Creatively Speaking
4:56 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

A Goodyear For Beethoven

For the past few years, pianist Stewart Goodyear has been reconnecting to his musical roots through Beethoven. He performed all 32 of the composer's piano sonatas in a single day in 2011 and 2013, and then over four concerts last month. A stunt? A statement? Goodyear tells The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns it's more like a calling.

Isn't Stewart Goodyear that pianist who specializes in Gershwin?

Typecasting rarely reflects what an artist can do. In truth Goodyear has had a closer and longer relationship with Beethoven whose piano sonatas are hugely different from each other and play like succeeding chapters in an epic novel. When Goodyear had spent several seasons running around playing concertos that other people wanted, he realized he needed to immerse himself in Beethoven, both onstage and in the recording studio.

"I thought, what on earth am I doing? The passion that was something that was lost. I went back to my childhood to what inspired make to become a pianist in the first place."

Some pianists stand back from Beethoven in awe. Not Goodyear. Even the gargantuan, enigmatic Hammerklavier sonatas seem clear to him starting with the grand first movement.

"I felt like if one approached the first movement like a Baroque overture, like an homage of Vivaldi, it makes perfect sense. Then you have opera buffa in the second movement. It has almost no good manners at all. It's slapstick. Then you have the ultimate declaration of heartbreak and sadness..."

Beethoven's metronome markings seem insanely fast to some pianists. But maybe that's why the slow movement can seem so ponderous.

"Instead of making the public cry, they make the public sleep."

He could go on all day, and he has, pianistically speaking, starting in 2011 when he played his first Beethoven "sonatathon" in his native Toronto. The very idea turned out to be oddly controversial.

"They thought for some reason that I was cheapening the sonatas, which I found very hurtful...cheapening it as an athletic event, which was the opposite of what I was trying to do."

By the end cheap was not how he felt. He wasn't even tired. 

"I felt reborn. For real. I really did. I was ready to do the cycle all over again."

Old-school musicians believe in waiting until age 50 to take on deep dark Beethoven. But Goodyear now in is mid 30s is of a generation that starts early with this stuff, giving Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms performances that are some of the best out there. Though not always. But do masterpieces serve anyone when on left a high, barely reachable pedestal?