Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, 1970 (video frame)

Earpiece #21: Claudio Arrau plays Beethoven Sonatas

Mark Gresham | 15 DEC 2022

Earpiece is a series of audio and video presentations curated by EarRelevant’s publisher and principal writer Mark Gresham.

This week, Earpiece ventures back to a couple of historical videos from the 1970 Beethovenfest, a classical music festival in Bonn, Germany, the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, dating back to 1845 and mainly dedicated to that composer’s music.

We offer here, then, two of the most famous of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, “Moonlight” (No. 14) and “Appasionata” (No. 23), played by the esteemed Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau (1903-1991).

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Older Atlanta audiences may remember Arrau’s appearances with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, such as his February 1977 performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 with Michael Palmer, then the ASO’s associate conductor, leading the orchestra. Arrau was 74, Palmer 32. It was their first time working together, but it would certainly not be their last. They ended up working together many more times, exploring the concertos of Brahms and Beethoven.

“I learned so much from these experiences working with him,” recalls Palmer. “The depths of his musical understanding and culture ushered forth in his playing, in his approach to the work, to the stage, and to the piano. He came from an age in which devotion to the composer was sacred and was the artist’s highest priority. One could feel the weight of that just being there with him on the stage and the power of it in his playing.”

Possessing a vast range of repertoire from Baroque to 20th-century composers, Arrau was indeed one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century. Audiences and critics have especially lauded his interpretations of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, and Brahms. Arrau played with a big, rounded sound, an extra pinch of romanticism, and expanded tempi.

View the video playlist below. Note: YouTube videos are embedded in accordance with the YouTube TOS.


BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 14, Op. 27, No. 2 (“Moonlight”)
Claudio Arrau, piano
I. Adagio sostenuto
II. Allegretto
III. Presto agitato
Duration: 17:27 (1970)
BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (“Appasionata”)
Claudio Arrau, piano
I. Allegro assai
II. Andante con moto
III. Allegro ma non troppo – Presto
Duration: 26:10 (1970)

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About the author:
Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. He began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.

Read more by Mark Gresham.