A Life of Beethoven
Many of us know what it's like to be obsessed by a lifelong dream. But few of us, even given the opportunity, would have the tenacity to pursue such an all-consuming passion.
Performed by Michael Arnowitt
At the French Library in Boston
Vermont's Michael Arnowitt, on the other hand, is one man who has taken on the ambitious project of performing all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas.
This, in itself, is not out of the ordinary according to Arnowitt. One pianist performed all of the sonatas in the span of two weekends at Boston's Jordan Hall, and another plowed through them in one weekend. With an average performance time of 30 minutes each that came to 16 hours.
What makes Arnowitt's undertaking so notable is that he is performing each of the sonatas to coincide chronologically with the age Beethoven was when he composed them. As the German composer wrote his last sonata when he was 52 years old, Arnowitt's project is truly a lifelong undertaking.
"I was listening to some of those early sonatas and I noticed that he was about 26 when he composed them, so that was part of my motivation in doing this," said Arnowitt, who is presently 26 years old. "I thought it would be interesting for another reason: Somebody could follow me as I get older and watch my artistic, as well as technical, progress."
A native of Lexington Massachusetts, the Juilliard-trained pianist now lives in Vermont. He has performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra twice and was recognized as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
Arnowitt presented the first installment of the Beethoven cycle Wednesday night at the French Library in Boston, performing the first four sonatas.
The concert began with sonatas No. 1 (Op. 2, #1) and No. 2 (Op. 2, #2) and continued after intermission with sonatas No. 3 (Op. 2, #3) and No. 4 (Op. 7).
Although Arnowitt's technical command of the works was evident from the beginning the performance was almost too controlled and too precise in the first portion of the program. Several crescendo passages in the first and last movements of the first sonata seemed tentative and lacking in the forceful intensity that the listener expected. In addition several of the piano passages were uneven in tone. His rendition of a passage in the Largo appassionata movement of the second sonata, however was breathtaking in its delicate beauty.
Arnowitt's playing became much more emotional and moving through the course of the performance. The pianist's slight build belied the powerful tone that he attained particularly in the latter portion of the concert. The lilting restraint of the Adagio in the third sonata was haunting. The playful Allegro assai revealed the pianist's versatility. But Arnowitt's performance of the fourth sonata proved to be his strongest of the evening both technically and artistically.
The concept of having a performance in the intimate atmosphere of the salonstyle parlor at the French Library lent itself to one of the themes that Arnowitt himself emphasized in the program notes--the intensely personal nature of the works themselves and the private reaction that they arouse within the individual listener. However, the concert was better publicized than the organizers expected, forcing the overflow crowd to stand or sit awkwardly in the antechamber. While this might have been encouraging for the performer, greater consideration should have been given to the audience.
Arnowitt will present the next segment of this series in January 1991. If he continues to impress as he did in this program, the series should be quite a success.