Beth Levin Plays Beethoven’s Last Three Piano Sonatas

Beethoven said that his final three piano sonatas, written between 1820 and 1822, were conceived “in a single breath.”  In April, 2012, pianist Beth Levin gave what has been described as a “revelatory” performance of these three Sonatas (Op. 109, 110, and 111) in the intimate setting of New York’s Faust Harrison Pianos. Luckily, this special concert, performed on an 1887 Steinway, was recorded and released a year later on the Navona label (“A Single Breath: …

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The Queen of the Night: Opera’s Most Deranged Mother?

This weekend as you celebrate Mother’s Day, count your blessings that you aren’t in the predicament faced by Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. In one of the opera’s most recognizable arias, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen“ (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”), Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night, flies into a fit of vengeful rage. Placing a knife in her daughter’s hand, the Queen of the Night tells Pamina …

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Mozart’s Violin Sonata No. 32: Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt

We now have the famous Strinasacchi from Mantua here—a very good violinist. She has much taste and feeling in her playing. I am just now writing a sonata which we will play together in the theatre on Thursday at her benefit concert. Mozart wrote these words in a letter to his father dated April 24, 1784. He referred to Regina Strinasacchi, a young Italian violinist, guitarist, and singer who emerged from Venice’s Ospedale …

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Remembering Soprano Heather Harper

The British operatic soprano Heather Harper passed away on Monday at the age of 88. Born in Belfast, Harper came to international attention when she stepped in at ten days notice for the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral in 1962. (Galina Vishnevskaya, for whom the part was written, was denied permission by Soviet authorities on the grounds that Britten’s work was too “political.”) Harper went on to perform …

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The Marriage of Figaro’s Act II Finale: Mozart’s Dramatic “Tour de Force”

In his book, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Charles Rosen points out the amazing compositional feat that occurs at the end of the second act of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Citing its length (four acts) and “moral gravity,” Rosen considers The Marriage of Figaro to be Mozart’s first great “fusion” of opera buffe (or comic opera) with the dramatic weight and sophistication of opera seria: Mozart’s ability to define character by purely musical means, to write for each of the three sopranos (the Countess, …

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Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 8: Midori at Carnegie Hall

Beethoven’s three Op. 30 Violin Sonatas were completed in the summer of 1802. The fall of that year brought the famous Heiligenstadt Testament, the despairing letter in which Beethoven acknowledged his increasing deafness, his contemplation of suicide, and his ultimate determination to overcome adversity: “I will seize fate by the throat— it will certainly not crush me completely.” We don’t hear any of this psychological turmoil in the sunny Sonata No. 8 in G Major, …

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This Scherzo is No Joke

In Italian, the word “scherzo” means “joke” or “jest.” Theodore Baker’s Schirmer Pronouncing Pocket Manual of Musical Terms (an invaluable resource my first violin teacher recommended to me as a child) defines the musical scherzo as 1. An instrumental piece of a light, piquant, humorous character. 2. A vivacious movement in a symphony, with strongly marked rhythm and sharp and unexpected contrasts in rhythm and harmony; usually the third movement. There are a host of pieces which fit these …

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