In pianist Stewart Goodyear’s mind, the only way to perform Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas is exactly how he listened to them the first time – all at once.
Doing so in a recital setting, over a span of 24 hours, is a tall order, for both performer and audience, but it’s Goodyear’s performance niche.
For Goodyear, 35, the feat is no gimmick performance marathon. Rather, it is his organic approach to the sonatas, which the Canadian-born pianist first heard when he was 4 years old.
“Since then, I knew that when I performed the sonatas it had to be in the way I first heard them,” said Goodyear via phone from his Toronto home. Goodyear will perform the sonatas Saturday at Mondavi’s Jackson Hall.
Like many gifted pianists, Goodyear started early on the piano and became an intense classical music consumer. First came a 13-LP boxed set of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy.
“As soon as my mother and I came home after buying the box set, I went to my portable record player and I was listening to LP after LP, and my day could not be complete until I heard all 13 of the sonatas. ... So I went through all of the sonatas in one day,” said Goodyear.
By the end of the marathon listening session, Goodyear, later to graduate from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, decided he wanted to become a classical pianist.
Experiencing all the sonatas in one day gives a listener an intimate look at the musical evolution of the keyboard composer, as well as offers hints of Beethoven, the person, Goodyear said.
“To me the sonatas are the equivalent of spending the day with a close friend, and within that day you get to see many different layers of that friend’s personality,” he said. “In the 32 sonatas, he displays every emotion. Every example of human experience. ... It is all there.
“I love the way Beethoven looks into the future – there are so many contemporary things that you hear in the sonatas – like in the last sonata where you hear rhythms that would be incorporated into boogie-woogie,” said Goodyear. “And even some of the ways that he wrote – like in the middle sonatas, just after he wrote the Waldstein – this is what Schoenberg and Liszt would incorporate later.”
At Mondavi, the concert will start at 10 a.m., and the last notes will be played just before midnight. There will be a break for lunch between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. and a dinner break between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Goodyear is not the first to attempt the feat. In 2003 pianist Julian Jacobson performed all of the Beethoven sonatas over a 13-hour period in a London church. In 1984, Nevada City pianist Gary Goldschneider performed them on a Bosendorfer grand in a nine-hour marathon to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Grodin’s menswear store on Market Street in San Francisco.
“More common is someone doing all the sonatas in a series over time,” said Mondavi executive director Don Roth, whose span running orchestras dates to 1977 and includes the St. Louis Symphony.
“I caught Daniel Barenboim in one concert at Carnegie Hall – I think he did all the sonatas on several concerts in the course of the season,” said Roth. “But this is very unusual.”
“Obviously, Beethoven didn’t write them at one sitting or probably ever expected this to happen – but of course he didn’t anticipate an era when they would be recorded and could be listened to in succession – and again and again,” said Roth.
When he heard about Goodyear’s project from a friend at Columbia Artists, Roth said, he was intrigued and saw the all-day concert as a way to present classical music in an “out-of-the-box way.”
Presenting classical music in a different way appeals to Goodyear, who is a fan of the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould and his eclectic approach to performing.
“Glenn Gould is the epitome of an individual looking at music outside the box,” Goodyear said. “He was always being creative, always being curious about different ways of looking at pieces, especially those that have been played hundreds of times. He was ahead of his time, and I even think he is ahead of 2013.”
The physical task of performing the sonatas will be daunting. Goodyear says it takes him a full three days to recover, during which he does not go near the instrument, nor does he think about Beethoven.
And if the performance were not enough on its own, Goodyear is performing all the sonatas from memory. He shrugs off the idea that this is unusual and says he has a photographic memory.
“It’s like your favorite novel or movie – when you love something, you know it inside out, and you know it word for word,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz