Jeffrey Siegel is an acclaimed pianist, but he is also an incredible storyteller. His concert series, aptly named Keyboard Conversations, combines his technically brilliant performance of classical pieces with a verbal performance of the stories behind them. I don't know what stories he will choose to tell in his November 16th concert, A Beethoven Bonanza. But since I'm more a storyteller and less a pianist (okay, me and piano match like peanut butter and figs), I'm going to give predicting Siegel's stories a shot.
If I were telling the story of Sonata Opus 31, No. 3, I would begin with its date. It was performed in 1802, right after Beethoven started to lose his hearing. Yet, is it said, "a playful jocularity is maintained throughout [...] earning it the occasional nickname of The Hunt." Really? Why? I've got a few guesses.
The first is that this Sonata is an attempt to indicate to the world and to himself that his hearing, and his future as a pianist, is just fine, thank you very much. But I have a sneaking suspicion that he knew something was wrong. How could he not, when hearing was the most important thing to him besides his hands? The Sonata takes on a new life, one characterized by a desperate, frenzied attempt to convince himself and his audience that nothing is, in fact, wrong. That raises the stakes a bit, doesn't it?
It's worth noting that Siegel's second piece, Sonata Pathetique Opus 13, was written at around the same time as Sonata Opus 31, No. 3. Instead of being "jocular," this work is described as "tragic and fiery." It reminds me of the Dylan Thomas Poem, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night. Here's a verse:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Except it isn't old age against which this Sonata rages; it's the reality that a brilliant pianist's hearing is being ruthlessly taken away.
Sonata Opus 109 is described as transcendent with good reason; it was written after deafness had engulfed the composer. What I think is important about this one is "its divergence from the norms of sonata form and for its harmonic, formal and other innovations, or even revolutions." It is as though Beethoven is saying, "Never heard of a deaf pianist? Well I've never heard of this kind of a Sonata. And I'm gonna play it to prove that it, and I, are great in our acts of revolution."
Jeffrey Siegel performs these pieces at the Wisconsin Union Theater on November 16 at 7:30 pm. Don't miss this opportunity to hear the stories behind the music.