Q&A with Stephen Hough

You’ve described this as a recital of ‘weird’ sonatas? What is weird about Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata?

In some ways it’s the weirdest of them all, at least for the time when it was written. It begins (as all performances did in those days) with an improvisation which weaves a mystical spell. But the movement never begins. The introduction has become the piece itself. Then a lighthearted interval in the form of a gracious minuet, in the same key (if its major form); then, still in the same key, a turbulent 3rd movement, the first movement’s arpeggios now cranked up to ferocity and velocity.

What inspires you when you set out to compose a piece of music?

It really depends. One of the most fruitful inspirations is a commission – a request to write something for a particular instrument, in a particular form. Words can inspire when writing a song or choral setting. But most often there’s just a surge inside: time to write!

What do you think Liszt would make of your Sonata Broken Branches?

I have no idea. It’s an experimental form (16 tiny movements/sections) if basically tonal, so I hope he would have found the shape of the piece intriguing. It also address matters of spirituality amidst despair and sadness (brokeness) which are topics he explored himself.

It’s said Scriabin was a synesthete. Have you ever had other sensory connections to music?

I sense/smell perfume sometimes in harmonies… especially in Scriabin. Also buildings in a grand architectural sense. But not colours as such.

What music do you play for leisure?

I like hearing jazz on the radio, but I treasure silence when I’m not playing.


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