February 20, 2015 @ 8:00 pm America/Los Angeles Timezone
MCASD Sherwood Auditorium
700 Prospect Street
La Jolla, CA 92037
$80 | $55 | $30

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Sir András Schiff, piano

La Jolla Music Society welcomes world-renowned and critically-acclaimed pianist, conductor, pedagogue and lecturer, Sir András Schiff. This program of “Last Sonatas” features the third-to-last piano sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

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HAYDNSonata No. 60 in C Major, Hob.XVI:50
BEETHOVENSonata in E Major, Opus 109
MOZARTSonata in C Major, K. 545
SCHUBERTSonata in C Minor, D. 958

Click here to view the complete Season 46, Program Book (February-March)

PROGRAM NOTES: Sir András Schiff, piano

by Eric Bromberger


The concept for this concert grew out of a curious coincidence in the careers of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. All four of these composers wrote three piano sonatas late in their lives. Haydn wrote a set of three large-scale sonatas during his final visit to London, perhaps inspired by the powerful English pianos he encountered there. Beethoven wrote his final three piano sonatas (Opp. 109-11) during the years 1821-22, just as he was emerging from a long fallow period. Those three sonatas initiated–in fact, helped define–what we know as his Late Style. Schubert wrote three massive piano sonatas all at once in September 1828. He was ill as he wrote them, and he died just two months later. The situation is more complex with Mozart: he wrote his final three piano sonatas over the space of about one year, though they were composed separately and do not form a discrete group.

On this recital Sir András Schiff performs the first of each of these four composers’ final three sonatas. These are the next-to next-to last sonatas of each of the four, their antepenultimate piano sonatas.

Piano Sonata in C Major, Hob.XVI:50
Born March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Austria
Died May 31, 1809, Vienna

Haydn’s approximately sixty keyboard sonatas are almost unknown to general audiences, who are daunted by their sheer number and more readily drawn to the famous nineteenth-century piano sonatas that followed. Yet there is some very fine music here indeed. The Sonata in C Major is one of a set of three he composed in London in 1794 and dedicated to pianist Therese Jansen, presumably with her talents in mind. Everyone notes the full sonority of these sonatas, but this has been explained in different ways. Some believe that these sonatas consciously echo the sound of the series of grand symphonies Haydn was then writing for London orchestras. Others have felt that the brilliance of these sonatas is the best evidence of Therese Jansen’s abilities, while still others explain it as a sign that the English fortepianos were much more powerful than the instruments Haydn was used to in Vienna.

Whatever the reason, Haydn’s Sonata in C Major rings with a splendid sound. The opening Allegro is full of forthright energy. The initial pattern of three notes repeats throughout: it is sounded tentatively at first, then quickly repeated in full chords. Haydn plays this pattern out with great energy and brilliance across the span of a fairly lengthy movement (more than half the length of the entire sonata).

The central movement is an expressive Adagio in abbreviated sonata form whose main subject is built around the rolled chords heard at the very beginning. The concluding Allegro molto, barely two minutes long, is full of high comedy. It feels like a very fast waltz that starts and stops and modulates throughout, as if the composer cannot quite make up his mind how he wants it to go. Haydn of course knows exactly how he wants it to go, and this lurching, stumbling dance should leave us all laughing.

Piano Sonata in E Major, Opus 109
Born December 16, 1770, Bonn
Died March 26, 1827, Vienna

The years 1813-1821 were exceptionally trying for Beethoven. Not only was he having financial difficulties, but this was also the period of his bitter legal struggle for custody of his nephew Karl. Under these stresses, and with the added burden of ill health, Beethoven virtually ceased composing. Where the previous two decades had seen a great outpouring of music, now his creative powers flickered and were nearly extinguished; in 1817, for example, he composed almost nothing. To be sure, there was an occasional major work–the Hammerklavier Sonata occupied him throughout all of 1818–but it was not until 1820 that he put his troubles, both personal and creative, behind him and was able to marshal new energy as a composer.

When this energy returned, Beethoven took on several massive new projects, beginning work on the Missa Solemnis and making sketches for the Ninth Symphony. And by the end of May 1820 he had promised to write three piano sonatas for the Berlin publisher Adolph Martin Schlesinger. Although Beethoven claimed that he wrote these three sonatas–his final piano sonatas–“in one breath,” their composition was actually spread out over a longer period than he expected when he committed himself to write them–he completed the Sonata in E Major immediately, but ill health postponed the other two.

The Vivace, ma non troppo of the Sonata in E Major opens with a smoothly-flowing theme that is brought to a sudden halt after only nine bars, and Beethoven introduces his second subject at a much slower tempo: Adagio espressivo. But after only eight measure at the slower tempo, he returns to his opening theme and tempo. The entire movement is based not on the traditional exposition and development of themes of the classical sonata movement but on the contrast between these two radically different tempos. Also remarkable is this movement’s concision: it lasts barely four minutes.

The Prestissimo that follows is somewhat more traditional–it is a scherzo in sonata form, full of the familiar Beethovenian power, with explosive accents and a rugged second theme. But once again, the surprise is how focused the music is: this movement lasts two minutes.

It was often characteristic of the music Beethoven’s heroic period that the first movements carried the emotional weight, as did the opening movements of the Eroica and the Fifth Symphony. But in the Sonata in E Major, the opening two movements combined last barely six minutes, not even half the length of the final movement, and this final movement ultimately becomes the emotional center of the sonata.

The Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo is a theme and six variations, followed by a repetition of the opening theme. The form is not remarkable, but the variations themselves are. In his youth Beethoven had made much of his reputation as a virtuoso pianist, and one of his specialties had been the ability to sit at the keyboard and extemporize variations on a given theme. The variation form as he developed it in his late period is much different from the virtuoso variations he had written in his youth. This set of variations is not so much a decoration of the original theme as it is a sustained organic growth in which each variation seems to develop from what has gone before. The theme itself is of the greatest dignity, and to Beethoven’s marking in Italian–molto cantabile ed espressivo–he further specifies in German Gesangvoll mit innigster Empfindung: “Singing with the deepest feeling.” Curiously, Beethoven never changes keys in this movement–the theme and all six variations remain in E major–and despite the wealth of invention and the contrasts generated by the different variations, the mood remains one of the most rapt expressiveness, perfectly summarized by the restatement of the original theme at the sonata’s close.

The Sonata in E Major is dedicated to Maximiliana Brentano, the daughter of Antonie Brentano, whom recent scholarship has identified as Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved.”

Piano Sonata in C Major, K.545
Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg
Died December 5, 1791, Vienna

One of the “miracles” of Mozart was his ability to separate so completely the details of his personal life from his art, and there are few better examples of this division than this charming piano sonata. It comes from one of the darkest moments in the composer’s life, the summer of 1788, when–beset by financial problems–he moved his family to a cheap apartment in the suburbs of Vienna and appealed to friends for financial help. Working at white heat during that awful summer, Mozart composed his final three symphonies, but he wrote other music that summer as well, including the Piano Sonata in C Major. The manuscript for this sonata is dated June 26, 1788, the same day that saw the completion of the Symphony No. 39. Three days later, Mozart’s infant daughter Theresia died at the age of six months.

That symphony shows no trace of the pain in Mozart’s personal life, and neither does this sparkling little sonata, which Mozart called Eine kleine Klaviersonate fur Anfanger: “A Little Piano Sonata for Beginners.” Only ten minutes long and clearly written for the use of his piano students, the sonata is in an “easy” key. But C major is also a key that called forth some of Mozart’s greatest music, and this gentle sonata glows with that same bright C-major spirit. The opening Allegro is a miniature sonata-form movement with two themes built on beautifully-balanced phrases. A quick minor-key development leads to the close on the little fanfare that marked the end of the exposition. In the G-major Andante Mozart simply develops one theme, built on graceful turns; the theme may become more elaborate as it is varied, but at no point does it lose the poise of its first statement. The concluding Allegretto is a rondo that begins with the two hands in canon. Even with a minor-key episode along the way, the movement lasts barely a minute and a half.

Mozart the man and Mozart the composer were two separate people, and he observed that division carefully. From the depths of one of the worst moments of his life, Mozart could think of his students and produce for them a sonata that would be fun to play and that would delight audiences two centuries later.

Piano Sonata in C Minor, D.958
Born January 31, 1797, Vienna
Died November 19, 1828, Vienna

The year 1828 was both a miracle and a disaster for Schubert. The miracle lay in the level of his creativity: he completed his “Great” Symphony in C Major and several works for piano duet during the winter and spring, the Mass in E-flat Major over the summer, three piano sonatas in September, and the Cello Quintet in October. The disaster, of course, was his health. Never fully well after a year-long illness in the 1822-23, Schubert went into sudden decline in the fall and died suddenly in November at age 31. Yet even at that age (an age at which Beethoven and Haydn were virtually unknown), Schubert had achieved an artistic maturity that makes the works of his final year among the most remarkable and moving in all of music.

Schubert began work on the Piano Sonata in C Minor on September 1, though evidence suggests that he was working from sketches made as long as a year earlier. Everyone feels the influence of Beethoven on this sonata; Schubert’s biographer John Reed believes that he was consciously trying to assume the mantle of Beethoven (who had died the previous year), and certainly the choice of key, the dramatic gestures, and the character of the thematic material suggest the older composer.

The beginning of the Allegro resounds with echoes of Beethoven, both in the emphatic opening chords and in the muttering, nervous main theme. Yet quickly this theme turns serene and flowing, reminding us to value this sonata as the music of Schubert rather than searching for resemblances to other composers. The chordal second subject is pure Schubert, and the extended development–built around the collision of these quite different kinds of music–brings a great deal of emotional variety. It also takes the pianist to the extreme ends of the keyboard before the (quite Beethovenian) close on a quiet C minor chord.

The Adagio, with its elegant, measured main theme, has also reminded many of that earlier master. Schubert marks the opening sempre ligato, yet with its fermatas and pauses and pounding triplets this movement too brings a range of expression. The Menuetto seems at first more conventional: the initial statement of the main theme is in octaves in the right hand, and soon Schubert is inserting one-measure rests that catch us by surprise as they break the music’s flow. The finale begins as what seems a conventional tarantella, yet it is remarkable for its rhythmic and harmonic variety. Throughout this extended movement, Schubert maintains the expected 6/8 meter of the tarantella, yet he accents that meter with such variety that the pulse sometimes feels completely different. Similarly, he moves with graceful freedom through a range of unexpected keys, including B major and C-sharp minor, so that this movement–while long–seems to be constantly evolving, right up to the two thunderous concluding chords.

Pre-concert lecture hosted by Steven Cassedy.

What’s ‘Late’ about ‘Late Beethoven’? Part I – Beethoven’s so-called “late period” piano sonatas were written as the composer left his forties and moved into his fifties, when he had some years left of living and composing. Are they truly as different from the sonatas of his “middle period” as they are often claimed to be?

Andras Schiff Sir András Schiff is world-renowned and critically acclaimed as a pianist, conductor, pedagogue and lecturer. Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1953, he started piano lessons at age five with Elisabeth Vadász. He continued his musical studies at the Ferenc Liszt Academy with Professor Pál Kadosa, György Kurtág and Ferenc Rados, and in London with George Malcolm.

Having recently completed The Bach Project throughout the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 concert seasons, North America prepares for The Last Sonatas, a series of three recitals comprising the final three sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. The Last Sonatas takes place over the course of the next two seasons with the complete series slated for New York’s Carnegie Hall, San Francisco’s Symphony Hall, Los Angeles’s Disney Hall, Chicago’s Symphony Hall, Washington Performing Arts’ Strathmore Hall, The Vancouver Recital Society and University Musical Society of The University of Michigan. Further recitals are scheduled in Napa, La Jolla, Santa Fe, Scottsdale and Kansas City. In October 2015, the San Francisco Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic host this versatile artist in a series of concerts with orchestra and chorus – Sir András’s first performances in North America on the podium and at the piano with chorus, orchestra and soloists.

In his role as lecturer, Sir András Schiff has put together a round table forum to be presented on December 17 by New York’s 92nd Street Y, addressing the pianist’s belief that it is the responsibility of every politically-informed artist to speak out against racial injustice and persecution. Violinist Gidon Kremer and author David Grossman join the dialogue. As pedagogue, he partners with 92Y and SubCulture for “Sir András Schiff Selects: Young Pianists” – a three-concert series in February & March curated by Sir András and introducing rising young pianists Kwouk-Wai Lo, Roman Rabinovich and Adam Golka.

Sir András Schiff has established a prolific discography, and since 1997 has been an exclusive artist for ECM New Series and its producer, Manfred Eicher. Recordings for ECM include the complete solo piano music of Beethoven and Janácek, two solo albums of Schumann piano pieces, his second recordings of the Bach Partitas and Goldberg Variations, The Well Tempered Clavier, Books I and II and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations recorded on two instruments: a Bechstein from 1921 and an original fortepiano from Vienna 1820 – the place and time of the composition. The pianist recently completed a recording in July at Beethovenhaus, Bonn on the Franz Brodmann Fortepiano used also for the Diabelli album. The all-Schubert disc featuring Sonata in B (D960), Sonata in G (D894), Moments Musicaux (D780) and the Impromptus will be released in spring 2015.

Orchestral engagements find Sir András Schiff performing mainly as both conductor and soloist. In 1999 he created his own chamber orchestra, the Cappella Andrea Barca, which consists of international soloists, chamber musicians and friends. He also works every year with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

Since childhood he has enjoyed playing chamber music, and from 1989 until 1998 was Artistic Director of the internationally praised "Musiktage Mondsee" chamber music festival near Salzburg. In 1995, together with Heinz Holliger, he founded the "Ittinger Pfingstkonzerte" in Kartause Ittingen, Switzerland. In 1998 he started a similar series, entitled "Homage to Palladio" at the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. From 2004 to 2007 he was Artist in Residence of the Kunstfest Weimar. In the 2007-8 season, he was Pianist in Residence of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Sir András Schiff has been awarded numerous international prizes and his relationship with publisher G Henle continues over the next few years with a joint edition of Mozart’s piano concertos and both volumes ofThe Well-Tempered Clavier. He is an Honorary Member of the Beethoven House in Bonn in recognition of his interpretations of Beethoven’s works, has received the Wigmore Hall Medal in appreciation of 30 years of music-making at Wigmore Hall, the Schumann Prize awarded by the city of Zwickau, the Golden Mozart-Medaille by the International Stiftung Mozarteum, the Order pour le mérite for Sciences and Arts, the Grosse Verdienstkreuz mit Stern der Bundesrepublik Deutschland and was made a Member of Honour of Vienna Konzerthaus. He was given The Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal, has been made a Special Supernumerary Fellow of Balliol College (Oxford, UK), and received honorary degrees from Leeds University and Music Schools in Budapest, Detmold and Munich. In the spring of 2011 Sir András Schiff attracted attention because of his opposition to the alarming political development in Hungary, and in view of the ensuing attacks on him from some Hungarian Nationalists decided not to perform again in his home country.

In June 2014, he was awarded a Knighthood by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the 2014 Birthday Honours.

András Schiff last performed for La Jolla Music Society with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Celebrity Orchestra Series on November 17, 2000.

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