Jonathan Biss Embraces Beethoven

Jun 29, 2012
Originally published on September 18, 2012 4:26 pm

Every musician practices differently. Some turn their own living rooms into rehearsal spaces. Others, like pianist Jonathan Biss, prefer to step out of the comforts of home and into a studio. "It's a more productive way of working," Biss told us as we barged in with cameras and microphones.

Biss has begun a nine-year climb up Mount Everest, learning and recording all 32 of Beethoven's piano sonatas. On a sweltering New York afternoon, he was deep into the Fifth Sonata in C minor, music published in 1798.

"Great music is always greater than you'll ever be able to play it," Biss told us. "And I didn't want to spend the rest of my life living in fear of it, and I decided the time had come to dive in. The music is so powerful that an immersion in it is a pretty heavy thing."

The Fifth Sonata is from early in Beethoven's career, but in this final movement, with its nervous twitches, you can already hear a rebel — and a snippet of melody that will surface again some nine years later in his groundbreaking Fifth Symphony.

Hear Biss play more Beethoven and talk about his rehearsal space in our new series In Practice.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit