Paul Lewis Talks On Beethoven And Brahms: “Music Unaffected By External Sound”


The brilliant British pianist Paul Lewis wrapped up his Australian tour for Musica Viva last weekend with a performance in Sydney of music by Brahms and Beethoven. (Beethoven Piano Sonata no 30 in E major, opus 109 and no 32 in C minor op 111; Brahms Four Ballades opus 10 and Three Intermezzi opus 117.

The reviewers have had their say, so this is not a review of the concert but an account of fascinating insights from the pianist during the concert and the Q and A session after the performance, which has become a welcome feature of many Musica Viva presentations.

Lewis observed that he chose his programme because all four works are “dramatically driven” and end in deep silence, using silence in different ways – to create tension, to lead to resolution and to generate anguish. He described Brahms’ Intemezzi  as some of his most introspective work, as “lullabies to sorrow” and Beethoven’s opus 111, he said contained the theme of relentless energy, yet utter simplicity, describing its ending in silence as the final resolution.” In a reference to Beethoven’s deafness, he referred to these sonatas as “music unaffected by external sound.”

It was fascinating to hear that Lewis considers Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata, the Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106 as the ultimate test and the most difficult piano piece he knows adding that there are some pianos on which he will not play as aspects of their technical action are unhelpful.

During the Q and A session, Paul Lewis was asked how ‘gloomy’ music affected him and his performance. He drew on his experiences of performing Schubert’s Winterreise with British tenor Mark Padmore.  With an abundance of technical matters to consider, he said, he stops himself before he gets to the point where the emotion interferes with the performance.

Listen to Paul Lewis talking to The Guardian’s Tom Service about his project to record all of Beethoven’s sonatas for Harmonia Mundi.



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