Saturday, July 10

Artur Pizarro talks about Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110 on BBC Radio 3

Listen to the interview and the performance here on Real Player.

BBC: So on now to Beethoven's penultimate piano sonata Opus 110 in A Flat Major. Like the work we've just heard it's in three movements and once more there are certain surprises in terms of overall design with the last movement giving the impression of a slow movement and fugueal finale combined. Another surprise is the expression mark that Beethoven gives to the first movement, con amabilità, "with love." I spoke to Artur Pizarro during the break in his rehearsal today and asked him to explain his response to that unusual music direction.

Pizarro: It very much puts the key signature into perspective with that A flat major, it's wonderful ... It brings out the incredibly lyrical element of this movement and you know sort of blows the theory that a lot of people have that Beethoven wasn't very good at melodies ... ha ha blows that theory sky high. It's such a human sonata, it's so much about human condition, it's so much about love and struggle and death and rebirth that to have "with love" from the beginning really to me very importantly puts me in the right mood.

It is a very very loving, very nurturing, very generous piece musically, technically, actually, believe it or not, everything feels very good in the hands and above all I think, philosophically, it's very motherly in the sense of love and tenderness and worrying about what happens, in this case, to Man with a capital M.

BBC: So would you say this is one sonata that does take quite a lot of maturity to approach successfully?

Pizarro: Yeah, maturity not so much in the sense of chronological age, but in the sense of you have to have lived and loved and sometimes lost rather badly to get this sonata.

BBC: Well the scherzo also seems very characteristic of Beethoven with this rather brusque question and answer type of theme. Is that quite exciting to play?

Pizarro: Very. Very. Because it's very much not a ha- ha scherzo, it's scherzo with a bite even when you get to the second or third page and you have the slightly more playful side of it. It's still very pointy. And it's still very driven. It's an "I'm gonna scherzo if it kills me" kind of scherzo, ha ha yeah, and it reinvigorates you after the first movement. It sort of brings the blood to a slight boil so you can handle the scope of what's going to come next

BBC: And it's what happens next when things become quite structurally interesting because the finale feels like two movements rolled into one. Can you just guide us through what happens?

Pizarro: Well, you have the first arioso which is very interesting, being a very tearful melody which seems to come to a conclusion, and it's very much a lament all the way from the gut of the human being, and you think you've gotten to the end of it and this amazing, mind boggling, fugue begins.

When you get to the place where the fugue would invert, back comes this arioso, which ... if you make up your own story, if you have your own program, basically you confront death. What's interesting about the arioso the second time, is where the first time you had long phrases, and you have long slurs, the second time everything is broken up ...

And he puts "with pain and dying," so to me, having saying "pain and dying" and mentioning death, and having little rests everywhere, and the slurs are never more than 2 or 3 notes long, and it feels, literally, physically, like last gasps, then you have this amazing fugue coming back inverted, which to me, implies this path of physical decay has now come to an end, with the fugue and the arioso where you die, and you are then slowly being taken towards rebirth ...

And that happens towards the end of that fugue where you're back in the key of A flat major, and you're growing, and you're moving forward, and you end in the apotheosis of the big huge coda after the big huge arpeggio ... So it's about the most sort of cosmic, spiritual, religious, philosophical sonata that's readily graspable. I mean, it's so powerful at all levels ...