A lot whizzing around about Beethoven at the moment, as this year is the 250th anniversary of his birthday in Bonn. The British conductor Ronald Hazlewood commentated and conducted in the 2005 BBC mini series The Genius of Beethoven which, to my mind, gives you no finer picture of the composer and his music. I read somewhere that to celebrate his birthday we should not listen to anything by him for a year. Have you heard of anything so stupid?
What we should be doing is listening. This means listening not while cooking or looking at nonsense on Facebook, but sitting and doing nothing else except listening. This will include re-listening to passages when your attention has wandered and comparing different performances. Try this: Listen to all 32 of his piano sonatas three times over the next year. Listen first to Richter’s version of a performance then to Brendel’s version. Then to Wilhelm Kempff’s (who’s mastery will probably cause you to fall off your chair). All these performers have the complete sonatas on YouTube. Then you find a pianist you like better than those three and listen to them.
In the 1970s in London I had a great friend who ran off with the Indian lodger and whose husband more simply ran off — to the pub. She had two children one of whom, a boy, aged about 12, had a passion for the Kempff recording of the Appassionata Sonata which he played over and over and over again driving everybody in the house crazy, except himself. “But Mum, this is the greatest performance of one of the greatest pieces ever written. What greater influence do you want me to have?” Very sensibly his mother put up with it and the boy has, what they say in England, turned out well.
This may all be too much to ask as we are now not brought up to sit still and do one thing only. But I believe, by doing so, you will see and absorb excellence — a great influence in writing, painting, designing, etc.