On Life, Maturity and Death: Sir András Schiff Plays Last Sonatas, October 12

Posted on October 10, 2015, 10:43 am
3 mins

In our current romantic narrative-loving society, we want to believe that all art is autobiographical. A specific Haydn string quartet is joyful because he fell in love in the year of its composition, isn’t it? That early turbulent G-minor Mozart symphony absolutely must be indicative of some adolescent angst—right?

But unfortunately, the artistic impulse—and artistry as a career—manifested much differently for the grand masters of classical music, and ascribing any autobiographical significance to these works is largely a fool’s errand. It is possible to see markers of the composer’s life in their artistic output only as we venture into the age of Romanticism. (In music, this loosely translates to late Beethoven through the 19th century.)  Even then, we must proceed tentatively.

But in the Seattle Symphony’s program on Monday, October 12, it may be possible to carefully watch the shift in this compositional ideology. The performance is part of the Symphony’s Distinguished Artist Series and will comprise four sonatas performed entirely by world-renowned pianist and conductor Sir András Schiff. The sonata, an extraordinarily intimate solo genre, will be quite the shift for Benaroya Hall, and this program has a kicker: Each piece will be the final sonata written by the four composers of the first Viennese school: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

In choosing the Last Sonatas of each of these composers, the Symphony has concocted a program of incredibly mature works, allowing us to revel in each composer’s mastery. Perhaps inadvertently, it will also allow us to trace the shifting ideologies of autobiographical clues throughout history, comparing the brilliant joy and vivacity in the finale of Haydn’s Sonata No. 62 to the omnipresent death knell in the second movement of Schubert’s Sonata No. 21. This latter piece will conclude the program (following Haydn, Beethoven’s Op. 111 and Mozart’s K. 576) in a gorgeous four-movement swansong composed on his deathbed. If you’re in a place to consider mortality and be moved to tears, don’t miss this performance.


Sir András Schiff plays “The Last Sonatas”

When: Monday, October 12 at 7:30 PM

Where: Benaroya Hall (200 University St)

Tickets start at $20, and can be purchased on the Seattle Symphony website here.

Claire Biringer is a Seattle-based music lover, educator and writer. She holds an MA in Music History from University of Washington, where her primary research involved contemporary opera and its social implications. She enjoys using music and writing to build communities and broaden minds.