The Beethoven Odyssey is a labor of love dedicated to sharing this music and telling its story. You are invited to come experience it in person!
In addition to his celebrated abilities as a composer, Beethoven was a superb pianist and improvisor, and it is not strange that he chose the piano as a vehicle for many of his most daring and personal musical outpourings. Dubbed “The New-Testament” of piano literature by Hans von Bulow (Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier being the “Old-Testament”), these 32 sonatas were written over the course of 27 years, contain more than 600 pages and 11 hours of music, and narrate the story of one of humanity’s most exceptional and inspiring life-journeys.
Indeed, every truly monumental masterpiece Beethoven composed came after his deafness and thought of suicide, including the Ninth Symphony, considered by many to be the pinnacle of human artistic achievement. At the premiere of the Ninth, which Beethoven conducted, the concertmaster had to stand up and turn the composer around to face the audience after the performance had ended. He couldn’t hear the thunderous applause as they gave him a standing ovation.
The year 2020 marks Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday. In celebration of this landmark, Juilliard-trained pianist Zachary Hughes will be performing and telling stories about the complete 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven on select Sundays at 3pm throughout 2020 in Greenville, SC. This 13-part concert series will take place on the magnificent 1988 Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand Piano at the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
Two centuries later, we are still talking about and listening to Beethoven. That is the power of the legacy he left. The transformative energy, the striving for an ideal, the resolute refusal to allow deafness to stop his creative genius –these qualities present themselves to us through his music just as clearly today as they ever did. We are lucky indeed to live in a world where his presence is still felt, and his music still heard.
My name is Zachary Hughes and I love Beethoven...
Beethoven was a man of many faces. His life encompassed a difficult childhood with an abusive father, an enormously unsuccessful romantic life, and an ongoing struggle with poor health and deafness. Yet, in spite of these hardships and setbacks, the artist persevered in his art, leaving behind music that has forever changed the world we live in.
Apart from a love of nature and reading, piano took up all of my free time. My siblings and I were homeschooled, and we lived on a small farm, so there were few distractions for me growing up. Beethoven’s music spoke to me in a profound way from a young age, and I listened to every recording of the complete piano sonatas I could get my hands on. Rather than start learning the “easier” sonatas, I decided that the Pathetique and Waldstein sonatas were the way to go and jumped straight into the deep end, much to my teacher’s chagrin. I wasn’t ready for these masterpieces, but the music was far too beautiful to worry about mundane things such as how I would actually manage all those notes!
At 18, I found myself in New York City, an incoming freshman at The Juilliard School. I was a small-town kid suddenly surrounded by every pleasure and delight known to man. The ensuing four years were a whirlwind of new experience, challenge, and growth.
After graduating from Juilliard in 2015, I gradually realized that my innate and simple love of music and Beethoven had slipped through my fingers somewhere along the way. It had been replaced by a lot of knowledge, a lot of professional experience, and a certain coldness to music that I couldn’t shake.
In 2018, while serving as principal keyboardist for The Knoxville Symphony, I had the sudden idea to learn all of the Beethoven sonatas and take them on the road, playing them for audiences who had never heard the entire “32.” For the first time since high school, I felt the spark returning. I started devouring all the Beethoven-related knowledge I could get my hands on to prepare for this project.
Then I talked myself out of it. “No one actually wants to hear this music except you. You’re not ready to play all 32 sonatas. You’ll never be able to make enough money to support yourself doing that. You should have more life experience before attempting such a monumental project.”
So, I went out in search of more life experience and called up a Marine Corps recruiting office. Eight months and a few thousand pull-ups later, I reported to Quantico, VA, for Officer Candidates School. I performed very well, quickly started getting all the ‘“life-experience” I was looking for (and then some), but three weeks later was diagnosed with severe stress fractures in both tibias. I was sent home to Greenville, SC, immediately, with the only thing on my mind to heal up, retrain, and get back in the fight.
While I sat at home bored out of my mind letting my legs heal, I received an email asking me if I would be interested in playing a dedication concert for a Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand piano that had recently been donated to the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. At first I had no intention of entertaining the idea since I hadn’t practiced in 6 months. Gradually, however I succumbed to the temptation of playing on such a magnificent instrument. I thought a project while my legs recovered would do me some good.
The concert was a huge success. The love of music had returned to my playing, and with one thing leading to another, the idea and possibility of starting a concert series for the next year came up. The complete Beethoven Sonata Cycle. I was faced with what would be one of the hardest decisions of my life - return to Officer Candidates School, or realize my dream of performing all 32 Beethoven Sonatas?
I realized regret was inevitable. I would have to give up something of incredible value either way. Rather than dwell on regret, I chose what would bring me and others the most joy. I called my recruiter, thanked him sincerely for the invaluable lessons I had learned from him and other Marines, and told him my decision. I chose Beethoven.
Today, of all the good things in life, sharing the Beethoven piano sonatas with people is the thing I am excited about most. I have found that a life lived in this music is a life well lived. To quote Mr. Rubinstein again, “I’m the luckiest man I know”.
To learn more, visit click below, as well as like/follow The Beethoven Odyssey on Facebook and Instagram to catch sneak-peeks of future concerts!
These “Chautauqua-Concerts” are entirely donation based, with suggested donations of $20 for adults and $10 for students. However, guests are encouraged to give more or less as they are able, so that this music can continue to be shared.