Over the years, many of the countless attempts to portray Beethoven have veered towards the one-dimensional: the hero, the titan, the free spirit, the rebel and non-conformist, the musical libertarian… While there may be some truth in one or more of these labels, the reality is infinitely more complex. To get to know the true Beethoven, one needs to look beyond the multitude of myths that have proliferated around him – and a good starting point is to focus on some of his vocal miniatures, works that have been unjustly eclipsed by the monumental status of his nine symphonies.
Beethoven revisited the Lied form continually throughout his entire life. Here, we encounter a poetically sensitive and insightful man, drawn to the humorous qualities of the genre as well as to the fundamental questions of human existence.
World-renowned artists baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Jan Lisiecki reveal some of his rich and varied creations in this field on their first joint album, Ludwig van Beethoven: Lieder · Songs, scheduled for international release by Deutsche Grammophon on 20 March 2020.
It has long been one of Matthias Goerne’s main concerns to work not only with specialised Lied accompanists, but also with top-calibre concert pianists. He places great stock in exchanging ideas on interpretation and performance on an equal footing with his artistic partners. Christoph Eschenbach, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Leif Ove Andsnes… – the list of pianists with whom he has regularly performed continues. Now over fifty, and with almost twenty-five years’ experience of the opera and concert stages to his credit, Goerne has been seeking to shed fresh light on the repertoire by exploring the songs of selected composers with some of the most outstanding members of the younger generation.
As he notes, the pianist plays a particularly significant role in Beethoven’s Lieder: “The piano parts in Beethoven’s songs are relatively complex, calling for an instinctive virtuosity beyond the reach of many pianists.” The singer found just that quality in Canadian pianist and exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist Jan Lisiecki, whose exceptionally acclaimed recent recording of Beethoven’s five piano concertos is already being touted as a new reference, and whose playing is notable above all for its profound sensitivity and an interpretative maturity that belies the artist’s youth.
“The very first time we met, I noticed just how quick Jan was to grasp new ideas,” recalls Goerne, “not to mention the incredible ability he had to translate those ideas onto the keyboard.”
Goerne and Lisiecki selected twelve works for their album, including two song cycles: the Sechs Lieder, op.48 – settings of poems by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715–69) – and An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), the best-known of Beethoven’s solo vocal compositions. Matthias Goerne believes the fact that the composer’s songs are often overlooked today is due to the towering stature of Schubert as a Lieder composer. “That’s why Beethoven’s achievements in this genre are overshadowed. The very concept of the Lied is so indelibly and permanently linked with the name of Schubert that everything that happened before him is seen as scarcely worthy of attention.”
With this release, Goerne and Lisiecki demonstrate in an impressive manner that there is still plenty to reconcile and discover about Beethoven.