A Beethoven cycle that took 16 years

A Beethoven cycle that took 16 years


norman lebrecht

February 03, 2022

The legendary pianist Artur Schnabel took six years in the 1930s to make the first intergal recording of the 32 Beethoven sonatas.

Angela Hewitt, the Canadian pianist, has taken a little longer.

She began to record the Beethoven sonatas for a South London label in 2006 and will release the final segment – Hammerklavier and opus 111 – tomorrow.  The two works form, on first hearing tonight, a fitting conclusion to an ever-interesting journey.

Angela writes: ‘Thank you Hyperion Records for supporting my Beethoven Sonata cycle from the beginnning (that extends to the late Ted Perry who told his son Simon on his deathbed to record Beethoven with me). It has meant so much to me to record all the Sonatas–if I say almost even more than Bach it’s because Bach I would have done anyway, but to do all the Beethoven has been a tremendous voyage and one that has also challenged me enormously both as a pianist and a person. It was worth every minute of the hours and hours and hours of work. I’m also glad I didn’t rush it.’




  • Pollini took 39 years.

    • Daniela says:

      But Louis Lortie took few weeks, during the first period of pandemic. He had no concerts, so decided to record the sonatas for Medici.tv, and the performances are magnificent !!!

    • Kenny says:

      And Gilels, well, …

      • Gabriel Parra Blessing says:

        Gilels’ incomplete set is probably the most tragically truncated of all especially on account of missing the greatest of all piano sonatas, Op. 111, which he never performed live either so that we have no idea what Gilels, an extraordinary Beethovenian, would have done with it.

        Many a pianist either died or was otherwise incapacitated while in the midst of recording the Beethoven 32, most famously probably being Solomon (apart from Gilels) but also Hungerford, Gould (he clearly intended to record the complete cycle), and Arrau’s second digital cycle for Philips. Another favorite that was never completed not due to death or incapacitation but because the record company simply (and inexplicably) dropped the project is Bruno Leonardo Gelber’s, which was shaping up to be an extraordinary cycle. Meanwhile, another that seems to be decades in the making and I fear will never be completed is Perahia’s, who has avoided late Beethoven like the plague (mostly), but which on evidence of his Opp. 101 & 106, his Opp. 109-111 would be some of the best on record. Wish DG would get on his case and tell him to hurry up, as he ain’t getting any younger.

        • Daniel Poulin says:

          Of the remaining Sonatas to be recorded by Gould to complete the set were the Waldstein (he never played it and disliked it) and Les Adieux (he played it while a teenager in 1949 and he loved it).

  • Wurm says:

    Ted Perry was a legend – not many record execs like him.

  • music lover says:

    Superb,as everything she does….

  • Daniel Poulin says:

    Another Canadian pianist, Louis Lortie, played all 32 piano sonatas + the 10 violin and the 5 cello sonatas during a Beethoven Festival that took place in Montreal in the span of 30 days, from October 1 to November 1 (2001). The whole series was recorded by Radio-Canada. James Ehnes was the violinist and Jan Vogler the cellist.

  • Titurel says:

    I had the occasion to perform with Angela in the 90s. Fine player, but a bit of a pompous grand dame, even back then. Not surprising she’d make such a story about Ted Perry on his deathbed all about herself.

  • Larry WEST says:

    Barenboim’s done it a few times also. Never seen him rely on sheet music….

  • Gabriel Parra Blessing says:

    I love Hewitt’s Bach. I don’t think it’s the best ever but she’s clearly an idiomatic Bach player who has fully internalized Bach idiom and style. Glad to have all of her Bach in my collection. Her Beethoven, on the other hand, is utterly faceless and unimaginative. The subtext of her own comments I think make clear it was something of a chore for her to record Beethoven’s 32, and it certainly sounds like it. She is an unnatural Beethoven player by the same measure that Bach is a native language for her. I haven’t, of course, listened to her Opp. 106 and 111 yet but if her earlier recordings are any indication, I highly doubt they will fare any better.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    Annie Fischer took even longer . . .

  • Dana Franchitto says:

    oh this is wonderful I look forward to hearing it

  • Don says:

    A wonderful pianist, Michael Arnowitt, who lives in Montpelier, Vermont, performed each Beethoven piano sonata in the year in which he (the pianist) was the same age as was Beethoven when he wrote each sonata. The project took 26 years.

  • Peter Thall says:

    Balint Vazsonyi, the great Hungarian pianist, in order to gain that elusive attention from the always stingy press, performed the 32 sonatas over two days in the early 1970’s at the YMHA. in chronological order (!) celebrating the entire arc of Beethoven’s creative life. Brown suit in the morning, tuxedo in the afternoon, and tails in the evening. It was memorable for me and for the critics who showed up.

  • Fernandel says:

    Barenboim needs four days to record the full cycle. That makes him the greatest of all.

  • Jim says:

    pfft. That’s nothing. My Beethoven cycle is coming out in the Spring of 2257.

  • Viv says:

    I love Hyperion, but not this artist.

  • christopher storey says:

    The John Lill cycle was not to be underestimated. What has happened to John Lill ?