Twist my arm, Carol! I'd wanted to bring the same thing up to her, but I didn't want to be presumptuous. Beethoven sonatas are hard. Even the easy ones are hard.
When I was in college, I played the first and second movements of Op. 10, No. 1 in C minor. The plan was to master the third movement (all three, actually) my senior year and play it, along with a few other pieces, for my senior recital. Alas, I had some health issues that year and ended up having to withdraw from my first-semester classes, and then I missed about three weeks of second semester, plus May Term. In the end, I barely had enough hours to graduate on time, much less play a planned senior recital of Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, and more.
That was a bit of a digression, but it's all to say that I do have some experience, however miniscule, in the world of Beethoven sonatas.
So now the question is: Which sonata should I learn?
I asked Carol if there was one she would recommend for me, and she pretty much said, "Nope. Just pick one that you love."
Ah! The choices!
These are the ones that I love and think would be do-able, considering my current skills:
- Op. 2, No. 1 in F minor
- Op. 10, No 1 in C minor (the one I started all those years ago)
- Op. 13 in C minor ("Pathétique")
- Op. 14, No. 2 in G major
Op. 2, No. 1
This was Beethoven's first published sonata. It is, in some ways, a tribute to Mozart, with "quotations" of a sort that hearken to some of Mozart's melodies. At the same time, it has Beethoven's emotional intensity. It's also one of the less-difficult sonatas and could be a good one for me.
Op. 10, No. 1
I loved this sonata when I was learning it, and I still love it. It's tempestuous, it's beautiful, it's challenging, and it's a hell of a lot of fun to play. As with some of the other pieces I'm working on, I have a desire to go back and finish what I started all those years ago. At the same time, I'd like to start something entirely new.
Op. 13 ("Pathétique")
Oh. This one. Pathétique is, hands-down, my favorite of all the Beethoven sonatas. It's also his most popular, so I wondering if I'm being a little cliché in wanting to learn it. Not that I care ... but the thought did cross my mind. This one is the most difficult of the candidates on my list, and, to be honest, I'm downright intimidated by it. This one is on my "Piano Bucket List," and I know I want to work on it someday. Is now the time?
Op. 14 No. 2
This sonata is another of the less-difficult ones, and I'm certain it would be fun. I only know it from listening to it, but there is a great deal of humor in it--not something we typically associate with Beethoven, but there it is. I think this one would be loads of fun to perform.
Who am I kidding? Any one of these treasures would be loads of fun to perform. So which one should I work on? It's a happy decision I'll have to make. At the moment I'm leaning toward Pathétique, with Op. 2, No. 1 and Op. 14, No. 2 neck-and-neck for second and third place, and Op. 10, No. 1 right behind them.
So I guess my decision is: Do I learn an easier sonata as a kind of preparation for Pathétique? Or do I dive right into Pathétique, knowing that my technical and expressive abilities will shoot into the stratosphere as a result of my working on it--even if it takes me a few years to learn it?
I'd really like to play Pathétique. (Is it "Pathétique"? "The Pathétique?") It's on the Bucket List, right there with Liszt's "Liebesträume" and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. I already know the second movement, and the third movement isn't so difficult (I hear). It's really the first one that is most challenging.
And you know, there's no guarantee that I'll be alive even a week from now ... so I think I'm going to go with the Bucket List item. The Pathétique sonata. YOLO, and all that. Stay tuned ... I'll also probably change my mind. At least once.