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Beethoven would have been surprised by the reverence his sonatas inspire today. Plus, why Mahler's 8th shouldn't be performed at St Paul's

By Martin Kettle   February 2008

Recycling the sonatas

Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas are venerated for their range, originality and depth. The 19th-century pianist Hans von Bülow famously dubbed them the New Testament of the pianistic Bible (the Old Testament was Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier). A 20th-century successor, Louis Kentner, suggested that they should be presented to the first Martian visitor as proof of the achievements of Earthling civilisation. Both remarks are a reminder that Beethoven’s sonatas have long possessed a status that goes beyond the notes on the page.

A performance of the complete cycle, like the one being undertaken by Daniel Barenboim in the…

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