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Beethoven

Again two unorthodox sonatas which both have the subtitle 'quasi una fantasia'. Written in 1801, no.1 has always been overshadowed by the famous 'Moonlight', yet it is a delightful piece of deceptive simplicity. The title 'Moonlight' was not Beethoven's, but was suggested by Ludwig Rellstab who envisaged a boat on the waters of Lake Lucerne lit by moonlight. At best, it really only applies to the first movement, probably the most celebrated piece Beethoven ever wrote.

Opus 28 : Sonata in D 'Pastorale' published by Bureau des Arts et d'Industrie in 1802. Dedicated to Joseph Sonnenfels.

Written the same year as the previous 2 sonatas, the dedication to Sonnenfels is puzzling as Beethoven appears not to have known him personally. Yet again the title 'Pastorale' was not Beethoven's (unlike the symphony of the same name) but suggested by the publisher Cranz. According to Czerny, it was a favourite of Beethoven's, particularly the slow movement. Around this time, Beethoven wrote in a sketch book "God knows why my piano music still makes the worst impression on me, especially when it is badly played". He also remarked to his friend Krumpholz that he intended to make a fresh start.

Opus 31 : 3 Sonatas - G, D min, Eb nos 1&2 published in 1803, no.3 in 1804 by Nageli. Commissioned by the publisher.

Completed by the spring of 1802, the publication of these sonatas was somewhat of a fiasco; Beethoven's brother Karl (who helped manage Beethoven's affairs at this time) was negotiating with the publishers Breitkopf & Hartel at the same time they had been offered to Nageli. This caused serious argument between the brothers, but in the event Beethoven regretted offering these sonatas to Nageli as the printed copies were full of mistakes (including to Beethoven's horror 4 extra bars composed by Nageli!). They were then offered to Simrock and that edition appeared with the wonderful misprint 'Editiou tres correcte' ! The outstanding work of this set is no.2 in D minor which according to Schindler was inspired by Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'. It is perhaps the most representative work of the traumas of the Heiligenstadt year.

Opus 53 : Sonata in C 'Waldstein' published in 1805 by the Bureau des Arts et d'Industrie. Dedicated to Count Waldstein.

In 1803 Beethoven had acquired an Erard piano which had a larger compass than previous pianos - consequently Beethoven rewrote some passages of the 3rd Piano Concerto, but he appears not to have altered the earlier sonatas. Written in 1803/4 (around the same time as the Eroica symphony) Beethoven expanded the dimensions of sonata form to new limits in this, the first of the really grand sonatas- Beethoven was obviously concerned about the overall length of this sonata as he replaced the slow movement (now known as the 'Andante favori' ) with a shorter and more profound adagio introduzione which links directly to the Rondo finale - a device that is quite common in middle period Beethoven. Technically this sonata is the most difficult Beethoven had written, with all sorts of effects - octaves, trills, glissandi which put it way beyond the amateur pianist!

Op.54 : Sonata in F published in 1806 by Bureau des Arts et d'Industrie.

Sandwiched between two giants - the 'Waldstein' and the 'Appassionata', this sonata has always suffered from neglect. Dating from 1804 when Beethoven was working on his opera 'Fidelio', it is highly unconventional being in just 2 movements, a minuet (twice interrupted by double octave passages) followed by a toccata with an unbroken semiquaver pattern that outdoes the similar finale to Op.26.

Op.57 - Sonata in F min 'Appassionata' published in 1807 by Bureau des Arts et d'Industrie. Dedicated to Count Franz Brunsvik.

Composed in 1804/5, the title was added by the publisher and for once is quite appropiate for this turbulent and dramatic work. The first movement is in the unusual time of 12/8 which adds to the rhythmic drive that dominates the sonata. A set of double variations for the lovely slow movement is followed by the relentlessly powerful finale described by Tovey as 'torrential passion that rushes headlong to the end of a tragic fate'. It was the manuscript of this sonata that Beethoven was clutching as he fled Gratz castle in 1806 during a storm after a row with Prince Lichnowsky - the water stains are still clearly visible on the manuscript which is in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

Op.78 - Sonata in F# Major published in 1810 by Clementi (London) Dedicated to Thererse Brunsvik, commissioned by Clementi.

Having scaled the heights with Op.53 and Op.57, Beethoven waited several years before composing his next sonata which is far more intimate and concise in nature. There are just 2 movements, but the concentrated expression looks forward at times to the late works. Written in 1809, this highly personal sonata was actually a favourite of Beethoven's which he regarded as superior to the Moonlight Sonata, and there is no doubt it is the work of a more experienced composer.

Op.79 - Sonata in G major published in 1810 by Clementi (London) Commissioned by Clementi.

The theme for this 'sonatina' as it is sometimes called had already appeared as the 'German song' from the 'Ritterballet' WoO1 no.2 and it originated in the 3rd movement of Mozart's Violin sonata K.379. Although outwardly simple in its appeal, this sonata of 1809 is no early work accidentally served up late, as the development section of the first movement makes clear.

Op.81a - Sonata in Eb 'Les Adieux' published in 1811 bt Breitkopf & Hartel. Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph.

Again dating from 1809/10, Beethoven preferred the German title 'Das Lebewohl' - he even spelt the word out in syllables over the opening notes of the piece, but ironically the French title (which he disapproved of) has stuck. Along with the Pathetique, it is the only other sonata that was actually given its title by Beethoven. The sonata depicts the departure from Vienna of Archduke Rudolph and the entire Imperial family during the French bombardment in May 1809 and the movements are individually headed - 'Das Lebewohl' (Farewell), 'Abwesenheit' (Absence) and 'Das Wiedersehn' (The return). The references to the Lebewohl theme throughout the 1st movement foreshadow the technique of Leitmotiv. Written the same year as the Emperor concerto, in the same key and dedicated to the same man. there are similarities in the passage work of the finales of both works.

Op.90 - Sonata in E minor published in 1815 by Steiner. Dedicated to Count Moritz Lichnowsky.

This sonata which opened the gateway to the late sonatas was written in 1814 and is another intimate 2 movement work - the first in the minor and the 2nd in the major key, a scheme Beethoven was to exploit to the full in his last sonata. Beethoven explained the work to Count Moritz Lichnowsky who was about to marry a lady below his station as 'a struggle between the heart and the head' followed by a 'conversation with the beloved'. For this sonata and the following one Beethoven abandoned Italian terms and used German instead, obviously caught up in the mood of nationalism that pervaded the times which culminated in the congress of Vienna.

Late Sonatas Op.101 - Op.111

Around 1815 with the completion of the 2 'cello sonatas Op.102, Beethoven entered the final creative phase of his life which was to culminate in 1826 with the last of his great string quartets. 5 piano sonatas were written in these years and along with the Diabelli Variations they take piano music to much deeper levels of expression and spirituality that have never been equalled. Characteristic of these late works is the use of variation form with a working out of motives to their utmost potential, a greater use of counterpoint with fugal textures, new sonorities with wide spacing of the hands and the importance of trills which go way beyond mere decoration, being an inherent part of the musical texture often covering many pages.

Op.101-Sonata in A major published in 1817 by Steiner. Dedicated to Baroness Ertmann.

Another intimate sonata written with Dorothea Von Ertmann in mind - a fine pianist and friend who was renowned for her interpretation of Beethoven's music. Dating from 1815/16, the sonata opens gently with a continuous lyrical flow, almost like a dream. Schindler said Beethoven described this movement as 'impressions and reveries'. This is followed by a march in a relentless dotted rhythm and then a slow movement with the soft pedal used throughout that links to the fugal finale by hinting at the opening movement of the sonata. According to Schindler this was the only one of the piano sonatas to receive a public performance in Beethoven's lifetime on Feb 18th 1816, though it is possible that the sonata performed may have been Op.90.

Op.106 - Sonata in Bb 'Hammerklavier' published in 1819 by Artaria. Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph.

This monumental sonata, completed in 1818 and sketched around the same time as the 9th Symphony (though that work was not completed until 1824) expands the four movement plan to epic proportions. The complexities of this work were summed up by a lady in Vienna who complained she had been practising it for months and still could not play the opening! Beethoven was well aware of the difficulties this sonata posed for the pianist and listeners and even went as far as to suggest to Ries that the 4th movement could be left out altogether in order to make the work more accessible for a London audience. The powerful first movement is followed by a scherzo (as in the 9th symphony). The adagio, one of the profoundest and longest single movements in all piano music is followed by a crowning fugal finale to challenge the technique of even the greatest virtuoso.

Op.109 - Sonata in E published in 1821 by Schlesinger. Dedicated to Maximiliane Brentano, commissioned by the publisher.

Dating from 1820 whilst work on the Missa Solemnis and the 9th symphony was still in progress, the first movement's contemplative nature is shattered by the driving tense prestissimo middle movement. The final movement is a set of variations on one of Beethoven's most idylic and calmly beautiful themes.

Op.110 - Sonata in Ab published in 1822 by Schlesinger. Commissioned by the publisher.

1821 is the date of this lovely sonata that bears no dedication owing to an oversight by the publisher as it was intended for Antonie Brentano. The words 'con amabilita' are inscribed over the opening bars and reveal the warmth and depth of feeling that this music conveys. The 2nd movement is a Scherzo and in 2/4 time marked by dramatic contrasts of dynamics. The finale is highly original in construction - recitative, arioso dolente, fugue, second arioso, second fugue. The arioso is achingly beautiful in its utter despair which is soothed by the fugue theme 'carved out of marble' in its perfection. The second fugue is built around the original theme, only turned upside down and this gradually increases in tension and reaches an exultant climax in the joyful last pages.

Op.111 - Sonata in C minor published in 1823 by Schlesinger. Dedicated to Archduke Rudolph (English edition dedicated to Antonie Brentano). Commissioned by the publisher.

The final sonata is in two movements - the first one of immense power and energy which is followed by the arietta, a sublime set of variations of the utmost spiritual intensity. Beethoven rejected many versions of the arietta theme before arriving at its final sublimely simple form. A chain of trills rise higher and higher, in Tovey's words 'like an ecstatic vision'.

Beethoven Reference Site  © 2010

Most of the work on this sonata was probably done at Dobling in the summer of 1800. Strangely this sonata, (which Beethoven thought highly of) is not as frequently performed as some of the other early sonatas, perhaps because it is rather more conventional than say Op.10 no.3.

Middle Period Sonatas Op.26 -Op.90

There is no clear stylistic dividing line with the sonatas, unlike the Symphonies, but the years 1800-3 were a transition period in Beethoven's creative process marked by increasing despair over his deafness and culminating in the Heiligenstadt Testament of Oct 1802.

Opus 26 : Sonata in Ab published by Cappi in 1802. Dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky.

Dating from 1800-1 the order of movements in this movement is highly unusual - Variations, Scherzo, Funeral march, Rondo. Only 5 of the sonatas include variation movements and in this work there are 5 variations on a theme that is similar to a Schubert Impromptu in the same key. The funeral march was arranged for orchestra and transposed to B minor as no.4 of Leonore Prohaska (WoO96) . It is in the unusual key of Ab minor and marked by extroadinary enharmonic modulations. The finale is an excellent study for the pianist in broken chords and according to Czerny was inspired by Cramer's Op.23 sonatas.

Opus 27 : 2 Sonatas - Eb, C# min 'Moonlight' published by Cappi in 1802. No.1 dedicated to Princess Liechtenstein. No.2 dedicated to Countess Guicciardi.

Opus 7 : Sonata in Eb published by Artaria in 1797. Dedicated to Countess von Keglevics.

Dating from 1796, this sonata was dedicated to Beethoven's pupil, Countess Babette von Keglevics. The first movement is a lively 6/8 piece revealing the influence of Clementi but the slow movement as so often in these early sonatas is the finest as its measured silences look forward to the slow movement of the Waldstein sonata.

Opus 10 : 3 Sonatas - Cmin/ Fmaj/ Dmaj published by Joseph Eder in 1798. Dedicated to Countess Browne.

Of these three sonatas sketched between 1796-8, it is the last in D major that really stands out. In this sonata, the slow movement marks it out as one of the greats and the emotions it expresses go deeper than in any of the other sonatas up to this time.

Opus 13 : Sonata in C min 'Pathétique' published by Hoffmeister in 1799. Dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky.

Dating from 1797/8, this is the first of the sonatas to have acquired a universal popularity. The title was Beethoven's own and the influence of Dussek, Grétry and Cramer rather than Mozart is apparent. The sketches reveal that the last movement was possibly originally planned for more than one instrument - probably violin and piano.

Opus 14 : 2 Sonatas - Emaj/ G maj published by Mollo in 1799. Dedicated to Baroness Braun.

Though they appeared after Op.13, these two intimate sonatas may have been sketched as early as 1795, though most work on them was probably done 1798/9. Beethoven thought sufficiently highly of no.1 to arrange it for string quartet in 1801/2 (transposed into F major). Both Sonatas have 3 movements.

Opus 22 : Sonata in Bb published by Hoffmeister in 1802. Dedicated to Count Browne.

Beethoven's first published work had been the Variations on a March of Dressler for piano WoO63 (1783) and he produced another six sets of piano variations before embarking on his Op.2 Sonatas - this is particularly interesting when we bare in mind the closeness between variations and the art of improvisation for which Beethoven was particularly famed in his early years in Vienna. Beethoven's very first attempts at sonatas date from 1782/3 when he was around 12 - the 3 sonatas WoO47 are not included in the official list of 32 Sonatas as they are regarded merely as 'juvenelia'. Two other incomplete sonatas exist - WoO50 in F (1788-90) (2 movements only) and WoO51 in C (1791/2) (2 movements only - the 2nd completed by Ries). The main influences on Beethoven's early keyboard music were C.P.E.Bach, Clementi, Dussek, Haydn and Mozart.

First Period Sonatas Op.2 - Op.22

None of the original manuscripts of the early sonatas have survived.

Opus 2 : 3 Sonatas - F min/ A maj/ C maj published by Artaria in 1796. Dedicated to Haydn.

The first of the official 32 Sonatas is the Op.2 set dating from 1793-5. Some of the themes derive from the early C major piano Quartet WoO36 no.3: two passages from the opening movement of the quartet reappear in the first movement of the C major Sonata Op.2 No.3, and the initial theme of the slow movement is reproduced at the start of the Adagio from the F minor Sonata Op.2 No.1. All three of the Op.2 Sonatas have four movements, which is unusual as the classical sonatas of Haydn and Mozart normally have three or even two movements. Of these three sonatas the last in C major is probably the finest and certainly the most technically challenging for the performer.

Opus 49 : 2 Sonatas - Gmin/ Gmaj published by Bureau des Arts et d'industrie in 1805.

The relatively high Opus number of these two little sonatas is misleading as they were written around 1795-7. No.1 was also written later than no.2. Both sonatas have only 2 movements - the minuet of no.2 being used later in the Septet of 1800. They bear no dedication and were probably intended for teaching purposes.

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It is not intended here to give a detailed musical account of each of the piano sonatas, as to do so would require a book in itself. What I shall do is give a general background to these works, as they are central to Beethoven's output, spanning his entire creative life and revealing perhaps better than any other genre he wrote in, the stylistic changes that his music went through. That this is so is no surprise as Beethoven was a virtuoso pianist, and the piano was the natural outlet for his developing genius. To pianists, the 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven are a central core of the repertoire and are often referred to as the New Testament of keyboard music - the Old Testament being the 48 preludes and Fugues of Bach's 'Well Tempered Clavier'.

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