Last night, pianist Jonathan Biss was supposed to appear at the 92nd Street Y to perform Beethoven's last three piano sonatas. Unfortunately, as with just about everything these days, Biss was unable to perform the recital in person. Instead, he filmed himself performing the sonatas on his own piano in his living room and posted it last night on the 92Y website, via Livestream.
Like the late string quartets, these sonatas (Op. 109, 110, and 111) are powerful, visionary works that completely reinvented the genre, influencing composers for decades to come. Before his penetrating, trance-like performance, Biss spoke about the particular resonance Beethoven's sonatas have in this strange time of social distancing.
"They are products of Beethoven's isolation - especially his profound deafness. He was a person of infinite imagination and idealism, and shuttered off from the rest of the world, those qualities blossomed into something even more extraordinary than they might have otherwise. Which led him to produce these documents of beauty, power, and truth."
Call me an optimist, but I'm still hoping to hear these sonatas in person when the great Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini is scheduled to perform them at Carnegie Hall on May 17, less than a week after Carnegie's last already-canceled performance. I can think of any number of reasons why it won't happen, but it feels better right now to imagine that it will.