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Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ a work of tremendous contrasts

Pianist Matei Varga.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The “Appassionata” offers glimpse into the very heart of Beethoven.

Composed from 1804-1805, the work reflects his coming to acceptance of his progressively deteriorating hearing. Named the “Appassionata” by a publisher 30 years after its genesis, Piano Sonata No. 23 is a work of tremendous contrasts, packed with crashing chords, unexpected pauses and shockingly violent outbursts.

Romanian-born pianist Matei Varga will helm the piece in honor of the composer’s 250th anniversary at Chatter Sunday on Feb. 16 at the Las Puertas Event Center. Pieces by Bedrich Smetana and Leos Janacek also fill the program

Varga first learned to play the “Appassionata” when he was 15.

“It’s a piece of grand gestures and speeches; I consider music as a form of speech,” he said in a telephone interview from New York.

“He could still hear when he wrote it,” Varga continued. “His hearing was not very good, but it’s not a deaf piece. The less he could hear, the more he became spiritual. You let that music come inside you. You can rediscover it many times.”

The pianist decided to play the work with the unexpected: Smetana’s “Macbeth” and Janacek’s “In the Mists.”

He discovered the little-known “Macbeth” during a visit to the Juilliard book store.

“It’s like a drawing,” he said. “It’s made with a lot of spirit and panache. It was originally called ‘Macbeth and the Witches,’ so it is really more like a tableaux.”

The piece’s gloomy mood stems from the death of Smetana’s wife in 1859.

Janacek’s “In the Mists” emerged from similarly dark circumstances. The composer wrote it after the death of his daughter of typhus at age 20 in 1903.

“I consider it on the list of the most important 20th century works,” Varga said. “It is a very important cycle of four movements. To me it is a piece about death and the spirit of someone we love.”

Both Smetana and Janacek are Czech composers.

“My heart and soul, of course, come from Eastern Europe,” Varga added.

The pianist is a Chatter regular, having played there multiple times.

“I have a support group there; I always come when I’m asked,” he said. “And I love New Mexico very, very much. It’s always sunny; it’s always beautiful.”

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