Beginning to Take on Beethoven’s “Tempest”

Two days ago, I began listening very seriously to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 17, Op. 31, No. 2 (“The Tempest”) I’m going to play it, although right now, it’s kicking up quite a storm of doubt because there are a lot of technical things it will inevitably teach me.

Before, when I heard something, I’d think, “Oh, I want to play that,” and off I’d go, without much consideration of what lay ahead until I ran smack into some challenge at the keyboard I didn’t have the equipment to handle. Then, I’d jury-rig something to pull myself through.

Not a good method, especially if the goal is improving as a player to the highest level possible.

So this time, probably spurred on by the lessons and deep discussions I’ve been having lately regarding the art of piano-playing, I listened several times at a really intense level and consciously thought, “How will I do this?”.

Two-note slurs and shaping phrases by using wrist motion; broken octaves; the overall tone quality demanded to create the contrasts between those rich, sonorous bass chords (distant thunder?) and bell-like single notes in the treble (scattered raindrops?). Say what you want about romanticizing it and making it more programmatic than I should. But if the ideas make it so the technical aspects become automatic and I have nothing to worry about except interpretation, musicality and expressiveness, then who cares?

Opus 31 contains three sonatas. The first, in G Major, doesn’t do all that much for me. It reminds me too much of Mozart, who wrote inarguably beautiful music but, at least by my lights, wasn’t quite as emotionally involved as composers of later generations.

What I really want to play is the third sonata of the set, in E-Flat Major. But it’s even more technically demanding than No. 2, and I’m no fool. If I want to learn something instead of just making circles at the same level I’ve been at, then I’ll call “The Tempest” a stepping-stone. In moments of upcoming frustration, I may be calling it something else altogether, but this morning, the Braille score is sitting on my music rack, beckoning me.

The lessons begin …

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