The Maestro’s Bleakest Work

In Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata,’ darkness overwhelms light.


In 1804, following works born of the idealism of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment such as his “Eroica” Symphony, Beethoven created the greatest musical explosion for solo piano of its time: the Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, known as the “Appassionata.” It is a work of a very different temper.

Composed soon after Beethoven first faced the catastrophic prospect of incurable deafness, the work has fascinated and confounded performers and listeners ever since. Full of tragic power, the sonata is arguably Beethoven’s darkest and most aggressive work. It has been compared to Dante’s “Inferno” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

To this day pianists the world over wrestle with the jarring drama of this technically ferocious keyboard marvel. Having experienced the thrilling yet strenuous task of performing it numerous times, I can attest to the truth of what Carl Czerny, the composer’s most influential student, said of it: Performers must “develop the kind of physical and mental powers that will be needed to be able to represent the beauties of the noble musical picture.”

The main expectation of the Viennese Classical sonata was to provide the listener with a well-balanced mix of delight and surprise. Mozart was particularly skillful in the former, while Haydn excelled at the latter. Beethoven’s recipe was to write an emotionally involving composition that would hold the listener’s full attention until the very end, one in which shifts and surprises were part of a dramatic entirety.

Among Beethoven’s 32 sonatas, the “Appassionata” stands out for its uncompromising pianistic drive and extremely effective dramaturgy. One early 20th-century commentator spoke of the work’s “rush deathward.” The absence of any hint of a silver lining in the work was well ahead of its time.

Over the course of its three movements, the “Appassionata” pulls the listener through a wide range of extreme emotions. The drama begins with the pianist slowly reaching to the keyboard. Unison notes then fall downward and stalk upward, giving rise to a mysterious stillness. Suddenly the music bursts its bounds, and as it charges ahead the pace relaxes into a lyrical and hymn-like episode of graceful beauty. The dream soon proves to be a nightmare, though, as the fierce turbulence that lurked behind the work’s quiet opening regains its full potential. More dramatic shifts follow as episodes of extreme velocity, furiously jolting rhythms (that could be described as jazzy had they been created a hundred years later), and moments of solace alternate in transporting the listener.

But is the source of the diabolic power of the “Appassionata” simply the drama of violent surprises and shifts of mood? In my view it stems from something deeper, the way Beethoven highlights the tension between what was by then Western music’s most fundamental building blocks, the major and minor keys. You know what these are even if you think you don’t. Music in a major key usually sounds optimistic, cheerful; music in a minor key often sounds sad, even foreboding. These traits—naturally elaborated and complicated beyond what words can describe—add much to the music’s meaning and provide a kind of a dramatic framework.

In Beethoven’s day, “public” works such as symphonies needed to end upbeat and in a major key; it simply wouldn’t do to send a large audience home with an unpleasant aftertaste. However, in pieces written for smaller, private audiences, such as piano sonatas, Beethoven was emboldened to continue in the darker mode until the very end. In the “Appassionata” he made use of this freedom as he did nowhere else.

Throughout the sonata we are witness to a back-and-forth drama of major conquered by minor, or, if you will, darkness overwhelming light. Much of the piece’s harmonic structure includes the systematic repression of brighter themes in major keys. The first movement’s lyrical second theme (in A-flat major) is the first victim. The propitious melody comes to a sudden standstill; a strident chord interrupts and the music veers off into minor. Throughout the rest of the movement, other major keys become strangled by minor. This impulse reaches its climax in the cataclysmic second part of the sonata, which comprises the second and third movements, which follow each other without a break.

Remaining entirely in major, the second movement denies the horrors of the first movement until the sudden and terrific opening gesture of the minor key finale crushes the hopes represented by the major once and for all. The major mode makes one last attempt at an entrance near the very end of the work, but tragically late. And because of its tardiness it sounds like devil’s laughter in the face of ultimate damnation.

Czerny speculated about the finale that, “Perhaps Beethoven, ever fond of representing natural scenes, imagined the waves of the sea in a stormy night, whilst cries of distress are heard from afar.” Audiences over the past two centuries have perceived them to be devastatingly close. The modern listener may be inclined to either view, while every performance cultivates a truth of its own. In the end, what remains certain is that the “Appassionata” is a masterpiece that remains eternally fascinating with its eerie, brilliant and original wildness.



Do Orchestras Really Need Conductors?

Does This Guy Matter? Conductor Leonard Bernstein during rehearsal with the Cincinnati Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 1977.

Does This Guy Matter? Conductor Leonard Bernstein during rehearsal with the Cincinnati Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 1977.

James Garrett/New York Daily News via Getty Images

Have you ever wondered whether music conductors actually influence their orchestras?

They seem important. After all, they’re standing in the middle of the stage and waving their hands. But the musicians all have scores before them that tell them what to play. If you took the conductor away, could the orchestra manage on its own?

A new study aims to answer this question. Yiannis Aloimonos, of the University of Maryland, and several colleagues recruited the help of orchestral players from Ferrara, Italy.

They installed a tiny infrared light at the tip of an (unnamed) conductor’s baton. They also placed similar lights on the bows of the violinists in the orchestra. The scientists then surrounded the orchestra with infrared cameras.

When the conductor waved the baton, and the violinists moved their bows, the moving lights created patterns in space, which the cameras captured. Computers analyzed the infrared patterns as signals: Using mathematical techniques originally designed by Nobel Prize-winning economist Clive Granger, Aloimonos and his colleagues analyzed whether the movements of the conductor were linked to those of the violinists.

The scientists hypothesized that if the movement of the conductor could predict the movements of the violinists, then the conductor was clearly leading the players. But if the conductor’s movements could not predict the movement of the violinists, then it was really the players who were in charge.

“You have a signal that is originating from the conductor, because he is moving his hands and his body,” Aloimonos explained. “And then the players, they perceive that signal, and they create another signal by moving the bows of the violin appropriately. So you have some sort of sensorimotor conversation.”

(The research study is part of a larger project where Aloimonos is trying to figure out if human movements share something in common with human language; he suspects both are not only governed by a grammar, but that both may be based on similar processes in the brain.)

Aloimonos said the study found that conductors were leading the violinists — the movement of the conductors predicted the movement of the violinists, not the other way around.

But the study found more: The scientists had two conductors lead the same orchestra. One was a veteran who exercised an iron grip over the violinists. The other was an amateur.

“What we found is the more the influence of the conductor to the players, the more aesthetic — aesthetically pleasing the music was overall,” Aloimonos said.

Music experts who listened to the performance of the orchestra under the control of the two conductors found the version produced by the authoritarian conductor superior. Remember, these experts didn’t know which version was being led by the veteran conductor and which by the amateur. All they heard was the music.


The Met Live in HD Series continues with Puccini’s beloved ‘La Boheme’

April 5, 2014

A last minute cast change in today’s matinee broadcast of Puccini’s “La Boheme” took audiences by surprise. Latvian soprano, Kristine Opolais, who has starred as numerous Puccini heroines at the Metropolitan Opera, made her house debut of the role Mimi, graciously stepping in for Anita Hartig. Even having starred in the demanding title role of “Madama Butterfly” less than 24 hours prior, Opolais sounded at the top of her game and, alongside Vittorio Grigolo’s Rodolfo, swept the audience off their feet.

Stefano Ranzani plunged right into Puccini’s colorful score and led a steady and charismatic rendition. The opening scene, like so many others in this opera, has a conversational feel and relies heavily on the liveliness of the cast. Fortunately, today’s performance was teeming with fresh energy. Massimo Cavalletti, in the role of Marcello, and Grigolo (both native Italian speakers) highlighted the libretto’s wit, while Oren Gradus, in the role of Colline, and Patrick Carfizzi, in the role of Schaunard, instilled the amicable atmosphere with their good-natured banter.

The back-to-back audience favorites, “Che Gelida Manina” and “Mi Chiamano Mimi,” were show-stopping to say the least. Grigolo not only looked the part of the romantic young poet, but, more importantly, sang the part with conviction and fervor. His voice rang ardently, but what made his vocal performance particularly thrilling was the power and yearning in his delicate pianos.

Opolais was equally nuanced. In her Act I aria, her shimmering tone blossomed in the climactic line “il primo bacio dell’aprile è mio” and her touching characterization gained dimension as the opera progressed. Seeing as Opolais had only a few hours to prepare for the role, her stage instinct and the chemistry she shared with her colleagues was truly outstanding. Physically, she inhabited the feeble character and, like Grigolo, completed the portrayal with depictive vocal inflections. Her daring decrescendos communicated Mimi’s frailty and tugged at the audience’s heartstrings more effectively than even the best physical portrayal could have.

The opera’s only other female character, Musetta, is the antithesis of Mimi’s modest, delicate character. Musetta, sung by Susanna Phillips, made a fittingly grand entrance amid the bustling streets of Paris in Act II. Franco Zeffirelli’s notoriously extravagant set for Act II features over 100 supernumeraries, at least as many choristers, the majority of the cast, and even a horse-drawn carriage (on which Musetta is drawn in). Most of the cast is swallowed by commotion, but Phillips maintained a magnetic presence throughout the chaotic act. In Musetta’s famous “Quando M’en Vo,” Phillips demonstrated both her vocal dexterity and bewitching lyricism.

“La Boheme” is, without question, one of the world’s most beloved operas, but it takes more than a cast of great singers to realize the opera’s full dramatic potential and the Met succeeded in bringing together an extraordinary cast of singing actors for this run. The coordination and chemistry between the cast members was superb and the audience’s attention never flagged.

After all these years, the charm of Zeffirelli’s 1981 production has not worn out its welcome. The painstakingly detailed sets and costumes continue to win applause at the start of each act and provide an engrossing setting for the audience members to lose themselves in.




İnci Özdil

İnci Özdil

Turkey’s first female Western classical music orchestra conductor

I thought, “Why should I not conduct my own compositions?” and wanted to become a conductor.

Date of Birth: 1960

Place of Birth: Ankara

Field of Activity

Orchestra conductor

“I received piano education at Ankara State Conservatory. There, I became interested in composing. My older sister Sıdıka Özdil was also thinking along the same lines. Composing was an important goal for us. We studied at the two departments at the same time. Composing is a magnificent world.

When I graduated from the piano department, I thought, ‘Why should I not conduct my own works, my own compositions,’ and set my foot on the path to becoming an orchestra conductor. When you become a composer, you start to feel all the musical colors an orchestra can convey. Once you really begin to hear the orchestra, you want to perform what you have composed for that orchestra. My experience was something like that. There are still not much female conductors in the world. For some reason this job is considered to be a man’s job, but it is not.”

After I started conducting I just couldn’t compose anymore. Because conducting an orchestra is the kind of thing where you must become one with the composer when you’re conducting. It’s as if that moment the composer’s blood is running in your veins. You just can’t sit down and compose paying no attention to all of that.

I cannot forget the very first second of my debut appearance as a conductor.When I saw myself at the helm of a huge orchestra full of accomplished musicians, I remember being terrified at first. I was trembling as I mounted the conductor’s podium. Before signalling the orchestra to begin the piece, I silently and deliberately scanned each member of the orchestra all the way from left to right. My aim was to meet their eyes. It may be this was the first time any of them had seen a woman conductor on the podium. As I lifted my right hand to conduct the first beat, I fell in love with my lifework at that moment. There was a palpable tremendous energy. I was able to lead them exactly according to the music as I heard it. This gave me great pleasure and a sense of confidence. It was the beginning of a passion that would be a lifelong passion. I realized the instant that passion began that it would last till the end of my life. I still live in that moment as if it will never end.
(İnci Özdil)
Zeynep Oral, “Akıl, yürek ve yetenekle kanatlanmak”, Zeyneporal.com, 2.7.2003.


  • 1994İnci Özdil formed the Antalya Chamber Orchestra
  • 1997İnci Özdil transformed the Antalya Chamber Orchestra into Antalya State Symphony Orchestra

İnci Özdil is the youngest conductor and the first female conductor to form a state orchestra in the Republic’s history.


  • 2011Leading Women’s Award of the University Women’s Association of Turkey
  • 1988″Best Commentator” Award in Hans Werner Henze Festival, Germany


Member of the Orchestra@Modern

Member of the Konyaaltı Branch of the University Women’s Association of Turkey, Antalya


Ankara State Conservatory, Ankara
Piano Department, student of Nimet Karatekin and Mithat Fenmen
Composition Department, student of Ferit Tüzün, Necil Kazım Akses and Nevit Kodallı
Conducting Department

Guildhall School of Music, London

Royal Academy of Music, London, student of George Hurst, Colin Metters, John Carewe, Sir Colin Davis and Horst Neumann

Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena, worked with Carlo Maria Giulini

St. Petersburg Conservatory, St. Petersburg, worked with Ilya Alexandrovich Musin

Contributions to Society

Founding member and the conductor of Orchestra@Modern

Family and Friends

  • Mother:(No information available, agricultural engineer)
  • Father:Recai Tayyar Özdil (doctor, popular music composer)
  • Sister:Sıdıka Özdil (composer)
  • Friends:

Projects in her Honour

(No information available)

Further Reading


Quoted Sources:


Source of Visual Images:
    • İnci Özdil privat archive


Additional Information

Female Conductor Information Pool, Women in Music Internet Site:http://www.kapralova.org/CONDUCTORS2.htm



Puccini’s ‘O mio babbino caro’ (Oh My Beloved Father).


Amira Willighagen is a bit nervous – she has never been to such a large audience.  But then she sings the stars from the sky and gets a standing ovation.   The jury (Gordon, Dan Karaty and Chantal Janzen) were stunned and gave her one of the “golden tickets,” which means that Amira goes directly to the live shows. 

Full Translation: I ‘m Amira. I am 9 years. I’m going to sing something you all do not expect what I’m singing. I often dream of fans coming to me and clapping so. Well as thousands of fans were standing here I would laugh a little, sometimes a little wave. I hope it will happen satellite. I ‘m a little nervous. But it is especially nice that I can sing. I think I have now. I ‘m ready for my biggest night merry is that something goes very wrong. because I have trained very hard for today..
 HOST: (to Robert Brink) Hi, Amira ? AMIRA : Of course I want to win that Holland Got Talent, only you can not win them all. I hope, I just hope they find it very beautiful. HOST: Come over here because you can fix sneak a little look. Here it all happen naturally huh. That is left to the jury. AMIRA: the most fun I think   GORDON: Well hurry up AMIRA: Sometimes he says things and very funny that I find very funny. HOST: Go hear. GORDON: Amira Willghagen, I say that? ( yes ) How old are you? AMIRA: I am 9 years old GORDON: And what will you do ? AMIRA: I’m singing a song GORDON: Is that just a song, or is it something special ? AMIRA: Well actually it’s an opera song GORDON: An opera ? ( Yes / Yes) Oww. Why are you singing? AMIRA: Well it started with Kninginnedag, my brother played violin and I also wanted to do something. So I thought I’d better go to sing. I searched on Youtube a song, and then I heard opera songs, which I found very beautiful, that ‘s when I started singing. GORDON: Wow what had bijzonder.Ik were expecting you had sung ( no), IETA K: but you find nothing? What song do you sing? AMIRA: A song O Mio Caro Babbina GORDON: Well Amira (yeah ) I ‘m so curious how that sounds. Do I need earplugs or ikan so safe? It is safe AMIRA SONG GORDON: Yes Amira Willighagen 9 years is here CHANTAL: ( judge) Are you really nine ? (yes ). wow GORDON: Amira they sometimes say that old souls live on in people and when I hear you sing then you have almost the inspiration of Maria Callas, who unfortunately is no longer, but your voice is so pure and so beautiful. But I think it’s so special that for a girl your age that you do this, that’s unbelievable I would also like a daughter.. CHANTAL: Who did you learn to sing? Do you have a voice teacher ? AMIRA: No I do not have singing lessonsCHANTAL: So that you learn yourself. You are going to listen and then you sing along and at some point you can do it. GORDON: Ow incredible. CHANTAL: And what is your dream? AMIRA: Later I would really like to be a singer, but if that fails or so then I would also like to participate in the Olympic Games Athletics. CHANTAL: These are two little things DAN KARETY: Have you ever performed for an sudience ? GORDON: Have you ever occurred to the public? AMIRA: Yes, but not for such a large audience GORDON: But what good of you. Truly and without nerves THEN… CHANTAL: A big fat YES. GORDON: We have in Holland’s Got Talent, just like last year, The Golden Token, for you! HOST: She just qualified for the Live Show. Anyway (absolutely) the Live Show! BROTHER AND FATHER: You’re through, great, great!

Italian Literal translation Singable English
O mio babbino caro,
mi piace, è bello, bello.
Vo’andare in Porta Rossa
a comperar l’anello!Sì, sì, ci voglio andare!
e se l’amassi indarno,
andrei sul Ponte Vecchio,
ma per buttarmi in Arno!Mi struggo e mi tormento!
O Dio, vorrei morir!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!amira-willighagen-s-o-mio-babbino-caro-on-hollands-got-talent-invites-comparisons-to-jackie-evancho

Oh my dear papa,
I love him, he is handsome, handsome.
I want to go to Porta Rossa
To buy the ring!

Yes, yes, I want to go there!
And if my love were in vain,
I would go to the Ponte Vecchio
And throw myself in the Arno!

I am anguished and tormented!
Oh God, I’d like to die!
Papa, have pity, have pity!
Papa, have pity, have pity!

Oh my beloved father,
I love him, I love him!
I’ll go to Porta Rossa,
To buy our wedding ring.

Oh yes, I really love him.
And if you still say no,
I’ll go to Ponte Vecchio,
And throw myself below.

My love for which I suffer,
At last, I want to die.
Father I pray, I pray.
Father I pray, I pray.