With the present disc we are nearing the end of Beethoven’s so-called Early Period. The three sonatas of Op. 31 were composed in the village of Heiligenstadt outside Vienna during the summer of 1802. This was one of the most difficult periods of the composer’s life, as he was having to resign himself to the increasing deafness that had been plaguing him for some years. He spent a summer of emotional turmoil, as testified by the famous Heiligenstadt testament, a never-to-be-sent letter to his brothers in which he confesses to thoughts of suicide. In the end, Beethoven decided to live, explaining his reasons in the following manner: ‘It was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me.’ Given the circumstances the Op.31 sonatas show surprisingly little of the strong emotions that their maker was experiencing, but in terms of how Beethoven in them forges new roads for the sonata form, bringing it into a new century and indeed a new era, they are ample proof of that which Beethoven must have felt within himself!
Brautigam continues his survey of Beethoven’s piano music on a new instrument, a copy of a Graf 1819 fortepiano, which corresponds to the greater demands in terms of power and dynamics made by works such as the Waldstein and the Appassionata. Beethoven’s middle period began shortly after a personal crisis brought on by the composer’s encroaching deafness, and during it he began to push the borders between free expression and strict form to an even greater extent than previously. In their glowing reviews of previous volumes, many critics have commented precisely on Ronald Brautigam’s ability to bring out the radical aspects of the works. According to the reviewer in The Times, ‘Beethoven the revolutionary comes closer than ever in Brautigam’s fiery interpretations’, and his colleague in Süddeutsche Zeitung agreed: ‘One has almost the impression of being a contemporary of Beethoven’s: one of the first, infinitely startled – not to say shocked – witnesses to this music.’