“The older I get, I realize that this is not just one of the greatest sonatas of Beethoven, but it’s one of the greatest pieces of music there is.” Andras Schiff
Beethoven composed the Waldstein Sonata, Op. 53 in 1804, the same year he wrote the Eroica Symphony. It takes its name from its dedication to Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, Beethoven’s friend and sponsor early in his creative life.
I came to know this piece many years ago, early in my enthusiasm for classical music. One of my first records was the Angel “Great Recordings of the Century” LP featuring Artur Schnabel playing this sonata, as well as Op. 54 and Op. 57 (the “Appassionata”).
From 2004 to 2006, the renowned pianist Andras Shiff, whose comment about this sonata appears at the top of this post, gave a series of lecture-recitals devoted to all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas at London’s Wigmore Hall. The entire series is available on YouTube, and should be an invaluable resource for pianists. If you would like to hear Schiff’s thoughts about the Waldstein, you can hear that particular lecture here.
Several years ago, while listening to a performance of this sonata late one night on Seattle’s KING-FM, I was struck by the thought that the main theme of the third movement (which makes its first appearance in this video at 15:48) sounded amazingly like Schubert. I even looked up the date of composition to see if Beethoven might possibly have been influenced by Schubert when he wrote it. (He wasn’t; Schubert was only seven when this sonata was written. The influence, if any, was in the opposite direction.) Does this theme remind anyone else of Schubert? Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.
This video features the legendary Russian pianist Emil Gilels (1916 – 1985), whom I have featured twice before on this blog in short works by Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. Although best known for his interpretations of large-scale works like the “Waldstein”, Gilels had a wonderful gift for the more intimate repertory as well, one which is especially evident in his recordings of Grieg’s “Lyric Pieces”, another favorite of mine and also available on YouTube.