Friday, October 22, 2010

Petri: Westminster Hammerklavier

This record was very kindly provided to me by a visitor to the blog, Ray Pratt. He mailed me the LP, even sending a second, clearer copy when he found one.

The performance is what finally made sense of this sonata for me. The difficulty I had "getting it", even through performances by brilliant pianists, including my beloved Rudolph Serkin, undoubtedly speaks to a lack in my musical insights and abilities, but I am grateful to finally be enlightened. Petri recorded the work earlier, and that recording was issued on a Columbia Special Products LP which I have long owned. While it went some way in lifting the veil of my incomprehension, I had to wait for this Westminster recording to finally find my way fully into the work.

My difficulty with the Hammerklavier has been embarrassing, a little bit like one's initial struggling to understand the subjunctive voice -- elusive and not really felt in one's bones. To finally hear the piece as a whole is deeply gratifying.

I replaced the original cover art photo included with this post with a much improved version that a friend of the blog, Jan Henrik Amberg, very kindly sent to me. Many thanks. The visitors here are so often so helpful; my occasional misanthropy is humbled

Links to all files


  1. Hi, do you have a 3LP set of the Zoltán Kodály's opera: "Háry János"? It´s from 1982. The director is János Ferencsik for the label Hungaroton. Thanks a lot!

  2. I thought for sure I had picked it up recently, but I cannot find it. Perhaps I meant to do so but it was in too rough a condition to track. That said, it should acknowledge that several hundred recently acquired LPs are in no particular order on my living room floor, some yet to be listened to, all to be filed when I get the time to build more shelves. This record thing can get out of hand, and yet I blissfully still make the rounds of thrift stores and acquire more. If I do find it, either in my unfiled records or out at a store, I will post a notice at least that I have it.

  3. Larry,

    I had thought, too, of suggesting to you Petri's colossal and very cogent recording of this late Beethoven sonata, the "Hammerklavier". I have owned both of Petri's recordings for many years. I discovered the Westminster recording for myself while still young, at the beginning of my twenties when I was in junior college, at a used furniture and bricabrack store in Long Beach (Calif.) called "Trader Vic's" whose proprietor was a sort of unusually up-beat beatnik. I found my first 78s and LPs of Myra Hess, also Erno Dohnanyi, playing Beethoven at the same shop, all imitable exemplars of how to play Beethoven's late sonatas with musical and intellectual (as well as pianistic) mastery.

    I am glad, too, that I found this LP so early in life, for it "set" my ideas of what this sonata is so firmly that I did not find other recordings "confusing", merely deficient in comparison to Petri's clarity and force in conveying this protean work. As Petri plays it, the work, for once, does not seem to exceed its grasp. It's wonderful and I hope that many others come to this recording on the blog.

    Pax, Jerry

  4. Thanks for you reponse, Lawrence. If you find the LPs, can you include the scans of the booklet? Thanks again.

  5. Jerry: You did, indeed, recommend this recording to me, once when I mentioned that even Rudolph Serkin did not quite make sense of the Hammerklavier to me. And you know how I revere Serkin. I never found a good copy until Ray kindly provided me with his.

    Now if I can only get the Pequod out of Nantucket I'll have solved two of the greatest aesthetic problems of my life.

  6. L --- I had just been thinking of listening to E. Petri's Op 109-111 when I saw this post. I have to admit that I had no idea he had recorded the Hammerklavier and I look forward to hearing it. I was also quite amused at your public admission about Beethoven's Op 106 since I have always had exactly the same Hammerklavier 'problem'! I have more or less resigned myself to accepting that the 'problem' is with my own ears since so many others profess to hear what I can't ... (There are many passages in the piece that I like very much but I have never managed to grasp it as a whole. Oddly enough, it is the Adagio that I find least convincing. The Scherzo is my favorite movement. Especially when it is played in under two minutes :)

    There are a few recordings which have come close to convincing me .... John Ogdon on RCA LP only, Andreas Lucchessini on EMI CD, Peter Serkin on an unfortunate creaky pianoforte on Vanguard ... I'm certainly open to hearing Egon Petri make his case! Thanks!

  7. maready: Thanks. That makes at least four of us that I know of who have long found the Hammerklavier impenetrable.

    "Don't tell. They'll banish us you know."

    I hope you find this recording as enlightening as I did.

  8. maready, The Peter Serkin Vanguard performance is available from Musical Heritage Recordings. Yeah, what a pity that the younger Serkin wasted time recording Beethoven on the obsolete
    fortepiano rather than on a good modern instrument! Peter Serkin is a sterling artist and always bears listening.

  9. I think Larry very well expresses a point that has always fascinated me, namely that certain performances just do have a particular quality that allows one to grasp an elusive work for the first time -- once grasped the work may be better enjoyed in other versions too, so they're certainly as valid, but it takes the initial key.

    A particular example for me is the Busch Quartet recordings of the late Beethoven Quartets: Apart from their *many* other good qualities they have a clarity that I would perhaps even call didactic if that word didn't have a pejorative taint.

    I'm sure we all have our own examples, but thanks for expressing the thought so well, Larry.

  10. Jonathan: Thanks for your thoughtful additions. I do now look forward to revisiting some of the performances that advanced my understanding a bit but which never quite fully opened it up for me.

    I certainly understand your citation of the Busch Quartet Beethoven.

  11. Dear Larry, Thank you so, so much for this. It's a scandal that Universal (and, more particularly, DG) is just sitting on these marvellous late Westminster LPs by Petri. I'm lucky enough to have 3 of them (but not this one!) and will be making them available as they come out of copyright. Just one thing: I firmly believe one should never be embarrassed about not liking or not getting something. If we didn't all like different things, there could surely be no art. Best wishes, Nick

  12. A truly worthwhile addition - thank you immensely for the transfer and to the supplier of the record. Could you supply the date of this recording? Did you know if Petri's Columbia recording of the Hammerklavier was earlier than this Westminster and how they compare?
    Best Regards.

  13. i like this hammerklavier by the teatcher of Earl Wild.
    being french, I was unaware of this last star of my sky
    I must say that Earl Wild has enrolled me ..

    as an old piano lover I have one question, do you know Alexander Jocheles , Laurence?

    on the wwwww net only ONE disc appears:
    a revelation, never such a Schubert in my ears , and a Schumann that leaves you ko

    can you find a trace of this man ??

    if you please, pace e salute

  14. Bernard
    I do not know of Jocheles, but I suspect one of the readers here may. I'll try to remember to hunt some information down when i get hom in December. If I forget, please don't hesitate to remind me

  15. Just to add my thanks for this one too. A faster-than-many Adagio certainly helps to make sense of it - But the final fugue is remarkably clear too. Good to hear the piece played as piano music not as otherworldly statement...! I see others have found him in the last 3 sonatas - now that's one I shall have to look out for! Thanks again.