Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35 "Funeral March" - Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29, Op. 106 "Hammerklavier"

Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35 "Funeral March" - Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29, Op. 106 "Hammerklavier"

At first glance, Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 and Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata seem an unlikely pairing. “Usually, we tend to see Beethoven and Chopin as very distant composers,” pianist Beatrice Rana tells Apple Music Classical, “and they’re not very close in the imagination of the audience.” In fact, these two Everests of the piano repertoire have a good deal in common, beginning with their tonalities: B-flat Minor and B-flat Major. And each sonata both breaks the mold and, in its third movement, witnesses its composer at his most vulnerable. “The ‘Funeral March’ is one of the most dramatic pieces that Chopin has ever written,” says Rana, “and the Beethoven third movement is really a journey inside Beethoven the man.” Their final movements, meanwhile, are nothing short of revolutionary. Beethoven blazes a path with an incredible extended fugue. Chopin’s fourth movement is unusual, too: “it’s something absolutely unbelievable,” says Rana, “this parallel movement in both hands, just pianissimo for the whole time, like wings. And then we have the shock of the final chord in fortissimo.” Composed in 1818, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29, nicknamed “Hammerklavier,” is Beethoven’s longest and technically most difficult sonata. Its opening movement crashes in with colossal chords that are almost orchestral in scope. Through its 10-minute journey, the movement barely lets up. “It’s very challenging,” says Rana, “and what I like is that this sense of challenge is shared with the audience—it’s such a demanding piece even to listen to. Just to understand what’s happening in the fourth movement is a real sense of a challenge.” Rana is that rarest of pianists—a player with an almost limitless technical ability but with a soul that penetrates deep below the surface. These sorts of musicians don’t come along often, and it’s telling that she was persuaded to record the “Hammerklavier” on account of its profound third movement, rather than its extreme demands. The 18-minute “Adagio sostenuto,” says Rana, contains “one of the most beautiful melodies ever—it’s so pure and so delicate.” Which is unusual for Beethoven as he’s not generally considered to be a melodist. “Beethoven’s melodies are always the development of a certain interval or scale or repetition,” she explains. “If I think of melodies, I think of Chopin, not Beethoven.” But here, something magical happens. “This melody gets developed and developed throughout the movement,” says Rana, “and the more it comes back, the more powerful it becomes—and the more introverted, too. I don’t think there are many other compositions like that in Beethoven’s output.” She brings a similar ethereal, even spiritual quality to the slow movement of Chopin’s Sonata when other pianists have often laden it with a certain portentousness. “I’ve always been inspired by this anecdote of Chopin’s life,” she says. “He was in Majorca and his health was not great. He was performing some of his music, and at some point raised his head up and saw a procession of priests walking in front of the piano. He knew that it was obviously a hallucination, but he stood up and ran away from the piano. For me, I think this detail is very important—there is a sense of hallucination here, and also of detachment from reality that is very important.” And indeed, Chopin’s Sonata, completed in 1839, surely has strong autobiographical overtones—a portrait of a man coming to terms with his mortality, just as Beethoven starts to come to terms with his deafness in the “Hammerklavier.” “Chopin is storytelling from the first note to the last. There is only one chance to listen to the work. You can’t go backwards, and in this sense, I think that this is like life. It’s really a mirror of Chopin’s life at that particular moment.”

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada