Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 9 – Sequeira Costa – CB5579


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**

Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 9

The Piano Sonata No. 29, universally known as Hammerklavier Sonata, is considered to be one of the most influential works of Beethoven`s 3rd period and one of the greatest piano works of all time. Completed in 1818, this sonata was considered almost unplayable by his contemporaries and is still regarded as one of the most challenging works ever composed for the instrument.

The sonata was dedicated to Beethoven`s patron, the Archduke Rudolf, and, as is the case with Rachmaninov`s 2nd Piano Concerto, came at the end of a period particularly barren of creativity. This was a time in his life when Beethoven, oppressed by failing health, by the legal struggle over the custody of his nephew, Karl, and by his absolute deafness and total isolation forced him into a singularly private and somewhat unique private sound universe. This began about 1801 and is evidenced by a letter of that same year to Beethoven`s good friend and loyal supporter, Amenda. He wrote: “My dear good Amenda, my cordial friend, I received your last letter with mixed pain and pleasure. To what shall I compare your fidelity, your attachment to me. Oh, it is so beautiful that you have always been true to me and I know how to single you out and keep you above all others. You are not a Viennese friend, no, you are one of those who spring from the ground of my native land. How often do I wish you were with me, for your Beethoven is living an unhappy life, quarrelling with nature and its creator, often cursing the latter because he surrendered his creatures to the merest accident which sometimes broke or destroyed the most beautiful blossoms, Know that my noblest faculty, my hearing, has greatly deteriorated. When you were still with me I felt the symptoms but kept silent; now it is continually growing worse, and whether or not a cure is possible has become a question; but it is said to be due to my bowels and as far as they are concerned I am nearly restored to health… I beg of you to keep the matter of my deafness a profound secret to be confided to nobody no matter who it is.” Weeks later, Beethoven would write to Wegeler: “I was really miserable during this winter: I had frightening attacks of colic and I fell back to my previous condition, and so things remained until about four weeks ago, when I went to Vering, thinking that my condition demanded a surgeon, and having great confidence in him… He prescribed the lukewarm Danube bath, into which I had each time to pour a little bottle of strengthening stuff, gave me no medicine of any kind until about four weeks ago, when he prescribed pills for my stomach and a kind of tea for my ear. I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it is impossible for me to say to people: “I am deaf.” If I belonged to any other profession it would be easier, but my profession is in awful state, the more since my enemies, who are not few, what would they say?… Heaven knows what will happen to me.”

None of these treatments proved of much benefit and the conditions worsened until, in 1802, Beethoven contemplated suicide. He moved to a remote Landhaus near Heiligenstadt (now known as the village of Nussdorf near Vienna) where he set his increasing depression to paper in the now-famous Heiligenstadt-Testament, a farewell to life which first came to light in 1827, months after his death. That he eventually decided against taking his life is a tribute to the creative spark which still burned in him and to his personal courage but the tone and text of this farewell betray the increasing depression which, with the added burdens of family and his failing health in the years 1815 to 1817, all contributed to a significant abatement of creative energy… that is, until this sonata. In his testament of 1802 Beethoven wrote: “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? Come when thou will I shall meet thee bravely. – Farewell and do not wholly forget me when I am dead, I deserve this of you in having often in life thought of you how to make you happy, be so”

Additionally, it is not to be forgotten that Beethoven was the scion of a family of alcoholics and many attribute his asocial manner to his increased intake of wine and spirits. There seems not to have been a day in his life which would not end with a visit to the local tavern and the autopsy performed after his death shows that he seriously suffered from liver cirrhosis which, probably, was the proximate cause of death. Along with his drinking, Beethoven seems to have smothered his loneliness with bouts of “womanizing” and his constant “relationships”, all crashing on the rocks of his personality flaws and his drinking, contributed to his isolation, loneliness and increasing depression. Contributing to this was the alarming amount of heavy metals such as lead found in his system after his death, a presence also conclusively attributed to his large consumption of illegally fortified wine. In Beethoven`s day it was customary, although often illegal, to add lead sweeten to cheap wines. Also, at this time, medicines were often laced with heavy metals and, being chronically ill, his consumption of these toxic substances surely contributed to his demise. He also suffered from renal necrosis and, possibly, also from hepatitis B.

Perhaps it was the generous gift to Beethoven in 1817 of a modern Broadwood piano by its manufacturer in London that may have inspired the Hammerklavier Sonata. At very least, the constellation of this modern instrument with its unique metal frame meeting the creative genius of a composer who, for years, had sought to expand the sound palette of the instrument and who could, unfettered by external influences, respond to his inner song, was a stroke of luck and made possible future expansion of the instruments possibilities through composers such as Liszt and, much later, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. Perhaps, in this case, Beethoven`s deafness was both a curse and a blessing and forced him to respond to the call of his singular but solitary inner voice. © 2017 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.