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Thirty-two sonatas a day

Julian Jacobson's Beethoven marathon


Not only a remarkable achievement of stamina, memory and dexterity, Julian Jacobson's Beethoven Marathon -- a performance of all Beethoven's thirty two piano sonatas in a single day -- was also an exhilarating, if slightly eccentric, artistic experience, for both performer and audience. The amazing Marathon on 17 October 2004 attracted a select yet enthusiastic gathering to the colourful acoustics of Elliot Hall, Harrow Arts Centre in the UK, sponsored by the Bond Street Boutique, Pinner. The event was in support of the West House and Heath Robinson Museum Trust, the charity of the Mayor of Harrow, who was present for the final concert, alongside several audience members who had stayed the course for the entire day.

One has become accustomed to hearing all the Beethoven sonatas in a cycle over several different concerts, but the notion of combining them back to back seemed entirely apt in this age of charity marathons. Julian Jacobson, a Professor at the Royal College of Music and experienced concert and broadcasting artist, described the idea of performing all of Beethoven's thirty-two piano sonatas in a single day, as 'insane', but also a means of allowing the listener an unique perspective on the style development across Beethoven's entire career, a powerful and persuasive aesthetic experience. In that sense it is interesting that none of the 'great interpreters', such as Schnabel or Barenboim, had ever tried it, and all the more reason to celebrate Jacobson's achievement.

Julian Jacobson
Julian Jacobson

This was in addition Jacobson's second such marathon, the first last year was in aid of Water Aid, at St James's Piccadilly in London. On this second occasion the thirty two sonatas, some ten hours of music, were divided up into four successive recitals. The two morning concerts comprised eight sonatas each, the first devoted to the first decade in Vienna, up to the Pathetique, while the second concert included the Moonlight and the first Op 31 sonata. The third recital, which I was fortunate to attend, began with the dramatic Op 31 No 2 in D minor, the embodiment of the 'new path' of Beethoven's middle period, and concluded with Op 90 in E minor, from the experimental period in between middle and late styles. The final concert began with Op 101 and included the Hammerklavier and three last sonatas.

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Copyright © 23 October 2004 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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