Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 6 – Sequeira Costa – CB5576


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. 6

The piano sonatas which are represented in this volume appeared on the scene at a time when the traditions of the classical era were being called into question. Revolution was in the air all over Europe. The American Revolution of 1776 was followed by its French counterpart and, even in such remote countries as Haiti, this revolutionary spirit brought about the first truly “black” political uprising which abolished the dominance of English and French influences on the island. The Napoleonic Wars were at their height and the Battle of Austerlitz was waging in 1805, a factor which could not have escaped the young Beethoven. Added to this unrest, Beethoven`s personal battle with his increasing deafness first led to a re-adoption of classical era norms before, isolated in the silence of a disease he could not and did not understand, his direction turned introspective, the solidarity of his silent world creating in him a unique universe of tone and thought which re-defined music forever.

The sources of Beethoven`s deafness have been debated by many musicological and medical experts. The theory is often heard that his hearing loss was, in some manner, associated with the lead poisoning which, eventually, was to end his life. The cups and mugs of Beethoven`s day, the vessels used for wine and beer, bore the singular danger in that the joints or rivets used to seal the edges and bottom as well as the grip were of lead which leeched when exposed to the acidic and alkaline properties of alcoholic drinks. However, this theory, for all its romantic charm, has been mostly overturned by modern medical evidence which seems to show that his condition was the result of a lesion of the inner ear, a labryinthitis of intestinal origin. The progress was slow with it first becoming evident to him in 1796. By 1801, he had lost about half of his hearing ability and, by 1816, he was totally deaf.

The progression of this disease occupied Beethoven during these years. In 1801, he wrote to Franz Gerhard Wegeler: “… my hearing has been growing steadily worse over the last three years, which was said to be caused by a condition of my belly… it is curious that in conversations, there are people who do not notice my condition at all; since I have generally been absent minded, they account for it in that manner. Often I can scarcely hear someone speaking softly, the tones, well yes, but not the words and shouting becomes intolerable to me.” To Karl Amenda he also wrote: “… know that my noblest facility, my hearing, has greatly deteriorated… how happy I should be if my hearing were completely restored, then I would hurry to you… I beg of you to keep the matter of my deafness a profound secret to be confided to no one, no matter whom.”

An autopsy was made of Beethoven after his death in 1827. The presiding physician, a Dr. Wagner, reported a huge increase of cartilage and of an irregular form. In 1928 and 1929, a Dr. Marage raised the topic of Beethoven`s deafness at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences. He confirmed the probability of labryinthitis as the cause and, using Beethoven`s diaries, could also document the preliminary symptoms of this condition, namely the appearance of high-pitched sounds, buzzing or whistling noises and an exaggerated sensitivity to loud sounds. Finally, in 1986, the French researches Prof. Porot and Dr. Miermot arrived at the suspicion that, perhaps, the real cause of Beethoven`s deafness was adolescent syphilis although there is no clinical evidence to document this condition. However, in their report, they wrote the following: “the great cause of deafness at this time: syphilis…”Recalling the prevalence of this then untreatable condition at that time, it is highly possible that this was the reason for his hearing loss. As with Beethoven`s contemporary, Franz Schubert, whose early death was partially the cause of a congenital case of syphilis, the widespread nature of this disease again was to take its toll on one of the 19th century`s most creative minds.

PIANO SONATA Op. 54 in F. In the midst of Beethoven`s personal woes, this is a work which bears sharp contrast to its bookend neighbours, the Waldstein and Appassionata Sonatas. The British musicologist, Donald Frances Tovey writes of this work: “[The] work is profoundly humorous, with a humour that lies with the composer rather than with the childlike character portrayed by the music. No biographical details are known as to whether Beethoven thought of any person or household divinity in connection with this sonata; but its material is childlike, or even dog-like, and those who best understand children and dogs have the best chance of enjoying an adequate reading of this music; laughing with, but not at its animal spirits; following in strenuous earnest its indefatigable pursuit of its game whether that be its own tail or something more remote and elusive.”

PIANO SONATAS Op. 49, No. 1 in G-minor and Op. 49, No. 2 in G. These are the most facile of Beethoven`s oeuvres in this form although both works were composed much earlier than would betray their opus numbers. They are works written for his friends and for his students and each is split into two movements. The dates of composition hover between 1795 and 1796, at the height of the Classical era, and show clearly the influence of Haydn and the shadow of Mozart. Because they were first published in 1805, they are classified as works of Beethoven`s middle period. Since it was often Beethoven`s manner that he would supress works from publication for many years (and in some cases for his entire lifetime) it is a wonder that these sonatas were ever released to the public. It was the composer`s brother, Caspar van Beethoven, who, against the wishes of his sibling presented them to a publisher.

PIANO SONATA in D, Op. 28 Pastoral. Of all Beethoven`s sonatas, perhaps the Pastoral is the one most subject to comparison with its younger brother, the Pastoral Symphony (No. 6) written several years later. Of course the bucolic opening and the ever-present motifs which suggest nature and wanderlust found in the first and final movements, lend to the theory that this work is more a description of nature than a work of absolute music. Especially the rocking chords at the finale of the first movement supplement the sense of cheerful content and the 6/8 finale only serve to intensify this “rambling” feeling. © 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.