Pop music is (usually) in English and is easy to understand, but Classical works are often in another language, and even when they are in English the operatic vibrato clouds the message.
Absolute music like a symphony or sonata has no words, but sometimes the work has a helpful title.
We've been presenting Beethoven's piano sonatas in order weekday mornings and one sonata that is very important in understanding the composer is being broadcast April 10 in the 6 a.m. hour.
Composed at a very difficult time in Beethoven's life, the "d minor sonata Opus 31" is one of the few works to have a nickname.
The perfect name for the perfect storm
The "Tempest Sonata" was conceived when Beethoven was agonizing over his increasing deafness. It was obvious to him that his affliction was getting worse and total silence was his fate.
While in Heiligenstadt, outside Vienna, Beethoven wrote a heartbreaking letter to his brothers informing them of his affliction and defending his reticence in socializing with others. He feared having to, as a great composer, having to say, "Speak louder, for I am deaf".
It was in this period that Beethoven composed the "Tempest Sonata." It is beautifully abstract and emotionally powerful. The first movement giving us the tragedy of Beethoven's plight.
Tempest Sonata: 1,2,3
One of his pupils, Carl Czerny, once asked the composer how to play the first movement and Beethoven replied, "break the piano."
The second movement is slow and moving, but with a shortened sonata form, a cavatina. Here you can imagine the composer's own take on his funeral with ruffles and flourishes.
The mood of tragedy is finally broken in the third movement, and here Beethoven breaks free with dance-like rondo marked molto perpetual, which has an energy and defiance that we recognize in the mature and confident master.