Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 3 – Sequeira Costa – CB5573


Sequeira Costa was one of the last students of José Vianna da Motta, a student of Franz Liszt!

“I recommend Costa’s performances of the first two sonatas for their admirable, cultured piano playing”


**The Complete ‘Beethoven 250’ Piano Sonata CD Box set is now available! See CB6046**

Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3

The years leading up to 1801 were years of intense political turmoil which were to set the course of European and world history for the coming century. Napoleon`s conquests had already reached Turkey and Egypt by 1800 and the Parliament in Westminster had passed an Act of Union in that same year which abolished the Irish parliament and bound Ireland to England for more than a century. In literature, Schiller`s translation of “Macbeth” received its premiere in Weimar and, in the same year, he penned his play “Maria Stuart” which detailed the final three days of the queen`s life.

In America, the two-party system was established and the world`s population reached a milestone – doubling its census of 1500 to become more than 800 million Souls. On the American continent, Mormon leader Brigham Young was born in 1801 and, in that same year, Pope Pius VII and Napoleon signed a Concordat which granted religious equality to the Jews.A harbinger of these political, artistic and religious events were the developments in art and music which, exemplified by the creative drive of the young Beethoven, began to paint a picture of 19th century music set on a course which would forever cast aside the effectuations and stylised formality of the Baroque and Classical styles.

The piano sonatas 5, 6, and 7 of Opus 10 were at the cusp of this creative revolution. Of interest is that at this time there seems to have developed an association with Beethoven to the key of c minor as a depicter of foreboding and nervous energy. It all seems to have started innocently enough, with the Sonata Op. 10, No. 1, and earlier work known for its contrasts of loud and soft passages and for its angularity. It presages the soon-to-be-composed Pathétique Sonata and the Fifth Symphony but is still a work with one foot in the classical style. Beethoven was beginning to divorce himself of the expectations of his culture. On one hand, he was creating works for the pleasure of his patrons but, on the other, was highlighting the differences in his musical aesthetic which were to introduce radical new forms and result in a music that was both introspective and heroic at the same time.

It is these sonatas that best display the steps Beethoven was taking towards musical maturity. During this time he was also writing the First and Second Symphonies and had achieved the reputation as being part of the most important of a generation of young composers.

In contrast to today`s concerts, often relatively short in comparison with the performances in Beethoven`s time, musical “marathons” were seen as a social event, often lasting many hours and including the premieres of several works. The premiere of the First Symphony in Vienna, for example, included works by Haydn and Mozart but also the symphony, the Septet, Op. 20; a piano concerto and others. It was casually described by the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung as “the most interesting concert in a long time…the players did not bother to pay any attention to the soloists.”

However, still maintaining a minimal degree of his hearing, Beethoven used these occasions to mount the stage as both conductor and as pianist. It was his carrier as a pianist that was as closely associated with his progress as a composer. It was also in this period that he started flexing his counterpoint and lyrical muscles, having finished studies in counterpoint with Georg Albrechtsberger and in Lieder composition with the legendary Antonio Salieri. It is also shortly prior to the composition of the Opus 10 sonatas that Beethoven`s first works were published. This occurred in 1794 and 1795 in the form of three piano trios of Opus 1 followed by a string quartet and the First Symphony.

The piano sonatas of Opus 10 (No. 1 in c minor, No. 2 in F Major and No. 3 in D Major) were dedicated to Anna Margarete von Browne, the spouse of a Russian diplomat in Vienna and wife of one of his best patrons during this period.

However, it is the Sonata No. 8 in c minor, Op. 13, also known as the Pathétique, that holds claim to being one of Beethoven`s most celebrated compositions of this period. It was composed in 1798. The composer was only 27 years old and this sonata has the unique privilege of being one of the very few works to have received its nickname from the composer, himself. It is dedicated to Beethoven`s friend and patron, Prince Karl von Lichnowsky. The Pathétique Sonata bears striking resemblance in its thematic material to the Piano Sonata KV 457 by Mozart. As is the Mozart work, the Pathétique is also in c minor but the Beethoven work is also very different in that it introduces Beethoven`s penchant for motivic development instead of the traditional expansion of longer themes. It is clearly a “friendly” break with the past, a sort of amicable divorce from the traditions of his heritage.

Beethoven was featured soloist at the premiere of this work, a circumstance enticing the composer`s friend and a fellow musician, Anton Schindler, to comment: “What the Sonate Pathétique was in the hands of Beethoven (although he left something to be desired as regards clean playing) was something that one had to have heard, and heard again, in order to be quite certain that it was the same already well-known work. Above all, every single thing became, in his hands, a new creation, wherein his always legato playing, one of the particular characteristics of his execution, formed an important part.”[1] © 2016 Kevin Wood.

[1] Translation: H.C. Robbins Landon, Beethoven: A Documentary Study, pp. 61-62. Thames & Hudson 1970

In a career spanning five decades, Sequeira Costa has developed his own musical interpretation from an understanding of the German and French schools, acquired through studies with his teacher, Vianna da Motta (one of the last pupils of Liszt and Hans von Bulow), Mark Hamburg, Edwin Fischer, Marguerite Long and Jacques Fevrier. He has performed at the greatest halls around the world, including the Salle Gaveau and Salle Pleyel in Paris, the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, Tokyo’s Suntori Hall, St. Petersburg’s Philharmonic Hall, the Vienna Musikverein, New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and the major London halls. He recently completed performances of the entire cycle of Beethoven Sonatas at Gulbenkian Hall in Lisbon, Portugal.

Review: I – Fanfare Magazine (Jan/Feb 2014)

Sequeira Costa, a Portuguese pianist born in Angola in 1928, was one of the last students of José Vianna da Motta, a student of Liszt. He later worked in Europe with Mark Hambourg, Marguerite Long, Jacques Fevrier, and Edwin Fischer, a group of individualistic pianists from varied traditions whose influence might suggest that Costa would play in a more subjective, less modern style than he does here. In Beethoven’s first three sonatas, he comes across as a scrupulous, refined player, a bit self-effacing, and carefully attuned to the classical style.

After an early European career, Costa taught at the University of Kansas for many decades, and has made quite a few recordings of music ranging from encores to major concertos. I learned about him not from this bare bones Claudio release, which has no booklet, but online. (The photo on the CD cover shows him as a young man).

These recordings are reissues of a complete Beethoven sonata cycle from 1999 that I haven’t heard. Claudio’s sound is clean and not overly reverberant, suited to Costa’s very precise approach. His playing is admirably true to the letter of the scores, and often to their spirit, with little or no imposition of personal mannerisms or exaggeration, no “point making” in choices of tempos, voicings, articulations, etc. This is not to say that the playing is bland or mechanical—it isn’t. The music, in most cases, is brought to life with buoyant rhythm, elegantly rounded phrasing, and sensitive characterization—but Costa’s interpretations favor the music’s balance and well-manneredness, as opposed to its more arch or arrogant aspects. Costa’s thorough observation of the scores’ details is notable.

The First Sonata’s controlled Sturm und Drang is particularly well communicated. Sonata No. 2 receives a Mozartian reading, controlled, charming, and carefully articulated. Both performances are notable for their rhythmic control.

In Sonata No. 3, a work of larger dimensions than the first two sonatas, Costa’s steadiness starts to feel metronomic. This is Beethoven’s most Clementi-like sonata, bold and humorous, with much repetitive passagework. (Beethoven’s next sonata, op. 7, one of the greatest of the 32, represents a huge increase in mastery). Costa reins in the first movement’s mock grandiosity, inhibiting the music’s need to transcend the feeling of four beats to the bar, and he doesn’t create striking enough contrasts between passages that mimic solo and tutti concerto elements. The fourth movement also calls for more playfulness than Costa supplies, his approach being too bound by the beats. It’s by no means a bad performance, just a bit tame.

I recommend Costa’s performances of the first two sonatas for their admirable, cultured piano playing. Paul Orgel.