April 26, 2019

Bravo for Beethoven

In comparing piano composers, Tomoko asserts: “Some composers are harder because they are more complex, such as Beethoven.” In that vein, Tomoko says that choosing pieces by composers should consider the performer’s age; “Beethoven is good for pianists in their 40s because of Beethoven’s depth and mystery.” Tomoko continues: “Beethoven’s music conveys his emotion, which was so strong inside.”

As one would suspect, Tomoko enjoys playing Beethoven compositions. When she performed with violinist Ernestine Riedel Chihuaria, their repertoire included sonatas and duos by Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven. In her CD “Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann,” Tomoko performed Beethoven’s “Fantasia in g minor B flat major, Opus 77.” (1809).

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770 and died in 1827. He was largely influenced by the Viennese classical tradition of Mozart and Haydn, but developed his own individual style that presaged the Romantic era – and has influenced musicians ever since.

At the time that Beethoven composed the above fantasia, he was in his middle heroic period, as his deafness began. More specifically, the year 1809 was sorrowful for Beethoven. France occupied Vienna, where Beethoven was living. His patron Archduke Rudolph and many of the Viennese fled the city. The piece was first published in 1810 in Leipzig and London, and was dedicated to Count Franz von Brunsvik. Beethoven had been enamored with the count’s sister, Josephine, who was a widow with children. While Beethoven wanted to be even closer to Josephine, in 1810 she married a baron instead. During that summer Beethoven wrote this composition, and spent much time with Franz.

As for the style of the composition, it followed in the tradition of the fantasy genre, which started centuries earlier. By the 19th century, this genre implied a sense of freedom and even chaos hiding an underlying structural framework. Thus this piece is sometimes considered a studied improvisation, going through several tempos and meters, never developing a unified theme, but rather using fermatas to indicate different sections. Nevertheless, Beethoven’s composition reveals a coherent if capricious structure.

Surprisingly, this work is not well known nor frequently played. So listeners especially appreciate Tomoko’s performance of this unique composition.