Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kempff's First "Hammerklavier"

The mightiest of Beethoven's piano sonatas, the "Hammerklavier," was slow to come to records in its original form.  Its first recording, in 1930, wasn't by a pianist at all, but by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Felix Weingartner, in Weingartner's own orchestration.  Then when Artur Schnabel undertook his pioneering cycle of all the Beethoven sonatas, the "Hammerklavier" was one of the last to be released in his series, appearing in 1936 as the tenth of twelve volumes devoted to the sonatas.  About the same time, this utterly different interpretation by Wilhelm Kempff (very controlled, while Schnabel's was hell-for-leather with fistfuls of wrong notes) appeared, the first of three recordings he was to make of the work:

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 ("Hammerklavier")
Wilhelm Kempff, piano
Recorded c. 1935-36
Brunswick-Polydor set BP-4, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 102.02 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.44 MB)

Jean Sibelius, when Kempff visited him in Finland, requested that he play the slow movement of the "Hammerklavier."  When Kempff finished, Sibelius said, "You did not play that as a pianist but rather as a human being."

This set was one of only eight that American Brunswick presented as album sets in about 1937, in its new red-label Brunswick-Polydor series.  The entire series was withdrawn after the American Record Corporation (at the time, the parent company of both Brunswick and Columbia) was sold to CBS a year later.


  1. Wonderful! Thanks again, Kempff was a giant of a pianist!

  2. It certainly is a contrast to Schnabel! Thanks for this one.

  3. Thanks Bryan! Great performance from a great artist.