D 894 in G major
I treasure Schubert’s last 5 piano sonatas — 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 — but particularly №18 and №21, and particularly this performance of №18. It is one of those pieces that change your idea of what music can be like, or perhaps even what art can be like — I really don’t know any other art that triggers in me feelings quite in the same dimension as this.
The best word I can come up with to describe this music is “eternal”. It is above emotion; it does not have joy, or sadness, or playfulness; no consonance or dissonance; no nostalgia and no anticipation.
And this is a truly phenomenal performance that manages to capture its eternity and purity.
When listening to it, it’s like you’re in a world where there’s only you and the sonata; you both simply exist there. The sonata takes different forms and detachedly flows between them, and you observe it.
Sometimes it lightly swings; sometimes it is like flares of sun on a mountain stream; sometimes it thunders for a few seconds and sometimes it goes quiet again.
It meditates and contemplates. It gets bored.
Sometimes it takes familiar forms — a major chord, a menuetto, a crescendo — they emerge and dissolve. They are not what they seem — major chords are not happy, minor chords are not sad. Resolutions don’t resolve anything, and there’s nothing to resolve anyway. Crescendos don’t culminate.
Sometimes it’s more self-absorbed, staying on a form for a little longer; sometimes more restless; you get a glimpse and it’s gone. Its play does not have a beginning or end or a goal. It is not to entertain or tease or engage; it’s simply there.
It is hard to believe that Schubert wrote this when he was 29 — like I am now. How could he have this inside him at 29? How can it fit into a human? Will this much ever fit into me?
And then how can a human even dare perform this, what a monumental task is it to transform yourself to be this sonata and drop all human passions while you are it, drop your ambition and your search for pleasure and your impatience, and just channel it! — even Richter and Sokolov add dramatic elements to it, that to me, no matter how slight, sound jarring…