Regardless of the latest trends in art and fashion, the latest research in child wellness and the latest technological gadget, there remain a few simple constants in life.

Children should learn how to tie their shoes with real laces and tell time with a dial face. They should learn the multiplication table and do math in their heads. They should learn how to write in cursive and send handwritten thank-you notes. They should play Little League and go to a Major League game at least once. They should take piano lessons, and every home should have a piano.

After a summer of going to concerts and music festivals, all of which were great fun, I grew a little weary of bands, amplifiers and crowds. On one of the many trips to the orthodontist with my son, I vetoed each radio station and every CD he selected. “I know, why don’t we listen to Chopin?” said my 13-year-old son. Yes, let’s.

Then followed an in-depth debate over who was better, Chopin or Beethoven. Better at what? Complexity, dexterity, composition, expression? And then I listened this week with sinful pride to my 11-year-old daughter play “Prelude in C Major” by Bach in church. Earlier during the spring ritual of the recital, both children played a duet by Clementi. How many classical composers should we throw into the mix?

In the end, we agreed that “better” was the wrong way to ask the question. It was a matter of which composer we prefer. Then the question was easily and quickly settled for all of us — Beethoven.

When it comes to Beethoven, we recognize the genius of his symphonies, but humbly succumb to his piano sonatas. It is the solo piano that can convey everything — giddy infatuation, angry rejection, solemn remorse. Beethoven for us is the most original, relevant, accessible and inspiring composer of all time.

By chance a few weeks ago, Vladimir Feltsman, world-renowned, Russian-born pianist and U.S. citizen, released “Beethoven Sonatas” with the three works that make piano the ultimate instrument of human expression. “Pathetique,” “Moonlight” and “Appassionata” are all you need to hear to fall in love with classical music.

Unlike most classical music recordings that may include orchestral arrangements or only selected movements from these favorites, Feltsman’s CD faithfully delivers Beethoven on just the piano and in the sonatas’ entireties.

Each movement of the three works is recorded as a separate track for nine in all. This is the only CD I’ve found that has all three of these truly classic masterpieces, and only these three. (Feltsman has earlier recordings of various Beethoven sonatas.) With the separate tracks, I can listen to the pieces from start to finish as originally written, but I can also select the movements according to my own mood.

And Feltsman is amazing. He has said in past interviews that with the piano, less is more. With the piano, all of the colors of music can be heard.

Feltsman debuted with the Moscow Philharmonic at age 11 and quickly embarked on tours of the Eastern Hemisphere. However, he suffered eight years of artistic suppression because of his expressed desire to emigrate to the United States. Finally in 1987, the same year President Ronald Reagan uttered his challenge to “tear down this wall,” Feltsman received permission to leave. He performed his first North American recital at the White House. Also that year, he debuted at Carnegie Hall.

I could ramble endlessly about the virtues of the piano. I have told my children that they can play any other instrument they want, but they must play the piano — at least until I’m dead. I married my husband because he gave up a weekend rafting trip with friends to stay and help me move a piano, the only piece of furniture I owned at the time.

I remember summer days not being able to go swimming until I had practiced and agonizing days before a recital. As a teenager, I let out fits of frustration by playing Beethoven. I also enjoyed hours of solitary calm by playing Beethoven.

Because of Beethoven, I believe that every home should have a piano and that every child should play piano. Not because it will stimulate intelligence and mathematical aptitude, but just the opposite. It will stimulate expression and joy and beauty. So this is my ode to Beethoven.

Emily Tuttle is a freelance writer living in Minot.


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