If, as aged piano pedagogues aver, Bach’s forty-eight preludes and fugues are the Old Testament of the solo piano repertoire and Beethoven’s thirty-two sonatas are its New Testament, then Beethoven’s thirty-seven miscellaneous pieces for solo piano are its Apocrypha, those hidden and occult texts that didn’t make the final cut.
That antique analogy holds up to a point–how many listeners know Beethoven’s rondo nicknamed “Rage over a Lost Penny” or his variations on “Rule Britannia”–but only up to a point. Because as well known as his “Moonlight,” “Appassionata,” and “Tempest” sonatas are, surely Beethoven’s greatest hit for solo piano is the bagatelle nicknamed “Für Elise.” And it could as easily be said that the Andante favori, the Waldstein sonata’s excised slow movement, is his most beautiful single work for solo piano, while the vast Diabelli Variations is his greatest single work for solo piano. Indeed, it could be argued that the rest of Beethoven’s solo piano works might well contain some of the best of Beethoven’s solo piano works.
Louis Nagel, a mature but by no means aged piano pedagogue at the U-M School of Music, aims to make that point with two concerts at the Kerrytown Concert House on July 8 and 11, which he’s billed as “The Other Beethoven.” Virtuoso that he is, Nagel has picked some choice knuckle-busters, including the magnificent Fifteen Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme–called the Eroica Variations because the composer took them as the basis for the finale of his mighty Eroica Symphony–along with the Six Bagatelles Opus 126, the composer’s final works for solo piano, as well as a host of other works including, of course, “Für Elise.”
For fans of the pianist, no more need be said. But for those who don’t know him yet–and where have you been since he moved to town forty years ago?—Louis Nagel’s got a pearly tone, a subtle touch, a brilliant technique, a firm grasp of form, a robust sense of rhythm, a lovely way of spinning out a phrase for maximum lyrical effectiveness, and a deft way of balancing lines so that every strand is clear. On top of that, the guy is a knowledgeable and witty raconteur, a talent he displays at each performance in his trademark commentary between pieces, as well as in two free lectures on Beethoven on July 7 and 10, also at the Kerrytown Concert House.