Those of you who follow my Twitter (that’s all of you, yes? I thought so!) and were on last night may have been privy to a brief glimpse of my current musical struggle. I am on a mission: to find a recording of the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” piano sonata, marked adagio cantabile, that is both adagio and cantabile.
What I like about Beethoven is his transparency of emotion (at least for me – your mileage may vary, but they don’t call him a bridge to the Romantic era for nothin’). The “Pastoral” is stormy anger, the “Chorale” is sheer joy, and he was even kind enough to label these for us.
The second movement of the “Pathetique” is not so straightforward, but for me it is one of the most poignant pieces the piano has ever known. A “pathetique” is meant to describe passionate sorrow, but Beethoven dabbles in subtlety. His sorrow is pensive, introverted. Rather than railing against misfortune or succumbing to shocked depression, it is a piece that has accepted the inevitability of its defeat. Even that slightly faster, more upbeat modulation is a timid little rally, and is scarcely around for more than a few measures before the return of the main theme.
In short: it’s sad and I love it. Yet I find so many artists take it so fast and so… I don’t know… etude-y. People, this is not an exercise! This is a lingering longing, and should be treated as such. And that’s why I’m having such trouble finding a suitable track.
When I was looking at clips on iTunes, I saw three different versions by Ashkenazi, with lengths of 4:59, 5:00, and 5:02. Does not suggest much variation of feeling to me, and I don’t feel bad saying this because Mr. Ashkenazi is dead and probably does not care what I think (apparently he’s alive in Australia. But probably still does not care what I think). Whoever tuned Artur Schnabel’s piano before he recorded… well, I hope he was fired afterward. Joshua Leeds educated me: I thought it couldn’t go too slow, but I discovered how wrong I was when listening to the clip of his 7:50 performance, with ages between chords. And anyone who is finishing this piece in less than 4:45 – who do you think you are, Secretariat?
I finally thought I’d hit something when listening to a recording by Radu Lupu, but it turns out you have to buy the whole bloody album for it and I’m not prepared for that just yet. And so I ask you, dear reading audience: can you direct me to a slow, sweet second movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique”?