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Don't get too excited over the new Beethoven piano sonata being premiered Sunday

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Martin Oei playing outdoors in Grachten this past August.

On Sunday afternoon, young Dutch pianist Martin Oei will play the world premiere of a “lost” piano sonata by Beethoven at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. (UPDATE: Video clip from premiere below.)

Dutch musicologist Cees Nieuwenhuizen has reconstructed this “Fantasy Sonata” from the approximately 600 sketches and fragments of all sorts of possible pieces (including a 10th symphony) left behind by Beethoven. These particular sketches predate the 32 published sonatas, and are from the Kafka Sketchbook, a collection of his early manuscripts from youth in Bonn and first years in Vienna. (The collection was purchased by the British Museum in 1875).

Niewenhuizen writes in the preface to to his reconstruction that scholars have known about the first movement since 1961. The piece begins in a combination of D major and minor, and dates from 1793. There are 1,100 bars of music that can be gathered together for this piece, a solid framework on which Niewenhuizen could build.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I’ve just finished playing through the piece.

I am a huge fan of Beethoven’s work, and have never been bored by anything he wrote. But I had to stop and will myself to go further several times over this clunky, repetitive and frequently physically awkward piece, which goes on and on and on.

The first movement sounds like Beethoven, but feels in the hands like a piano reduction for something symphonic, not a piece written specifically for the piano.

The rest of the piece feels more like something a pianist would play, but the variations here are pale shadows of Beethoven’s best work.

As is the case when trumpets proclaim the discovery of a new old piece of music, there may be many good reasons why a composer chose to not share it.

I don’t think Sunday’s recital (or the follow-up concerts Oei is giving around Holland) is being streamed, but a pirate video clip is bound to show up on YouTube by Sunday night. And, because the score is available online, some enterprising soul is going to give us a demonstration very soon.

For all the details, including a copy of the score, background notes and more, visit Niewenhuizen’s website here.


Here is a clip of Oei in playing the third movement on Sunday:

John Terauds

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