In the world of piano music, Beethoven sonatas are in a class by themselves. And in the world of Beethoven sonatas, the "Hammerklavier" is in a class by itself. It's 45 minutes long -- a record for that time in musical history, and a tour de force even by today's standards. As the liner notes to an old recording of the sonata by Rudolf Serkin bluntly state, "Few pianists dare attempt it."
The "Hammerklavier" (the heavy German word was simply Beethoven's preferred term for "piano") is a challenge from start to finish, an emotional journey for both performer and audience. From the treacherous leap that begins the first movement to the magnificent, sometimes cacophonous fugue in the finale, the sonata broke new ground in exploring the potential of the piano. The soul-searching slow movement contains some of Beethoven's most sublime writing. It's simultaneously exhausting and utterly beautiful.
Monday, Stephen Manes dives back into his Beethoven sonata cycle with the "Hammerklavier" as well as two other sonatas, No. 24 in F sharp, Op. 78; and No. 11 in B flat, Op. 22. If you haven't yet made it to any concerts in the series, this is the one to catch, seeing that performances of the "Hammerklavier" are a rare treat. (The last performance of the sonata mentioned in The Buffalo News was 10 years ago. Manes played it on that occasion, too.)
The concert takes place at 8 p.m. Monday at Lippes Hall in Slee Hall on UB's North Campus. Admission is $10. For information, call 645-2921.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman