Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 4 – Sequeira Costa – CB5574


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. 4

In his lifetime, Beethoven was often mistaken for someone homeless, for a vagrant, for a simple bum. He wandered about town with faded yellow cotton sticking out of his ears, often flailing his arms in unintelligible gestures talking loudly to himself and stopping where and when he pleased to note thoughts on scraps of paper or screaming at the top of his voice. He was a character well known to the police in Vienna and neighbours often complained about him and how they felt unsafe when he was about. He looked like a tramp and his personal hygiene was thought, even in the early 19th century, to have needed more than simply cursory attention.

At home, he hammered on the furniture when deciding tempos and pounded on the piano well into the night depriving his neighbours of their good night`s rest. Thayer reports of the endless stream of cleaning ladies who had worked for him all of whom quickly left his service, each one dumbfounded by the plates of uneaten foot and garbage which they encountered in their weekly challenge of keeping Beethoven`s quarters moderately or tolerably tidy. This added to the plotting against him within certain circles of nobility. 19th century Vienna was a city of intrigue and Beethoven was always being watched. His conversations were eavesdropped upon although he was not officially considered to be dangerous only a somewhat colourful character with awful manners who most probably never or almost never bathed.

Also, as a composer, by 1820 he was briskly dismissed as having long peaked in his creativity. It had been about a decade since the composition of his 8th Symphony and the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung dismissed him as “…apparently quite incapable of greater accomplishments.” Thereafter, the 9th Symphony appeared and the intrigue within the Vienna nobility continued further, unabated.

The point of this bit of history is the presumption that, in fact, Beethoven was not different from a rock star in the 20th or 21st century. In Beethoven`s time, as well through much of the 19th century, the differences between the now-called “classical” and “pop” music were much more vague. In Beethoven`s case, he almost always demanded to be seated at the head table with royalty, something unheard of in his time. He despised the elite class but not their money which made it possible for him to continue his unique lifestyle. To his patrons, he often spoke harshly about other composers and performers. To those who spoke negatively about him, the referred openly to them as “swine”.

Beethoven was a brilliant if inaccurate performer, known for his skills as an improviser. There is a story told of how, once, when one of Beethoven`s improvisations had moved his listeners to tears he screamed at them for crying instead of applauding. Such was the profile of the rock-star Beethoven who was also using his music for political statement.

It was only a few hundred kilometres to the west, in the revolutionary turmoil that was late-18th and early-19th century France that aristocrats, politicians, patrons and intellectuals were queuing up, waiting for their turn at the guillotine. Beethoven was incensed by all this and this same anti-monarchy sentiment was starting to spread across Europe. Beethoven, who openly supported the French Revolution and not-too-secretly wished it could also overthrow the stranglehold the monarchy held over Austria, openly used his music in support of the liberationist cause . Beethoven was a free thinker and this factor alone contributed immensely to his being at the forefront of a composer cult which continues to this day. The idea of the “crazy” musician began with him and the man and his music has become inseparable much as is the case with pop and rock artists in our time. There remains no genuine difference, no tangible barrier, between the concepts of “pop” and “classical”. These are artificial barriers, designations put in place by an unknowing and snobbish establishment which never seemed to realise the only differences in music exists between good music and bad.

However, Beethoven gave us the cult of the demonic and isolated musical genius and of the iconoclast artist. He was The Beatles, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Elvis and Glenn Gould all in one and the later permutations of this aura were to give us composer/performers like Liszt in the 19th century, who added the element of sex-appeal to his already cult status as piano virtuoso and composer and who even made a small income selling samples of his bath water to his adoring fans.

In Beethoven`s time, the idea of “classical” being a serious and overlong performance of a single work where no laughter nor even a sound could be heard during performance, were unknown. Music had a message to deliver but it was also entertainment and concerts often went on as social engagements for many hours with food being served and conversations carried-on during performances. In a more intimate setting, Schubert would invent the 3-minute song. This was the latter formula for pop music after the rift between “classical” and “pop” had become established.

So here, at the end of the 18th and start of the 19th century and leading us into the late 19th and early 20th centuries with its alienation of the public and with the idea of their being a separatist musical elite, we are confronted with the ultimate “pop/ rock” star in the persona of Ludwig van Beethoven. At the same time, history has built a temple on the memory of the composer, an Olympus to the “classics” as one may say. Many who hardly know his works see him as a god-like figure but this idolatry fails to recognise that, when one looks at his music and succumbs to his message, the message is always changing and the possibilities for discovery are infinite.

Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat major, Op. 7 was given the nickname Grand Sonata and was composed in 1796. It is dedicated to one of his pupils, the Countess Babette Keglevics and was composed in Bratislava, in the present Slovakia.

The two piano sonatas of opus 14 (in E major, Op. 14, No. 1 and in G major, Op. 14, No. 2) were both composed in 1798 and 1799 and both were dedicated to the Baroness Josefa von Braun. Both sonatas are relatively simple works with Op. 14, No. 2 also having a performance time of about 15 minutes making it one of Beethoven`s shortest excursions into the piano sonata. © 2016 Kevin Wood.

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.