Learning from Beethoven

Classic Arts Features   Learning from Beethoven
Mitsuko Uchida plays the composer's Fourth Piano Concerto this month with the New York Philharmonic.

It might seem strange that when asked about her biggest musical influences, pianist Mitsuko Uchida‹who was born in Japan, trained in Vienna, and now lives in London‹rattles off an eclectic group of names that doesn't include a single pianist: cellist Pablo Casals, conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, violinist Joseph Szigeti; for Mozart, violinist Fritz Busch; and for Beethoven, the Busch Quartet.

But she doesn't hesitate before saying, simply, that her biggest influence when playing Beethoven, is Beethoven. "If I didn't have the music I would study from what other people did, but he did leave the music, so that's what I am working with. You cannot learn about Beethoven from anyone else besides Beethoven."

The Fourth Piano Concerto‹which she performs this month with the Philharmonic, conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi‹is Ms. Uchida's favorite among Beethoven's concertos, and "one of the most extraordinary pieces he wrote," she says.

"He reaches such extremes in the Third Piano Concerto, in the dark drama of the first movement and the ethereal second movement, before he comes back down to earth. The Fourth Concerto is much more introverted. The tragedy and extremes are all there, but it's done differently. And because of the introspection of the music, it brings you into a different sphere of extremes. I think this is one of the most overall conflicted pieces of music, even for Beethoven."

If you still don't understand why the Fourth is her favorite, Ms. Uchida suggests that you listen to the piece, adding with a laugh, that if "I had to explain in words why I love it so much I wouldn't play a concert!"

Vivien Schweitzer, a freelance music writer, has written for Newsday, Gramophone, TimeOut, and the Financial Times.

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