Ann Arbor Weather:
Sunday May 31, 2020
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed
EMU professor Joel Schoenhals

Piano Sonatas

The many faces of Beethoven

by arwulf arwulf

From the September, 2015 issue

For the past three years, EMU professor Joel Schoenhals has been trekking his way through Beethoven's thirty-two piano sonatas, performing them free of charge at EMU's historic Pease Auditorium, where the biannual concerts are videotaped and subsequently posted online. While it's wonderful and convenient to be able to revisit the recitals electronically, there is nothing like being there in real time to watch the pianist operate in a state of almost trance-like concentration as he plays each of these complex masterworks entirely from memory.

Schoenhals, who has also revived the old-fashioned practice of giving invitational salon recitals at private homes, feels he can serve his students best through understanding the sonatas as deeply as possible. That means memorizing every note and nuance and performing them often. The series was also inspired by the birth of his son, in line with a decision to travel less and devote more time to working at home. "The thing I like about playing the piano is that I feel so alive," he says. "I'm engaged at all levels--physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. No music has done this for me as much as these sonatas. It's been the best musical experience of my life.

"There are many faces of Beethoven," he says, "from the humorous to the dramatic and tragic, to the sweet and loving, to the searching and struggling." This multifaceted quality is potently present in the three sonatas he will perform on September 18. Heard in succession, they seem to chart Beethoven's personal transformation as he matured into a state enabling him to create the Ninth Symphony, the Diabelli Variations, and the Missa Solemnis. Schoenhals explains that the sonatas were written during a period characterized by epochal changes in politics, rapid musical progress, and revolutionary innovations in the design of the fortepiano (which the composer preferred to call, in German, the Hammerklavier).

Beethoven described his piano sonata no. 27 as a contest between heart and mind. It gives the listener a sense

...continued below...

of trusted intimacy, as if you're hearing the composer think out loud. The rondo feels like a precious gift, warm and roseate as one of Schubert's songs of bittersweet contentment. Sonata no. 28, according to the composer, is a set of impressions and reveries. Exquisite reflections lead to gesticulations, rambunctious outbursts, and sections phrased like solidly constructed explanations of great meaning; sunlight breaks through, and the orchard is filled with chattering birds. No. 29 is a panoramic landscape, big as the world and far as the eye can see. During its slow movement, you may find yourself sitting with Beethoven in a clearing filled with lichen, Alpine dianthus, and white spurge, resting your bones after hiking several kilometers through the vineyards south of Vienna to the mineral baths at Moedling, and up into the hills through stands of black pines where dappled sunlight dances in the wind. Beethoven doesn't say a word. It is clear that he has much on his mind.     (end of article)

[Originally published in September, 2015.]


Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

Photo: Volunteers for Operation Facemask at work on Spring Street, community action in a crisis
Today's Events
Pittsfield's Historian
When Ed Wall lost his sight, he found a new calling.
Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
The Vindication of Roger Newton
He changed the city's history with Lipitor. Now he's scored again with a drug Pfizer rejected.
Ken Garber
Restaurants with Delivery Available
A clickable zoomable map
Abuse, Assault, and Domestic Violence
Social Services and Support Groups
Chain of Command II
The firing of city administrator Howard Lazarus was timely for police chief Mike Cox.
James Leonard
Classes, Seminars, and Workshops
Zwerdling-Darling block on East Liberty
I Spy: April 2020
Sally Bjork
Request for Cover-19 survivor stories
Te Ann Arbor Observer is hiring an administrative assistant
Vicki's Wash and Wear Haircuts