Ludwig Van Beethoven: The Last Six Piano Sonatas

By William, Meredith | The Beethoven Journal, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Ludwig Van Beethoven: The Last Six Piano Sonatas

William, Meredith, The Beethoven Journal

"Ludwig van Beethoven: The Last Six Piano Sonatas" (and the Rondos, Opus 51 ). Peter Serkin, "play[ing] on a Graf fortepiano." Musical Concepts MC 122. Originally recorded for ProArte Digital in 1984-1985 (Opuses 109-111 originally on ProArte CDD 362; Opuses 51, 90, 101 on ProArte LP PAD 111 ; Opus 106 on ProArte LP PAD 181). Two discs. Opus 51, no. 1: 5:24; Opus 51, no. 2: 10:33; Opus 90: 12:00; Opus 101: 20:28; Opus 106: 42:08; Opus 109: 19:48; Opus 110: 20:32; Opus 111: 27:53. Recorded at St. Mary's Chapel, St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Liner notes by Harris Goldsmith. ©2007. $14.99.

This remarkable set of the late sonatas performed on fortepiano more than warrants reissue on compact discs, especially as the price is unbeatable. Unfortunately, the liner notes are somewhat cavalier about the "Graf" fortepiano used for the recording, besides noting that it belongs to the Schubert Club of Minneapolis. And the Schubert Club's website (though hosting a fascinating short sound file of their copy of a 1726 fortepiano by Bartolomeo Cristofori commissioned by The Schubert Club Museum from David Sutherland of Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1997) does not contain information on the instrument recorded here. Via phone to the Schubert Club, I discovered that, while the instrument is officially listed as "attributed to Graf," has a name plate with Conrad Grafs name, and has been dated to 1824/25, its authenticity as a Graf fbrtepiano has been questioned because of some aspects of the construction of the case and other matters.

For those unfamiliar with this famous builder, a biographical introduction is in order. Graf was born in Württemberg in 1782, founded his own fbrtepiano building business in 1804 in a Viennese suburb, moved it to the cityproper in 1811, and was given the honorary tide "Imperial Royal Court Fbrtepiano Maker" in 1824 in recognition of the quality of his instruments. Indeed, as !Deborah Wyrhe, author of an important dissertation on Graf, concludes, "Grafs instruments represent the culmination of the Viennese classical era of piano building in the style of J A Stein and Anton Walther" (Grove Online). Graf, a remarkably prosperous property owner, businessman, and art collector, sold his business in 1840 to Carl Stein, grandson of the famous builder JA Stein, and died in Vienna in 1851. Graf s instruments were justly praised and highly appraised in the first half of the nineteenth century; it was not uncommon for instruments to be intentionally mislabeled. (Indeed, if you compare the label on the Schubert Club Graf to the label on Beethoven's "loaner" Grafwhich can be viewed on the Beethoven-Haus's admirable website-the Schubert Club label is suspiciously unadorned.) Whoever the builder, however, the instrument has a gorgeous 182Os sound, particularly regarding both the typically Viennese differences between bass, middle, and treble registers (a point to which I return below) and the clarity of the sound.

Listening to Beethoven's music on a Graf (or Graf-like) instrument makes sense because, as is well known, the composer had a quadruplestrung Graf fbrtepiano on loan from the builder from sometime in 1825 (possibly September) until his death. (Graf hastily retrieved the instrument after Beethoven died, no doubt because so many of Beethoven possessions were being "claimed.") It used to be thought that the quadruple stringing was an experiment to help the deaf composer hear the instrument, but we now know that Graf built other quadruple-strung fbrtepianos as he experimented with ways to increase the volume of his instruments.

But, we should ask, is the Graf the best fbrtepiano of the time for the realization of the late sonatas? Was it the instrument Beethoven had in mind or in his inner ear? To answer these questions, it's worth reminding ourselves of the late sonatas' dates of composition: the Sonata in E Minor/Major, Opus 90, was composed in 1814; the Sonata in A Major, Opus 101, in 1816; the Sonata in B-flat Major, Opus 106, in 1817-18; the Sonata in E Major, Opus 109, in 1820; and the Sonatas in A-flat Major, Opus 110, and C Minor/Major, Opus 111, in 1821-22. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Ludwig Van Beethoven: The Last Six Piano Sonatas


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.