E minor String Quartet, Opus 59, Number 2. The two pieces were written around the same time, and I strongly recommend you listen to it. First of all, it is one of the great works of the middle period, with one of Beethoven’s really most glorious slow movements. But it also truly is a close cousin of the Appassionata, and therefore it should be of interest to any student of the piece. The two pieces share one very vital detail, which I’ll get into shortly. But again, what really binds them, and distinguishes them from most of Beethoven’s music, is their journey from black to blacker still. The finale of the quartet has, in its rhythm, and its suggestion of a major mode, just a hint of jauntiness about it, which is nowhere to be found in the sonata, but both works end in a way that can only be described as a descent into hell.