Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 10 – Sequeira Costa – CB5580


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. 10

As we approach the final volume of this traversal of Beethoven`s 32 piano sonatas we are made all the more aware of the personal and biographical nature of these works. Beethoven`s health began to fail in the years 1815 through 1817, the result of an “inflammatory fever” which brought his compositional output to close to still stand. However, this was also the period which saw the death of his brother, Carl, from tuberculosis and the ultimate recognition of the failure of his many futile attempts at establishing relationships with women in his circle.

The death of Carl brought with it an extensive legal battle over the custody of Carl`s son and Beethoven`s nephew, Karl. Beethoven considered his brother`s wife to have been an unsuitable parent, calling attention to the birth of an illegitimate child with another man and her police record having been convicted of theft prior to her marriage to him although, through a later version of Carl`s last will and testament, Johanna was awarded joint guardianship of Karl which Beethoven heavily contested following his brother`s death. In addition, Beethoven regarded Johanna`s financial management to be insufficient and successfully managed to have Karl removed from her custody in 1816. However, the litigation continued and he subsequently lost this sole custody 1818, ultimately winning its return on appeal. However, the battle was not over until, finally, the Emperor rejected her appeal of this final verdict. Further to this, the years subsequent to 1820 witnessed constant interference with what he considered to be Karl`s improper life style. This led his nephew to attempt suicide in 1826. He survived the attempt and sought refuge from Beethoven`s overbearing and dogmatic care in the house of his mother. It was not until early 1827, barely a few months prior to the composer`s death, that he and his nephew finally reconciled, all the while Beethoven remained embroiled in family conflict and legal complexity and the constant and ever present concern for the welfare and safety of his brother`s stepchild.

After 1817 or 1818 matters seemed to have improved but Beethoven`s emotional state turned created an introspective nature enhanced by his total deafness and utter isolation. He began to intensively study the works of Bach and ancient music and seems to have found some sort of inner peace in these. In any case, his music became increasingly spiritual, reflecting a rediscovered inner voice and resulting in, among others, the Missa Solemnis (1823), the choral elegy Sanft wie du lebtest (op. 118), and the Symphony No. 9 (1824) and, ultimately the late string quartets and these final piano sonatas.

What is made clear by all this is, seemingly, Beethoven`s deeply abiding wish to surround himself with family, to be loved and to love in return, all the while retaining his fierce independence as composer and artist. Possibly this characteristic explains why none of his initiated relationships ever were of any duration. Beethoven was a complex man, a man of absolutes and the isolation his deafness brought with it increased his inflexibility, a characteristic praised in an artist but not necessarily in family life. He was dogmatic in many ways and, as we see in many of the letters to the women to whom he was attracted, overcompensated with extreme expressions of feeling.

In the famous letter “To the Immortal Beloved”, seemingly written under the influence of alcohol and in an unnamed tavern thought by some to be the famous composer and artists tavern, Griechenbeisl in Vienna`s present Griechengasse, Beethoven exceeds the norms of expressing affection, even for his romantic and highly expressive period. He writes to an unknown women whom many presume to have been Julia Guicciardi: “…why this deep sorrow where necessity speaks – can our love endure except through sacrifices – except through not demanding everything – can you change it that you are not wholly mine I not wholly thine. Oh God! Look out into the beauties of nature and comfort yourself with that which must be – love demands everything and that very justly – thus it is with me as far as you are concerned, and you with me.”

Of course, in Ries reminiscences of Beethoven he comments that “[Beethoven] was fond of the company of women, especially if they had young and pretty faces, and generally when we passed a somewhat charming girl he would turn back and gaze at her through his glasses keenly, and laugh or grin if he noticed that I was looking at him. He was frequently in love, if only for a short period. Once when I twitted him concerning his conquest of a pretty woman he admitted she had held him in the strongest bonds for the longest time, viz., fully seven months.”

It is clear from the available evidence in the conversation books and from reminiscences that Beethoven was a lonely man made more so by his increased deafness and by the absolutism that ruled not only his creative but also his personal life. His later introspection and the spiritual nature of many of his latter works were, perhaps, his responses to mortality and to an approaching end of life. It is this spirituality which transformed itself at the end of his life into an elusive simplicity resulting in a final work, also for piano, the Bagatelle in f, which was composed in October 1826 and which the Australian musicologist, Peter McCallum, believes is probably Beethoven`s final work. In this simple, childlike manner, Beethoven was to lay down his pen, shake his fist at fate, utter his final words which have been reported to have been: “I shall hear in Heaven”, and begin his journey into eternity – to “meet his God in the air”.

Piano Sonata Op. 109 in E. Composed in 1820 the Sonata No. 30 possibly evolved from a request by Friedrich Strake for a new piece for his collection, The Vienna Pianoforte School. Another theory, advanced by Thayer, is that there is little connection between the 1st movement and subsequent movements of op. 109.

The Sonata, Op. 110 was completed on Christmas Day, 1821, and was the result of a request for several sonatas and 25 songs made by the German publisher, Moritz Schlesinger.

Sonata in c, Op. 111 is the last of Beethoven`s piano sonatas and was written in 1821 and 1822. It contains highly contrapuntal elements and was dedicated to his pupil and patron, the Archduke Rudolf. © 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.