What is greatness in music? Before we talk about spiritual greatness, let us establish this: The art of music also has a physical size – width, height, circumference, time, density, weight, appearance and expression. When Ludwig van Beethoven announced his B Major Sonata op. 106 as a great one, his greatest, even (before a single note had been written down), he meant everything: No other sonata from his pen is longer, more compact in sound, fingering or compositional technique, no other is more comprehensive in the sense of the genres it contains – symphony, aria, choir, dance, fugue. And yet, it is conceived, explored and taxed entirely from the perspective of the piano: piano sound and piano playing that tests all limits, even the suggestive ones. Written between the final symphonies, it aspires to their public relevance and resonance – but as a piano work, as a statement of the individual.
If Beethoven was interested in the entrance of the piano sound, in “Serynade”, Helmut Lachenmann was interested in how to maintain it, because the sound of the piano volatilises all too soon. It can continue to hold if the musician silently presses keys that corresponds to its overtone spectrum before it is actually played itself; the result are delicate, colourful fields of resonance. You can operate the sustaining pedal which can suspend all or certain intended dampers: The impulse sequences will become blurred, or individual sounds are elevated like sculptures. You can repeat notes or sounds at higher or lower velocity. The “Serynade” demands excellent technique of both hands and pedals – and in the sixth of its seven parts, the entire piece’s culmination – it also demands a virtuoso sensitivity for the inner life of the instrument.
By the way, both great works contain very personal dedications. The one letter in Lachenmann’s work title that diverges from the usual term is the first letter in his wife’s name: Yukiko Sugawara, to whom he dedicated this piece. The first bar of Beethoven’s ovational “Hammerklavier-Sonata” is accompanied with the singing of “Vivat, vivat, Rodolfo”. The composer dedicated his opus 106 to the Archduke Rudolf of Habsburg.
- Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Piano Sonata op. 106 in B flat major (1817/18)
Helmut Lachenmann (*1935)
Music for piano (1997/98)
A Berliner Festspiele/Musikfest Berlin event