Frédéric Lacroix is a well-known Ottawa-based pianist and composer who specializes in early music. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Piano and Composition at the University of Ottawa School of Music. He answered five questions posed by Artsfile’s Peter Robb. Lacroix will be performing this Saturday (March 18) at 7 p.m. at Southminster United Church as part of the Concerts By The Canal series organized by Roland Graham. Information about the series is available here.
Q. You are performing Beethoven’s first three sonatas on a fortepiano of the type that the composer would have used. Why are you doing this?
A. Although I play a lot of modern piano, I find that playing these sonatas on fortepiano allows one to get a newer (or older if you prefer) perspective of the composer’s sound world. As well, there are numerous differences in the make of the instruments (fortepiano vs. modern piano) that affect one’s technique. Consequently, playing on fortepianos has changed significantly the way I perform Beethoven and Mozart on modern pianos.
Q. Where does the instrument come from? Can you tell me some of its history.
A. It is a copy of fortepiano from circa 1790 by the Viennese Piano Maker Anton Walter. Both Mozart and Beethoven owned Walter pianos. This copy was made about 10-12 years ago by Richard Hester, who lives near Albany, N.Y. It used to be owned by Cynthia Millman-Floyd who brought the idea of playing on fortepianos to Ottawa. She supported the purchase of a similar instrument by the University of Ottawa School of Music a few years prior to her own purchase.
Q. Can you tell me about the history of these sonatas?
A. They are recognized as being Beethoven’s first sonatas for the piano though they are, in fact, not. They are the first published set of sonatas, op.1 being a set of three piano trios.
They were written circa 1794-95, a few years after his official arrival in Vienna, He had written sonatas while he was growing up in Bonn and upon his initial arrival in Vienna but these are rarely performed and/or published. It is natural that Beethoven wrote sonatas for the piano considering that he was one of the most influential pianists of his day in Vienna and later achieved mythical status as an artist.
Q. Beethoven dedicated the first sonata to Haydn. Is this the bridge between musical periods in your opinion.
A. No. Later sonatas will be. Haydn was Beethoven’s teacher in Vienna. Beethoven originally wanted to study with Mozart but the latter unfortunately passed away before Beethoven could take lessons and, on an earlier visit, Mozart was out of town. I believe that Beethoven respected Haydn and that the lessons were fruitful in a way, but Beethoven had so much individuality as a student that he was supposedly difficult to teach. That being written, the sonatas embrace the same kind of rhetorical construction as the sonatas of Haydn as well as manipulation of a listener’s expectation.
Q. Tell me about yourself and your interest in period instruments.
A. I did my DMA at Cornell in performance practice. I like playing all types of keyboard instruments. I also compose and like ornamenting though I doubt that I will do much of that on Saturday.