Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 7 – Sequeira Costa – CB5577


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. 7

Although he was a brilliant pianist, Beethoven´s activities as a teacher remained somewhat restricted. However, his several students, the most famous of whom was Carl Czerny, all seemed to have played a significant role in his personal life. These interpersonal interchanges began as early as 1799 when he taught piano to the daughters of the Hungarian Countess Anna Brunsvik, one of whom was the younger daughter, Josephine, who has gone down in history as the probable addressee of his 1812 letter to the “Immortal Beloved”. Josephine later married Count Josef Dehm but, after Dehm`s sudden death in 1804, the relationship to Beethoven intensified and seemingly brought Beethoven to the brink of an emotional crisis.

It was also during this time that Beethoven`s music began to enjoy a significant adulation from both publishers and public alike. This was due to the engagement of his brother, Carl, who assumed the quasi-role of manager and succeeded in securing increasingly higher prices for the sale of the rights to his brother`s works which also included some previously unpublished earlier pieces.

However, the spectre of deafness exacerbated with an increasing tinnitus and which had made itself known as early as 1799, had reached a critical point by 1802. As early as 1801 Beethoven wrote to friends. Commenting that it disturbed him his associates were beginning to notice his hearing loss and the problems they were causing him both professionally and in social circles.

It is with this background that the Sonatas Op. 31, Nos. 1, 2, and 3 were created. What makes these works important in Beethoven`s oeuvre is their clear departure from the classical style and the experimental nature of them, experiments which he would later perfect in such masterpieces as the Waldstein, Appassionata and Hammerklavier sonatas. Although an admirer of the music of his teacher, Haydn, and of Mozart, Beethoven was clearly on a path which would distance him from the confines of the classical past and create a more experimental music, with the invention of new forms and with harmonic ideas that would have been ridiculed in past years.

It is also important to note that these works of Op. 31 culminated in the famous “Heiligenstadt Testament” of October, 1802, addressed to his brothers Carl and Johann. Interesting here is Beethoven`s retention of the testament, only found by Anton Schindler in the year 1827 and after Beethoven`s death, in which Carl had been mentioned but Johann had not. It is presumed that Beethoven`s keeping this document secret for all of his life may have been due to his disgust at the memory of the boys` long-dead father, also named Johann, an abusive alcoholic.

Beethoven`s emotional condition is evident from the final sentences of this document in which he wrote: “I thank all my friends, particularly Prince Lichnowsky and Professor Schmid – I desire that the instruments from Prince L. be preserved by one of you but let no quarrel result from this, so soon as they can serve you better purpose sell them, how glad will I be if I can still be helpful to you in my grave – with joy I hasten towards death – if it comes before I shall have had an opportunity to show all my artistic capacities it will still come too early for me despite my hard fate and I shall probably wish it had come later – but even then I am satisfied, will it not free me from my state of endless suffering?”[1]

Perhaps the most famous of the three sonatas which comprise Opus 31 is the second of these, also known as “The Tempest” (Der Sturm). Schindler maintained that the nickname for this sonata had to do with the play of the same name by Shakespeare but this opinion has been discounted by musicologists, most famous of them being Donald Francis Tovey. Tovey points out there is exceptional tragedy in the first movement, something far removed from the whimsy of a Prospero, although the movement itself does alternate these tragic motifs with ones of utter peacefulness. It was Ludwig Misch who advanced the theory appropriate to this work that, structurally, the second theme of the first movement evidences a ground-breaking structural innovation, namely the combination of the motifs in the Largo and Allegro into an entity which constitute one theme.

Piano Sonata No. 18, Op. 31, No. 3 is, if anything, an intriguing work full of jocular moments which have earned it the nickname “The Hunt” (Die Jagt). Written in 1802, Beethoven`s income via the patrons who were becoming increasingly generous in response to his evident genius, made it possible for him to, essentially, create what and when he saw fit to do so. Most significant of these was the Archduke Rudolf, the youngest son of Leopold II, who had also begun to study piano with Beethoven.

In conclusion, these years between 1799 and 1803 were ones of turbulence but also of great success. It is important to view this period through the mirror of a politically unstable Europe and the advancement of democratic ideals, especially in France. Were Beethoven product of a system totally dependent on the generosity of the monarchy or of the church, his creative output may have taken a different path. As it was, Beethoven was a product of modernity, of social unrest and of the developing need of the artistic community to be allowed to create as it saw fit. © 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.