His Mozart debut recording, made with the Czech Philharmonic and the
conductor Jiří Bělohlávek (Supraphon 2017), caught the attention of the
specialist international press. Jan Bartoš’s phenomenal, and highly
critically acclaimed, ability to blend sophisticated architecture and profound
emotionality has to an even greater degree manifested itself in his conception
of Beethoven‘s music. As performed by him, Beethoven softly speaks, sings and
roars alike. Bartoš has discovered a universe abounding in emotion and
contrast, an image whose colours astonish and burn into your memory. We talked
to Jan Bartoš on the occasion of the release of
Supraphon’s new, double album of Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano
What was the main impulse for you to make a recording of Ludwig van
The answer is simple. In my opinion, Beethoven is the greatest composer of all
time. That which prompted me to make the album was my lifelong interest in his
music and personality. The idea of recording his works has been on my mind for a
very long time indeed.
What do you think of Beethoven’s personality?
I myself am fascinated by the range of his personality, virtually encompassing
everything, which duly reflected in his music. When it comes to the pieces on my
album, they render a variety of features – masculine energy and elegance, in
Opus 2, nobleness and earnestness, in Opus 14, passion and extreme drama, in
Appassionata. The final Sonata and Bagatelles teem with compassion and love,
while harbouring mystic visions … I deem Beethoven to be the greatest
revolutionary in the history of music. His highly personal approach changed
everything. Without him, Romanticism and the further evolution of music are
simply unimaginable – he was linked up to by Schumann, Brahms, Wagner,
Bruckner, Mahler, Strauss, Schoenberg, Shostakovich, and dozens of other major
composers. Beethoven essentially transformed many genres, and his final pieces
showed the path to the distant future.
How did you select the new album‘s repertoire?
I wanted to put next to each other different types of works, so as to highlight
the sheer diversity of Beethoven’s music. Such an approach conforms with me
more than consistent chronology or thematic cohesion. The pieces featured on the
album are among those I love the most. And I had the opportunity to explore
them with my dearest mentors, including Ivan Moravec and Alfred Brendel.
What are the greatest pitfalls of Beethoven’s piano
His compositions are perfectly built, everything is logical, everything fits
together like a puzzle. Consequently, now and then his music may come across as
predictable, or overly rational. Yet I have identified the same problem with
Johann Sebastian Bach. Owing to the absence of instructions and notes, Bach
affords the performers great freedom of interpretation – what some may
perceive as slow and almost sacred, others may feel as being fast and
dance-like. In my opinion, this type of freedom is out of the question in
Beethoven’s case, as his precise notation provides a relatively clear notion
of this or that piece’s character. Yet it is necessary, and indeed
imperative, to “psychologise” the rigorous structure of his works – the
interpreter should brace up to the variability of emotions and nuance everything
to a greater extent. This, however, is my opinion, and I am sure that some
colleagues of mine would disagree with me.
How often have you performed Ludwig van Beethoven’s music at your
Beethoven’s music has been included in almost all my solo concerts. Last
year, l combined his works with short pieces by John Cage, this year with Franz
How big is the difference between live performances and the recording
process in the studio?
My first two albums feature live recordings of concerts; hence, I could say
there is no difference. Why did I agree to make a studio recording? For several
reasons. When I play Beethoven’s music at concerts, I get easily enraptured
by it, and thus I occasionally overdo the tempo or dynamics. But, as far as
I know, it happens to virtually all pianists. Whereas it may work well, and may
even be exciting, at live concerts, it does not agree with Beethoven on
recordings. To give a specific example – I wanted to record the third
movement from Appassionata more slowly than is usual, so as to comply with the
tempo marking Allegro ma non troppo. Precious few succeed in doing so at
What major concerts have you planned for the next
This autumn, I will not solely focus on the music featured on my new album.
Besides Beethoven, I will also pay great attention to Leoš Janáček, whose
works I will present at concerts in Spain and Italy. At the end of October,
I will perform his complete piano oeuvre at two recitals within the Leoš
Janáček International Festival in Ostrava, as well as at other concerts. In
the next season, I will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in E flat major
and Choral Fantasy for piano, mixed choir and orchestra with the Janáček
Philharmonic. In 2019, I am scheduled to give large recitals, including one on
26 January at the Rudolfinum, within the Prague Symphony Orchestra’s cycle
Global Piano Music. I feel greatly honoured, since among those who will appear
within the cycle are such renowned artists as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Piotr
Anderszewski, Angela Hewitt and Nikolai Demidenko.
Have you decided on the next recording project?
The next project will be a Janáček album. Subsequently, Jakub Hrůša, the
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and I will embark upon recording piano
concertos by Johannes Brahms and Vítězslav Novák.