Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Beethoven + Schnabel = Incredible Deal

BeethovenArtur Schnabel

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t call this blog Bargain Basement Classical.  Nevertheless…

I’ve talked in the past about Artur Schnabel, one of the great pianists of the early 20th century.

How would you like to hear him play the Beethoven piano sonatas for $2.19?

Amazon currently has an album of Schnabel playing the piano sonatas (except, inexplicably, #31), plus the Fantasia in G Minor and Für Elise thrown in for good measure.

You may need to download the Amazon music player, but I find it innocuous, and if you’re an iTunes user, you can have it download your music directly into iTunes.  Your music can also be made available in the cloud for listening wherever.  And yes, there’s an app for that.

Here’s the link to the Amazon listing.

For the audiophiles out there, the sound quality is good.  While some old recordings show their age badly, these are ok.  Listen to a snippet on the website, you can see for yourself.

$2.19 for 101 tracks, people.  Schnabel.  Beethoven.  What more can I say?

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Where To Begin with Beethoven

Beethoven

Pianist Artur Schnabel compared Beethoven’s work to a mountain range:  vast, imposing, with infinite pathways to explore.

So where do you start with Beethoven?  Here’s my suggestion.

Coursera.org has a free, go-at-your-own-pace, on-demand set of lectures, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.  The series is sponsored by the Curtis Institute of Music and hosted by renowned pianist Jonathan Biss.  Before he even gets to Beethoven, Biss gives an overview of the state of music in Bach’s time and in the time of Haydn and Mozart, so you have a background to understanding the environment in which Beethoven wrote.  He then explains the sonata form.  Even if you have little to no musical background, you should be fairly comfortable with the material, which is presented in a lively and interesting manner.

The lectures then move into the various periods of Beethoven’s sonata writing, with ample and engaging illustrative samplings of the works.  The course includes notes and lists of resources, and one can stream sonatas discussed in the course, performed by Jonathan Biss.

I took this course and learned a great deal about the sonatas and Beethoven (as well as Bach, Haydn, and Mozart).  I gained a deeper understanding of the music, and could enjoy and appreciate it more as a result of taking the course.

Biss is currently in the middle of a nine-year project to record all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.  Some are already available.  He has also published Amazon “singles” (short books) on Beethoven and Schumann, which I have read and enjoyed (see the recordings and books here).

I had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Biss after a performance some time ago.  After I introduced myself as one of his “Courserians,” he began to talk enthusiastically about the course, and told me that he planned to augment the course with lectures devoted to individual sonatas (he has).  It was clear he was happy to bring Beethoven to a wider audience, which was already evident in his lectures.  That wider audience is now in excess of 100,000 students from 160 countries!

So go to Coursera, sign up for a free account, and start exploring Beethoven’s sonatas.  While you’re there, you’ll also find an on-demand course on the string quartet (also brought to you by the Curtis Institute of Music) and a variety of other courses on music and many other subjects.   A course on the rudiments of music will start up 3 August 2015.  And keep an eye out for Write Like Mozart, a fantastic course on composition (sadly, not currently available).

Which is your favorite Beethoven sonata?  If you don’t have one yet, that’s ok—you will soon!


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Thursday-ish Quote of the Week

I couldn’t resist posting this.

The Guardian publishes a series called “Facing the Music,” in which “Classical performers tell us about the music in their lives.”  The performers answer a set of questions, and it is very interesting to read their responses, and to compare the answers of different performers.  In a recent “Facing the Music” article, conductor Jan Latham-Koenig provided his answers, including the anecdote below.

The following quote is reproduced with the kind permission of The Guardian.  Guardian News & Media Ltd. hold the copyright to this material.

How many recordings of the Goldberg Variations do you own? Do you have a favourite?
“I have one and a half recordings of the Goldberg variations. The Glenn Gould, which is still marvellous in its own way, but the other one is essentially excerpts from a piano roll made by Rudolf Serkin in 1928. I was alerted to this performance by an extraordinary story I heard about a recital of Serkin in Berlin around that time. As an encore, he decided to play the entire Goldberg Variations, with repeats. After each variation, members of the audience left the hall, until by the end there were only two people left. When Serkin finally finished, he bowed to the two and recognised them. One was Artur Schnabel and the other Albert Einstein. It is as if the desire to hear this work live even at the end of a long recital was only totally present in geniuses on the same level as Serkin himself!”

I think you’ll find the full article devoted to Mr. Latham-Koenig, as well as the entire series, fascinating.  Do check them out!

Click here to read the entire article “Facing the Music:  Jan Latham-Koenig”

Click here to see the entire “Facing the Music” series.


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Throwback Thursday Quote — Artur Schnabel

“Mozart is a garden; Schubert is a forest — in sunlight and shadow; Beethoven is a mountain range.”

Artur Schnabel

Artur Schnabel (1882-1951) was one of the great pianists of the early 20th century.  He is particularly known for his performances of Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven.  He was also a composer and teacher.

Here is Schnabel playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 1 in F Minor, Op. 2 No 1.