I chose to play a program of Beethoven Sonatas for the concert in memory of Dino Ciani because this repertoire is frequently associated with the artist. A few years before his tragic death, in fact, he performed the complete cycle of 32 Beethoven Sonatas at the “Unione Musicale” in Turin. He may have been the first Italian to have done this after Buosni and surely he was the youngest to have done so. There are some live recordings of this cycle on CD which are a testament to how great of a Beethoven interpreter this young artist really was.
The first of the two Sonatas in the program – Op. 109 – is one of the last three Sonatas, composed in 1820 – 22, during a break from the creation of the Missa Solemnis. We are clearly in what is commonly referred to as the “Third Period” of Beethoven. The composer is by now completely deaf, and has completely given up on the idea of marriage and of a “normal” life. His deafness, however, was not a limitation for Beethoven. In fact, the almost absolute isolation somehow liberated his imagination and fantasy and brought him to a very personalized and highly spiritual vision of the human condition, in a creative world with an internal beauty and profundity that might be considered as one of the most unique in the history of art.
There are no more enormous conflicts, the immense dramatic tension, the heroism of the “Second Period”, that of the more popular image of Beethoven. Even the irresistible impetus of the musical narrative is gone: in the first movement of Op. 109, the line is often interrupted with big passages of great contrast, as if the composer himself were continually being hit by new beautiful possibilities. The Finale is in a form that Beethoven uses often during this last Period: the Theme with Variations. The Theme, with a choral character, reminds us of the devotional spirit of the Missa Solemnis, but the Variations bring us into new and unpredictable worlds. At the end, we come back to the Theme: by experiencing all the adventures that we have gone through, we rediscover it even more beautiful, more magical than before.
The other Sonata in the program is the famous “Waldstein” Sontata, Op. 53: this title refers to Beethoven’s dedication to Count Waldstein, the patron who gave him a very generous scholarship which allowed him, as a young man, to move to Vienna and study with Haydn. The year of composition is 1804, the same year as the Eroica, which was a critical year in the life of the composer. In 1802, Beethoven had suffered the most severe crisis of his life: the desperation of realizing that he would one day become deaf drove him nearly to suicide. But from that abyss was born a strong will to live. One of his most famous quotes from this time period is, “No, I will not give up, I will take Destiny by the throat and I will win”. The fruit of this experience is an extraordinary creative explosion: from 1804 to 1806 Beethoven composed, on top of the Eroica and the Waldstein, the opera Fidelio, the “Appassionata” Sonata, the Rasumovski quartets, the Violin Concerto, the 4th Piano Concerto and the Fourth and the Fifth Symphonies, among many other masterpieces. The Waldstein is a typical piece from this magical moment, mostly for its indefatigable energy, a narrative dramatic tension that always carries us forward, from the first note to the last, like a gripping novel grips that can’t be put down, always new and surprising, yet at the same time inevitable.