The Definitive Diabellis

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

Week Four: "The Definitive Diabellis" | by Jed Distler

A couple of light-hearted waltzes raise the curtain for Monday's featured work, the 33 Variations On A Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120, which is Ludwig van Beethoven's most ambitious, extensive and far-reaching piano opus. It is a work that not only holds numerous technical challenges, but also requires the utmost in intelligent musicianship and organizational insights. For me, Charles Rosen's beautiful engineered late 1970s recording is one of the stereo era's few unambiguously great Diabelli Variations interpretations, and it never should have been allowed to go out of print!

Brashness through and through dominates our Tuesday program, with Beethoven, Olivier Messiaen and Karen Tanaka jostling for attention. On Wednesday we sandwich Luciano Berio's Sequenza IV between two imposing Russian pianists playing Beethoven: Vladimir Horowitz's undervalued Op. 10/3 and Sviatoslav Richter's inspired live performance of the "Appassionata". More gnarly note spinning on Thursday, beginning with the young Beethoven foaming at the mouth in his Op. 10/1 Sonata in C minor, the gorgeous, whimsical piano and effects processor textures of Elaine Kaplinsky's Umbra, and, finally, Michael Tippett's monumental Fourth Sonata, one of the few 20th century piano sonatas that manages to be spiritually connected to late Beethoven without having to pretend to do so!

My concluding show explores extended techniques (Louis V Vierk's To Stare Astonished At The Sea), alternative keyboards (Gyorgy Ligeti's Etudes for player piano, my own toy piano piece Landscaped For Peter Wyer, and Seth Carlin's terrific Beethoven Op. 28 played on fortepiano), and meditative works from John Cage, Per Norgard and yours truly. Somehow Ned Rorem fits well into this game plan too.

I hope you've enjoyed the programs this month! Let me know what you think in the comments section below.