Meet Stewart Goodyear, Who Takes Beethoven's Piano Works To Olympian Heights

Stewart Goodyear likes Beethoven sonatas.

He more than likes them.

He loves them in a way that you and I can never imagine.

If you're keeping score, Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas over the length of 30 years, the most famous of which, the Moonlight Sonata, was made famous by that world-class, Grammy-winning classical musician, Schroeder.

Goodyear was even younger than Schroeder when he first came across a boxed set of LPs of Vladimir Ashkenazy playing the thirty-two Beethoven sonatas.

He spent an entire rapturous day--remember the kid was three at the time--playing the sonatas and realizing then and there that he wanted to have a career as a classical pianist.

Goodyear never knew his father, as he passed away from cancer shortly before he was born. Instead, Goodyear grew up with his father's LPs, which consisted of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Santana...and two LP boxes of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky symphonies. He also grew up with a very supportive mother and grandparents who, once they saw Stewart's passion for classical music, encouraged him every step of the way.

Goodyear went on to study at Curtis and Juilliard, two of the top music schools in the world, performed with major orchestras around the world, and recorded...what else?...the 32 sonatas of Beethoven.

And then one day it hit him--maybe other people would like to have the same experience he did when he was three, and hear all thirty-two Beethoven piano sonatas in a single day.

And thus the sonatathon was born.

Just as Olympians train for years to achieve astounding marathons of athletic prowess, Goodyear has done the same thing for classical pianists.

A pianist might play all thirty-two sonatas over the course of a single year.

Not this guy.

Goodyear decided to play all thirty-two in a single day, starting from ten in the morning with the early sonatas, breaking for lunch around two, coming back for Beethoven's mid-career classics including the "Waldstein", the "Moonlight", and the "Appassionata," a dinner break, and then wrapping up three hours later with the final, complex works from the end of Beethoven's life.

Training like an athlete for what he calls "The Beethoven Sonatathon", Goodyear developed a strict health and fitness profile designed to increase his stamina so that he could take on projects like this.

He watches his diet--not easy to do for a touring professional--exercises, and somehow gets enough rest, at least when he isn't up at three in the morning thinking about a particular Beethoven passage.

If you're going to do all thirty-two sonatas over the course of the season, you only have to have a handful good to go at any given moment.

Goodyear is not satisfied with just a handful. Remember, this is the guy who decided his first solo recording would be all 32. He's got to have all 32 at his fingertips. Pun intended.

Goodyear's label Marquis Classics just released an album of the composer's most famous selections in Beethoven: Favorite Piano Sonatas. On this 2-CD set, listeners can experience Goodyear's performances of all the 'named' sonatas, including the "Moonlight" and "Appassionata" sonatas.

Goodyear isn't just about Beethoven. Last year, he was inspired to do a Christmas album. What did he choose? He wrote his own original piano transcription of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, released on the Steinway and Sons label. This December, he performs his complete "Nutcracker" for solo piano at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, and once again two days later in Washington, D.C. at the Phillips Collection.

Between now and then, Goodyear remains busy touring, performing concertos, giving recitals, and premiering and recording more of his own original music. A new work honoring Canada's 150th anniversary is set for a recital in Toronto this fall, and an album of Goodyear's own Variations on "Eleanor Rigby" is slated for release in 2017, plus an album of solo Ravel.

All of which leads up to the next "Beethoven Sonatathon" in Savannah in late spring.

Like an Olympic gold medalist, Goodyear seems to prefer marathon projects that require that same focus, discipline, stamina, and of course - tremendous talent.

It's hard to say for certain, but if Lucy Van Pelt ever met Stewart Goodyear, she might just abandon Schroeder for him. He would be serenading her all day, taking breaks from Beethoven to play a little Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Brahms - and perhaps even some Goodyear, too.

Stewart Goodyear; photo credit Anita Zvonar