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Jeff Spurgeon: In New York City, there are lots of ways to get to Carnegie Hall, a subway, a taxi, a walk down 57th Street. You've just found another way to get to America's most famous home for classical music. Welcome to Carnegie Hall Live, the broadcast series that gives you a front-row seat to concerts by some of the greatest artists in the world and you hear the performances exactly as they happen. You are part of the audience sharing the experience of music-making at Carnegie Hall. I'm Jeff Spurgeon. With me tonight is my WQXR colleague Elliott Forrest. Hey.
Elliot Forrest: Hey, good to be here, Jeff. On this broadcast, we'll hear the celebrated pianist András Schiff, in recital playing music by four giants, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. One Sonata from each of those composers. Schiff's choices for this recital are very interesting, and we'll share with you what he told us about them but they are all among the last piano Sonatas these composers wrote. The recital begins in just a couple of minutes.
Jeff: Carnegie Hall Live is a partnership between WQXR and Carnegie Hall and is distributed by the WFMT radio network. Carnegie Hall Live is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, art works. Pianist András Schiff is one of the most renowned keyboard players of our time, and a lot of words have been written about him.
Reviewer Richard Scheinen in the San Jose Mercury News describes him this way, "Among current piano Titans, András Schiff is the Zen master, both utterly relaxed and absolutely awake. Those qualities add up to an unbreakable focus. His playing his window clear. Listening to Schiff play is like looking into a running stream and seeing all the colorful round pebbles beneath the water."
Those words of critic Richard Scheinen might be a useful point to orient your listening by in this concert. Not the only possible point, but a good one.
Elliot: These days András Schiff, who since last year is now Sir András Schiff, by the way, is playing late sonatas of the four great keyboard composers featured tonight. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. It's a famous last word series. The sonatas in this concert aren't necessarily the very last piano sonatas of these composers but pretty close.
Jeff: András Schiff told us this concept program idea comes from years of programming recitals of Beethoven and Schubert sonatas. The late works of one of them go together well, but not those of the other.
András: Having played the last three Beethoven sonatas very often together as a group, that's a wonderful program. On the other hand, the three Schubert sonatas are, in my opinion, as sublime as they are, but to play them together is not a good idea. I wanted to come back to the late Schubert sonatas method, how would it be best to present them and so I thought, why not combine them with Beethoven, and also with Haydn and Mozart to lighten the atmosphere.
Jeff: In the first half of this concert, some lighter Hyden and heavier Beethoven. In the second half, lighter Mozart and heavier Schubert. The recital opens with one of the more than five dozen keyboard sonatas written by Joseph Haydn. The Sonata no. 50 is in the happiest of all key signatures, C Major, and the gentle wit of Hyden runs through the whole thing. András Schiff talked with us about Haydn's musical sense of humor, but Schiff says there is much more to this piece.
András: I think it's a very deep sonata. It's a profound sonata. The second movement is pure philosophy but there are incredibly poetic passages. Haydn is a great, great master of humor. In the first moment, it starts in a very funny manner, just a three-note motif, tim pum pum, and the whole movement based on that. Humor is a very subtle and very profound category.
Elliott: It's a serious business, humor.
András: Humor is serious business, yes. As Mark Twain said, "A German joke is no laughing matter." That's why he had such a success in England much more than in his home. The English do like humor. When I play Haydn in London today, then the audience don't mind to laugh loud and also in the United States but don't expect that in Germany. Nobody will even smile.
Jeff: This sonata just might be the very last one Haydn wrote. He composed this and two other sonatas in the last years of the 18th century, during his second stay in London. Compared with the Beethoven sonata that will follow, this Haydn work sounds beautiful and simple, but as Schiff just told you, there's depth in the work as well. The second work on the program is part of a final set of three, like the Haydn that we'll hear in the beginning, but following the Haydn will be one of Beethoven's final three sonatas that are another matter entirely. They are Beethoven, the mystic.
We're going to hear the Piano Sonata No. 30, Opus 109. Sir András Schiff told us this is his very favorite Beethoven sonata. He's been playing it since his teens. Schiff has said that the first movement is ambiguous and mysterious. He told us that he understands the entire sonata more and more as the years go by.
András: Beethoven of all composers needs a lot of time. After 50 years, I must say I do understand it better. Somehow, it's more coherent, and the longer you spend with these masterworks the wider horizon you see.
Elliot: You also said that the best response to this sonata, the Opus 109 is silence. Has an audience ever obliged your wish for that?
András: Yes, more and more but that also shows that maybe I'm playing it better. What's particular about this sonata is that it doesn't begin. It comes from somewhere. Similarly, the last movement, like the Goldberg Variations, it's in a circular form. Starts with the theme, and then there are six variations and then the theme is repeated and the circle is closed. After that silence, you just keep your hands on the keys and hope that nobody will move, and sometimes it happens and it's a wonderful experience.
Jeff: Pianist András Schiff talking about the Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 30. In his work, Beethoven breaks the usual sonata rules in a number of ways. The first movement opens gently like maybe a running brook, the second movement begins furiously. Those things alone upset the typical sonata form of strong first movement and gentle second movement. The second movement is marked Ataka, meaning no pause between the first and second chapters of the story.
The third movement is a set of six variations. The last variation builds and builds to a big dark Beethoven climax and then the Sonata ends as gently as the final aria in Bach's Goldberg Variations. This recital once again will open with a late sonata by Joseph Haydn and continue with a late sonata by Beethoven. In the second half, we'll hear Mozart and Schubert. Now you'll hear very warm applause for one of the most beloved pianists on the concert circuit today, Sir András Schiff. This Carnegie Hall Live recital opens with a piano sonata by Joseph Haydn.
The Zen master of the piano, Sir András Schiff with Haydn's Piano Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI/50. Now on to Beethoven.
Elliott: We'll hear the Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Opus 109 of Beethoven, from pianist András Schiff on Carnegie Hall Live.
Jeff: Sir András Schiff just took us on a flight into another world, outer space isn't quite a big enough place for where Beethoven takes us in his Piano Sonata No. 30, the Opus 109. The audience really hung on to stay in that space at the end too except for a few people who, well, had to cough. You're hearing this concert coming to you from Carnegie Hall Live. I'm Jeff Spurgeon. My colleague Elliott Forrest is beside me here.
Elliott: It's so great to hear a recital from a true master. These sonatas we're hearing tonight starting off with Haydn and Beethoven and later Mozart, Schubert. Obviously, the audience really loving the fact that he's at the top of his craft.
Elliot: Another curtain call. This is one of those moments when the audience did honor Sir András's wish that only silence follows this sonata and so he did. He kept his hands on the keyboard and even the coughing finally stopped. The audience wanted to stay in that special place.
We've reached intermission of this Carnegie Hall concert by Sir András Schiff, who's playing some of the last piano sonatas by four great composers. We've heard music by Haydn and Beethoven. Still to come are Mozart and Schubert. The Mozart perhaps one of the most familiar pieces to piano students. We'll hear it played by a master. We'll also hear about András Schiff's complicated relationship with his native country. This is Carnegie Hall Live.
Listeners: András Schiff, the piano.
Speaker 1: We haven't seen him but we've heard of him, he's my favorite pianist.
Speaker 2: He's great pianist we never, never miss.
Speaker 3: András Schiff. What else?
Speaker 4: I mean, the prodigies play the notes, but there's nothing there. 12-year-olds can play the notes. Why would I be interested?
Speaker 5: I want to listen to Schiff play Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.
Speaker 6: Very classical against the lush 109 of Beethoven, coming back to Mozart beautiful simple child sonata, and then going from there to the Schubert, with all that romanticism.
Speaker 7: He's a clean musician. He's also humanitarian, which comes through in his music-making as well. The audience just gasps at the generosity of Mr. Schiff.
Speaker 8: It is transcendent, and you are able to play it, whether you're five years old or 85 years old.
Speaker 9: He's very, very good, very tasteful. No flamboyancy.
Speaker 10: There's no flash. He doesn't have to be a pop star. He doesn't look the part and I don't think he wants to be the part.
Speaker 11: Just watching him is a good lecture on betaling. I'm waiting to see what encores he puts with it. When I saw Schiff I was thinking all Bach but this is really going to be intriguing.
Jeff: Those are some of the voices of some of the people who've come to Carnegie Hall in New York City to hear Sir András Schiff play the piano. Carnegie Hall Live is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, art works. I'm Jeff Spurgeon, one of the voices bringing you this broadcast from Carnegie Hall Live, the other voice sharing the microphones tonight, my colleague at WQXR. Elliott Forrest.
Elliot: It's so great to hear those voices of those people in the lobby here tonight. 12-year-olds can play the notes. That's true. Jeff, you spoke with András Schiff yesterday about tonight's concert. How did you find him? What's he like?
Jeff: He's very reserved, he's extremely quiet. He's soft-spoken, he has a particular kind of reserve. You can hear it in his play, there's a real warmth, but it's very quiet. His wit is subtle and quiet. He's a very gentle man, and he has a certain kind of old-world style which I've known from a few people really of a generation before him. He has it too. It's a real sense of class, and he's a pleasure to be around. Very soft-spoken till you put him in front of a piano.
Elliot: The critic had said that he was a Zen master playing. Did you find it in his person as well?
Jeff: I wouldn't say that. He's just very quiet. He's very quiet. He unleashes his power when he gets to the keyboard, I think. He's had an unusual relationship, András Schiff has with his home country of Hungary. He left there in 1979, went back to see family and friends, and perform on occasion. His mother died almost five years ago, and since then he has had no desire to return to his homeland and to its troubled politics.
András: There are signs of fascism in Hungary, I would go that far. Extreme nationalism, extreme racism, extreme antisemitism, lack of freedom of the press, of the media, radio and television and newspapers under their control. I don't want to go back. To me, it's not even enough if they change their government which won't happen in an instant. The trouble is that the people have elected this government for the second time.
It's a little bit a lack of character. They go with the wind. Yesterday we were fascists, then we were communists for a while. We were liberal, and now we are moving towards the right. They are the very same people and they change costumes, but always stay on top. I don't like that.
Jeff: Are you comfortable then being, as artists of your rank are, a citizen of the world? Where do you then feel most at home?
András: Yes, a citizen of the world, or cosmopolitan actually. Cosmopolitan is like a swear word in Hungary today. Yes, I would like to feel at home in Hungary but, actually, although I love the language and the culture and the literature, but as a Jew you are not at home in Hungary. I know how many people feel about them. I'm at home anywhere where there is humanity and where there is culture and when there is art and a common sense of values.
Jeff: András Schiff from a conversation I had with him yesterday. Schiff's recital began with music that only professionals or accomplished amateurs can play but the second half of this concert you're hearing from Carnegie Hall Live begins with something played by a lot of children who studied classical piano. Mozart Sonata No. 16. This is an easy sonata, but in the hands of Sir András Schiff, it could be something quite else.
This is one of the last three sonatas that Mozart wrote. It's not necessarily an artistic pinnacle. Mozart wasn't planning to finish writing. He marked this as an easy sonata for beginners. András Schiff told me yesterday that it's easy for children but very hard for adults. He said only when you become a really seasoned artist, and he suggested a pianist of say age 90, are you able to play this little Sonata No. 16 easily. He said between 14 and 90, it's difficult. Schiff is 61. By his definition, he's going to play a hard sonata but I have a feeling we're going to hear a very, very special performance of Mozart's K.545. Sir András Schiff settling down to play Mozart from Carnegie Hall Live.
Jeff: The Sonata facile of Mozart. Sonata No. 16 played by Sir András Schiff. Our Carnegie Hall Live recital resumes with the final work on the program which changes the mood completely. It will be Schubert's. Schubert wrote this sonata in the last year of his very young life in 1828. Here is András Schiff and Schubert on Carnegie Hall Live.
Jeff: One of the darkest pieces in Schubert's-- One of his last three sonatas, written in the last year of his life. The Piano Sonata in C Minor D.958, played by Sir András Schiff, and coming to you from Carnegie Hall Live. I'm Jeff Spurgeon in the broadcast booth with my colleague Elliott Forrest, that's a wild ride, isn't it? That piece.
Elliot: A lone pianist taking center stage at Carnegie Hall, taking us on this musical journey. Many of us have been here before with 100 performers or more. Just a lone canister in this particular case with four sonatas. The term sonata really comes from the Latin, meaning to sound it really means as opposed to being sung. It's a vague term but nothing vague about the four sonatas we heard tonight, Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert.
Jeff: András Schiff has made one curtain call already for this very enthusiastic Carnegie Hall audience. Wow, that Schubert is a piece.
Elliot: What an amazing composer, only lived 31 years. Imagine all the output in 31 small years. 600 songs, symphonies, chamber music, and then these final sonatas, some very complex, frankly in some spots, some confusing works with the abrupt changes, which Schiff told me, he thinks of it in the terms of being film edits. You just cut the scene and go somewhere else. András Schiff back on stage, we have an encore.
Pianist András Schiff, live here at Carnegie Hall. Schubert's Hungarian Melody in B Minor. An encore on this concert tonight on Carnegie Hall Live. I'm Elliott Forrest with Jeff Spurgeon, who has now found his way backstage. Jeff, how poignant it is since we know András Schiff from Hungary says he'll never return to his home country and here he is playing this Hungarian melody.
Jeff: Yes, and it's a sweet melody too, wistful and had a little bit of that gallop in it leftover from that Schubert's sonata, that little dance, that little galop continued.
Elliott: András Schiff on stage taking a bow and then coming your way, exiting stage right here at Carnegie Hall.
We've heard four works tonight on this program before the encores, Haydn Piano Sonata in C, the Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 30, after the intermission, Mozart's Piano Sonata in C, and then Schubert's Piano Sonata, and another encore from András Schiff.
Elliot: An explosive audience for an encore of pianist András Schiff from Carnegie Hall Live, Schubert E-flat Impromptu Op. 90 No. 2. The second encore here at this performance from András Schiff from Carnegie Hall Live. Elliot Forrest up in the broadcast booth with Jeff Spurgeon backstage.
Jeff: It's not usual to hear that Impromptu pushed to that point, but he really did it and it really went straight into the audience, You could tell they wanted to take that ride with András Schiff in that work. He loved the amusing air quotes here "wrong notes in the piece, he really loved leaning on those two making the most of it. It was a roller-coaster which that piece doesn't necessarily have to be. Schiff took it that way. There are so many ideas that can flow out of him at the same time.
Elliott: Jeff, another encore from pianist András Schiff.
Elliott: Beethoven's Bagatelle Op. 126 No. 4 performed by pianist András Schiff on Carnegie Hall Live. A third encore in this concert featuring pianist András Schiff. Elliott Forrest with Jeff Spurgeon, who's backstage.
Jeff: Another little Beethoven and another piece that echoed some of the sounds we've heard in the rest of this concert tonight. A couple of abrupt changes, a little sense of galloping in the music and a Bagatelle, [unintelligible 00:23:46] Bagatelle with real fury of it.
Elliott: As you know, Jeff, we've been live chatting all night. Many listeners have been listening and leaving comments, someone with the handle, Paul's Piano wrote, "Schiff's distinct style and amazing technique derives from the fact that he has 12 fingers and eight additional muscles in his hands that no other human beings have."
I'm sure that's exactly true, but it just sounds like it.
Jeff: It surely can. He has an amazing control over the keyboard. To watch Schiff stop the music by lifting his hands from the keys, at the end of the piece or in the midst of it, is done with such deliberation and care, as much deliberation and care as some pianist bring to the attack, to playing the note he brings to releasing it.
Elliott: András Schiff with both his hands over his heart, bowing to the audience who are on their feet for this concert tonight. Again, starting off with Haydn, then Beethoven, Mozart, then Schubert. A full evening of sonatas featuring pianist András Schiff.
Jeff: An amazing adventure that we've been given tonight courtesy of this amazing Hungarian pianist. Now I'm thrilled to say that Sir András Schiff is going to take a moment to talk to us here at Carnegie Hall, for our microphone's backstage. After a program like this maestro., Schiff, I have to imagine that there is a competition between great fatigue and great excitement. You've given so much but the music gives you so much back. Do you go back to your dressing room and see a few people and then collapse on the floor, or are you agitated after a work like this?
András: More agitated. Of course, it's not a physical exhaustion, it's an emotional and intellectual. I give everything but the tiredness actually comes the morning after.
Jeff: It's the next day that the repair begins.
András: Yes, the day after.
Jeff: We had a couple of people ask what piano you chose for this work? It's not one of the house pianos here at Carnegie Hall.
András: Not a house piano but it's from Steinway's, from what used to be 57th Street, unfortunately, no longer. It's a Humburg piano that I like very much.
Jeff: You were looking for a particular kind of, well voicing isn't quite the right word, but a particular kind of action in the piano to play this music.
András: Yes, the sound and the action too, but I use this for my Beethoven cycle, for my Bachcycle, I'm just used to it.
Jeff: It's your friend in New York.
András: It's a very kind piano.
Jeff: That Schubert sonata is such a powerful adventure. It is like a movie and at the end, it feels almost like hallucinations are happening. He's just going through all these emotional textures, it's a wild, wild ride. It's a bigger ride than a Beethoven, isn't it?
András: It's visionary, and the hallucinations is the right word. It's a depressive piece. It's very scary. I always get goose pimples when I hear it and when I play it. When I first heard this, I was very young and Richter played it in Budapest. I almost had a heart attack. I was very young.
Jeff: It's not music for children, that's for sure.
András: No, no, no, absolutely not.
Jeff: Maestro Schiff, thank you so much. Congratulations on a recital that has thrilled the audience in the house here at Carnegie Hall and so many listeners who are hearing the program. Thanks for spending a little time with us afterward.
András: Thank you very much for recording it and thank you for listening.
Jeff: It's just wonderful. We know you have a lot of people who want your time as well, so thank you very much.
A few minutes with Sir András Schiff after a recital at Carnegie Hall, concluding a program that included last sonatas by Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert, and no fewer than three Encores.
Our great thanks to Sir András Schiff. Thank you as well to Clive Gillinson and the staff of Carnegie Hall. WQXR's recording engineers are Edward Haber, Rick Kwan, Bill Moss, and Noriko Okabe.
The radio producers are Eileen Delahunty and Aaron Dalton. Margaret Kelly is our stage manager and Christine Herskovitz, is our project manager.
Carnegie Hall Live is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts on the firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional support is provided in part by the Howard Gillman Foundation and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council.
Carnegie Hall Live is a production of WQXR in New York.
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