Earlier this year Daniel Barenboim marked the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth by recording the 32 piano sonatas and the Diabelli Variations at Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal for Deutsche Grammophon. 33 Metamorphoses – Complete Piano Sonatas & Diabelli Variations preserves his mature vision of these works as a legacy for his contemporaries and future generations. Scheduled for international release on 30 October 2020, his fifth complete survey of the sonatas arose from a period of deep immersion in Beethoven’s scores, made possible by the cancellation of public concerts because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was delighted that, thanks to Deutsche Grammophon and its partners, hundreds of thousands of listeners around the world were able to share in the live-streamed concerts we gave in April from the Pierre Boulez Saal,” Barenboim says. “To have the chance to record Beethoven’s sonatas so soon after for the Yellow Label felt like the ideal response to the pandemic. At no point during the last fifty years has there been a period when I’ve had time to spend three whole months just playing the piano.”
And in the extraordinary circumstances that have hit humanity so hard this year, it was Beethoven to whom Barenboim returned. His stated desire – despite his vast experience of playing these works – was to approach the sonatas and Diabelli Variations “from scratch”. Listeners can compare and contrast for themselves thanks to the inclusion in this set of two bonus discs featuring the prodigiously talented young Barenboim’s 1958-9 recordings for the Westminster label of the “Pathétique”, “Moonlight”, “Appassionata”, “Waldstein”, “Hammerklavier” and op.111 sonatas, the last of which was Beethoven’s final contribution to the medium.
As Barenboim explains, the piano sonatas hold a power that goes far beyond words. “No matter how many times you play them,” he says, “there are always fresh personal perspectives waiting to be discovered for the performer and for listeners. Beethoven’s sonatas, especially the late works – and the Diabelli Variations too, his last major work for the piano – lift us high above our daily cares and worries to a place where we can begin to see things as they really are, to understand what it truly means to be human.”