The slow pulse of nature, via Beethoven (and others)

Alex Ross of The New Yorker is by acclamation the most loved of classical music critics today. This spring he gently lauded a new pianist, Igor Levit, for his playing of Beethoven at his most natural. 

In his words I heard an echo of an idea from Carl Jung about the connection between introspection and nature. In a previous post I quoted a passage from Jung's memoir in which he revealed how he found himself, or, to be exact, a part of himself. He found "Personality #2," a character he liked more than his social self, when alone in nature. Ross discusses a fascinatingly similar idea in the context of this pianist's performance of a solo piano sonata from Beethoven, a composer who voiced nature as much as any other. 

The New Yorker site is a nightmare to work with as a blogger, for reasons I am too hick to understand, even as a registered subscriber who knows his password. Lord knows why this is necessary for a publication as rich in resources as this pre-eminent magazine, but let forge on as best we can, for those who would search to understand the experience of nature in prose:

For context, here's a portrait of Levit, a publicity still, which I will frame with Ross's eloquence. 

IgorlevitA few months ago, the arrival of a debut recording…had me in a skeptical mood. The cover showed a well-dressed young man leaning over a piano, languidly dragging his fingers along the keys. The program contained the last five sonatas of Beethoven: two hours of sublime riddles, the realm of…erudite masters such as Maruizio Pollini and Mitsuko Uchida. What prematurely hyped whippersnapper would introduce himself in such a fashion? After a few minutes, I was transfixed. Here was playing of technical brilliance, tonal allure, intellectual drive, and an elusive quality that the Germans indicate with the word Innigheit, or inwardness. 

[edit]

In the ethereal theme-and-variations movement that ends Opus 109, Levit revealed a…gift for cantabile playing, for spinning out a long, lyrical line. Younger performers often have troubling falling into the kind of mood that Beethoven describes as "Songful, with innermost feeling." It is the tempo of walking in the woods, of humming to oneself, of finding the slow pulse of nature. Whether or not Levit indulges in such antiquated behavior — his tweets make no mention of it — he has an uncanny ability to let the music amble away into a summery haze. 

Surely Jung would understand. And although Igor's performances of this sonata cannot be found for free on the web, justifiably, here's a very nice live playing of Beethoven's PIano Sonata #30 in E Major from Aaron Wajnberg on Soundcloud, to give you an idea of the piece. Above Ross talks of the third movement. 

 

Related articles

Igor Levit: in a class of his own
Mitsuko Uchida review brilliant Beethoven and grandiloquent Schubert
Alex Ross: The pianist Igor Levit plays late Beethoven.

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