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Beethoven’s Big Bang – Interview with François-Frédéric Guy

Interview

In the 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth, we have invited some of our favourite musicians to join us for a year-long series. One of France’s greatest Beethovenians, renowned pianist François-Frédéric Guy told us more about his upcoming concert in #Beethoven250 and shared his personal Beethoven anecdotes.

Tell us about your Beethoven 250 Kings Place concert this year.

The programme for my concert in March shows the incredible evolution of Beethoven’s music throughout his life, starting from the very first piano sonata, much influenced by Haydn and also by Mozart in its second movement. This is followed by the magnificent and truly original Pastoral Sonata Opus 28 written during his Heiligenstadt Testament period. The Heiligenstadt Testament is a letter written by Ludwig van Beethoven to his brothers Carl and Johann at Heiligenstadt on 6 October 1802, in which he laid bare his despair and vowed to devote himself to his art in order to carry on living, despite his encroaching deafness. The Pastoral is reflecting a naturalist and nostalgic atmosphere with supreme beauty and newness in piano writing.

Then comes the greatest and most extreme sonata ever written for piano, the Hammerklavier, which pushes all the musical dimensions to their limits. The work is 45 minutes long with the deepest slow movement that can only be compared to the 9th Symphony’s one, followed by an incredibly complex fugue as we find in many late Beethoven compositions. And then this ‘no man’s land’ movement between these two enormous movements in which Beethoven seems to create the origin of all music from nothing – a spectacular musical Big Bang.

‘[In the Hammerklavier] Beethoven seems to create the origin of all music from nothing – a spectacular musical Big Bang.’

What’s your favourite Beethoven anecdote or quote? Anything we are less likely to have heard before?

It is actually a very sad story: I recently discovered that, due to Beethoven’s deafness, he was hearing a permanent noise 24 hours a day that must have made his life a real hell. Could there be a more terrible thing happening to someone who more than anybody else relies on his ears working 100% well?

What was the first piece by Beethoven you ever played? Any special memory of a performance?

The very first Beethoven piece I performed in public was the Hammerklavier Sonata! I had also played his Piano Concerto No. 1 for my examination in the Paris Conservatoire which I attended, and also a couple of his early sonatas.

Where can you see Beethoven’s influence today?

This question is difficult to answer! What I can say is that I feel that Beethoven’s music is played around the world on every continent and, as I recently read somewhere, he is now the number one composer in terms of how many times his works have been performed worldwide.

What would you give Beethoven for his 250th birthday?

An appointment with the greatest ear specialist in the world.

What would be your Beethoven Desert Island work?

That would be Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

Who would you invite to dinner with Beethoven?

Nobody! I’d rather prefer a ‘tête-à-tête’.

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