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About this Piece

By convention, the career of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is divided into three periods. The “late” period, the period of the greatest exploration and a profound duality of extroversion and introversion, includes such towering works as the Ninth Symphony, the Missa solemnis, the last five quartets, and the last piano sonatas. Amazingly, some of these pieces were composed simultaneously, fragments of works in progress appearing on the same page of a notebook.

With the final Sonata in C minor, Op.111, we have a summation of the eternally Beethovenian themes of struggle and resolution: a stormy and contentious first movement followed by a second movement consisting of set of variations that moves from serenity to ecstasy and back again to an eternal serenity. This second movement, which Beethoven calls “Arietta. Adagio molto semplice e cantabile,” is an uncanny musical experience, unlike anything in the classical repertory. Beginning with a calm and measured hymn, it transforms itself over the course of three increasingly energetic variations to what our modern ears can only hear as a prophetic intimation of mid-20th century boogie-woogie! And then, just as suddenly, a different vista materializes — one of ineffable celestial stasis. I am always struck, with each hearing, by the way this sonata seems not so much to end, but to open as it recedes.

— Grant Hiroshima