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With astonishing mastery of a broad scope of styles, pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard displays an unrivaled musical understanding and sensitivity. From Russian mysticism to the not-to-be-missed masterpiece Musica ricercata, Aimard’s range is distinctive in a program that concludes with Beethoven’s powerful “Hammerklavier” Sonata.

“Aimard’s stupendous technique, remorseless energy and fanatical…passion, were wondrous to encounter.”—The Times (UK)

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    Pierre-Laurent Aimard

    Widely acclaimed as a key figure in the music of our time and as a uniquely significant interpreter of piano repertoire from every age, Pierre-Laurent Aimard enjoys an internationally celebrated career.

    He performs throughout the world each season with major orchestras under conductors including Esa-Pekka Salonen, Peter Eötvös, Sir Simon Rattle and Vladimir Jurowski. He has been invited to curate, direct and perform in a number of residencies, with projects at Carnegie Hall, New York's Lincoln Center, Vienna's Konzerthaus, Berlin's Philharmonie, Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, the Lucerne Festival, Mozarteum Salzburg, Cité de la Musique in Paris, the Tanglewood Festival and London's Southbank Centre. Aimard was the Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival from 2009 to 2016, his final season was marked by a performance of Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux with the concerts programmed from dawn to midnight.

    This season sees Pierre-Laurent continue his trio partnership with Mark Simpson and Antoine Tamestit, and the development of an innovative programme of concerts for Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. He performs with The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and Paavo Järvi in Taiwan, and returns to the orchestra in spring 2017 for concerts in Germany. As well as engagements with Los Angeles Philharmonic and The Cleveland Orchestra, Aimard joins the Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen for a series of concerts, entitled ‘Inspirations’. He continues his life-long association with the music of Messiaen, performing his works in Switzerland, Cambridge, Seoul, Prague, London, The Netherlands, Montreal, Munich, Salzburg, Tanglewood and Ravinia and in 2016 he was awarded the prestigious Helpmann award for Best Individual Classical Performance for his recitals of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards in Sydney and Melbourne.

    Born in Lyon in 1957, Pierre-Laurent Aimard studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Yvonne Loriod and in London with Maria Curcio. Early career landmarks included winning first prize in the 1973 Messiaen Competition at the age of 16 and being appointed, three years later, by Pierre Boulez to become the Ensemble intercontemporain's first solo pianist.

    Aimard has had close collaborations with many leading composers including Kurtág, Stockhausen, Carter, Boulez and George Benjamin and had a long association with Ligeti, recording his complete works for piano.  Most recently he performed the world premiere of piano works by Kurtág at a celebration of the composer’s 90th birthday. Recent seasons have included the world premieres of Harrison Birtwistle’s piano concerto Responses; Sweet disorder and the carefully careless, as well as Carter’s last piece Epigrams for piano, cello and violin, which was written for Pierre-Laurent. Through his professorship at the Hochschule Köln as well as numerous series of concert lectures and workshops worldwide, he sheds an inspiring and very personal light on music of all periods.

    During the 2008-09 season Aimard was an Associate Professor at the College de France, Paris and he is a member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste. He was the recipient of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist Award in spring 2005 and was named ‘Instrumentalist of the Year’ by Musical America in 2007. In 2015 he launched a major online resource centred on the performance and teaching of Ligeti’s piano music with filmed masterclasses and performances of the Études and other works by Ligeti in collaboration with Klavier-Festival Ruhr. (www.explorethescore.org)

    Pierre-Laurent has made many highly successful recordings. His first Deutsche Grammophon release, Bach's Art of Fugue, received both the Diapason d'Or and Choc du Monde de la Musique awards, debuted at No.1 on Billboard's classical chart and topped iTunes’ classical album download chart. In recent years Pierre-Laurent has been honoured with ECHO Klassik Awards, most recently in 2009 for his recording of solo piano pieces, 'Hommage à Messiaen', a Grammy award in 2005 for his recording of Ives’ Concord Sonata and Songs and he was also presented with Germany’s Schallplattenkritik Honorary Prize in 2009. Further releases for DG – ‘The Liszt Project’ in 2011 and Debussy Préludes in 2012 – were joined by a new recording of Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier Book 1 in 2014.  

    "…a brilliant musician and an extraordinary visionary." —The Wall Street Journal

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)

"Le courlis cendré" from Catalogue d'oiseaux

György Ligeti (1923-2006)

Musica ricercata

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106, "Hammerklavier"

View Notes

In 1817, Beethoven’s health was poor, his income was dwindling, and legal battles over the custody of his nephew Karl were taking their toll on him—all while his deafness had virtually isolated him from the rest of society. If life was a struggle for the composer at this time, so was composition. His sketchbooks show that the Piano Sonata in B-flat, Op. 106, which was composed during this period, required of Beethoven a level of intensity that was unusual even for him. Yet he considered this immense effort worthwhile, mentioning to a friend, “I am now writing a sonata that will be my greatest.”

Some critics have suggested that by the time Beethoven wrote the Op. 106 sonata, known informally as the “Hammerklavier,” the composer’s deafness had caused him to forget “the realities” of writing for the piano, and that he conceived this music in “absolute” terms. Certainly there are passages that are almost unplayable and require a super-human effort, but calling upon that determination and involving oneself in the physical and emotional struggle of performance is precisely the substance of Beethoven’s late style.

The source of the nickname “Hammerklavier” is not particularly instructive. During a period when strong patriotic fervor burned within him, Beethoven sought a German word to replace the Italian name of the instrument (“pianoforte”) for which he was composing. He had included the term “Hammerklavier” on the title page of his Op. 101 sonata, and in January 1817 instructed his publishers (with mock seriousness) that “henceforth all our works that have German titles are to have Hammerklavier instead of pianoforte.” The Op. 106 sonata was merely the first to bear the designation, “Sonata fur das Hammerklavier,” hence the nickname.  It’s a common misconception that Beethoven gave this title to indicate he intended the sonata to be played exclusively on the piano

This sonata begins with a dramatic first-movement Allegro, where hard, driving energy goes hand-in-hand with a lyrical melody. As in much of Beethoven’s music, it is the rhythmic quality of the theme, rather than its pitch content, that dictates its subsequent development and transformation. The lengthy development section blends into a recapitulation that also develops thematic material while diverting through numerous key areas, some of them only distantly related to the tonic (including a section in far-flung B-major). The recapitulation includes fugato passages that give a hint of the contrapuntal procedures used in the work’s finale, capped by an extended coda that nearly amounts to another development section entirely.

The brief Scherzo and Trio that follow present a fine example of the composer’s grim humor.  As Beethoven scholar Eric Blom observed, “It would be difficult to think of any movement that represents him more strikingly in his capricious playful mood, in which he is never far from sudden accesses of anger and rudeness.” The outer sections are dominated by the incessant repetitions of a single short motif. Despite the odd phrase lengths, there isa sense of regularity and balance that almost recalls the Classical minuet style. The contrasting Trio expresses the melody in octaves, shifting between hands. But just when it seems that Beethoven’s procedures are becoming a little too straightforward, he inserts a cheeky Presto tune of an entirely different character, which swells violently until it tumbles through five octaves and rushes back up a cadenza-like scale. The return of the scherzo only partially restores the temperamental balance.

The slow movement of the sonata is the longest Beethoven ever wrote for piano, but the listener’s patience is amply rewarded with arguably the most profound and elevated music in the entire piano repertoire. The first two notes of the movement, an upbeat to the theme proper, were added by Beethoven at the last minute, as the publisher was preparing to print, and is one of the composer’s most famous afterthoughts. The expansive theme of nearly twenty-five measures, in a slow 6/8, gives the illusion of music unfolding on a cosmic scale. Again, the vastness of the material hides the architecture of the movement, which follows a conventional sonata form. The central section, though formally a development section, is more of a cadenza-like bridge to the reprise, which embroiders new figurations around the re-statement of themes.  

In order to pass convincingly from the contemplative slow movement into a Finale (and to smooth over the retransition from F-sharp minor to B-flat major), Beethoven inserts a slow introduction in the style of a free fantasy, with sudden changes of tempo and thematic material.  It isn’t surprising that this improvisatory passage recalls Bach, as Beethoven then proceeds to a fugal finale comparable in scope to his Große Fuge, Op. 133. Here Beethoven adheres for the most part to the rules of Baroque fugue composition, but this is no mere academic exercise, as it reaches levels of profundity and grandeur that many Baroque masters would have envied. He employs many of the stock devices of contrapuntal writing: inversions, augmentations, crab canons, and a fugue within a fugue. The trill figure of the fugue’s subject and the wide melodic leap within help the listener keep track of the theme amid these various treatments. This movement in particular presents a challenge to the performer, requiring a monumental technical effort to keep the texture clear without detracting from the necessary fullness of tone. But as Beethoven himself remarked, “what is difficult is also beautiful.”

—Luke Howard, © 2017

Program Subject to Change Without Notice

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