Bagatelles, Ludes and Loose Change

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Q2 Music welcomes back pianist-in-residence Jed Distler for a month-long investigation of Ludwig van Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas and their far-reaching effects on contemporary keyboard music.

Week Two: "Bagatelles, Ludes and Loose Change" | by Jed Distler

No sonatas today. Instead we'll tour a wide range of short pieces. Beethoven captures the essence of his combative nature in the Bagatelles, Op. 126; they are tender, terse, lyrical, hard-hitting, funny and sometimes melancholy. Riveting ambiguity characterizes stylistically diverse bagatelles by George Tsontakis, Valentin Silvestrov and Franz Liszt from his late years. To me, Frederic Rzewski's first book of Ludes characterizes his ability to "improvise with a pencil," so to speak. And my own Loose Change rounds off the program, a group of ten continuously played miniatures. 

Tuesday presents pieces that incorporate free-flowing fantasy (by Adam Silverman and Andres Posade) and gradually unfold and expand (Alexander Scriabin's Ninth Sonata). The first movement of Beethoven's Sonata opus 109 and the long chains of trills in the third movement variations give that impression (helped by Dame Myra Hess's gorgeous, expansive performance), although we know that the composer keeps a tight structural leash on everything.

For Wednesday, I've prepared an unlikely yet quite plausible playlist of 20th and 21st century pieces that refuse to dislodge from my inner ear, with Beethoven's Sonata Op. 31/3 as the point of axis in an absolutely inspired performance by a young Alfred Brendel. Thursday is all about inward, desolate music, such as the middle movement of Beethoven's Tempest Sonata, which I've placed among Manolis Kalamins' sultry Nocturne, Johannes Brahms' Op. 118/2, "Intermezzo" (ravishingly and subjectively sculpted by Ivo Pogorelich), and if that doesn't chill you out, Alvin Curran's Inner Cities I. 

By contrast, Friday's music is relentless, chatty and packed with notes, yet the textures are full of grit and sinew. Rich and filling, but never fatty; discursive yet never rambling. For this reason it makes perfect -- indeed inevitable -- sense to go directly from Jeffrey Swann's gaunt, unsentimental Beethoven opus 101 Sonata to Anthony Coleman, James P. Johnson and Earl Hines! Sound like demented programming? Trust me, it works!

Monday Playlist | Stream Above On-Demand Starting Monday

Ludwig van Beethoven: Six Bagatelles, Op. 126 - Stephen Kavacevich, piano
Valetin Silvestrov: Bagatelles No. 11 and 12 - Valentin Silvestrov, piano 
Frederic RzewskiLudes: Book One - Frederic Rzewski, piano 
Franz Liszt: Bagatelle sans tonalite - Pedja Muzijevic, piano 
George Tsontakis: Bagatelle - Stephen Gosling, piano 
Jed Distler: Loose Change - Susan Grace, piano