July 2011

July 2011

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Learning Curve

Learning Curve 

Apart from the works by J.S. Bach the full cycle of Sonatas by Beethoven is one of the most enlightening paths in understanding the structure and process of composition. 

At least - you may say - for the style of Music they stand for, because every style of Music defines its own rules. 

Joseph Haydn
It is a miracle for instance that the first Piano Sonata Mozart wrote has such a mature Sonata form. Written around 1774 it raises some questions. Apart from the fact that this keyboard virtuoso started writing Piano Sonatas so late Haydn, who one has to admit created the foundation for the Sonata Form ,  only after much experimentation became satisfied with the model for the Keyboard Sonata around 1790. 

But Beethoven's Sonatas form one solid path in the development of his art. And when you go through them all, you will discover that Beethoven has done it all. For that reason there is no composer who has done so much for the place of the piano in modern music as Beethoven has done. His Piano sonatas are symphonies and in some odd instances concertos. 

Young Beethoven
At the age of 18 he wrote his first set Opus 2 no. 1,2 and 3. It was a tribute to the fact that he understood the intentions of Joseph Haydn very well. Haydn's music shines through in many Sonata movements, especially when Beethoven writes in 2/4 and this Opus 2 set was dedicated to Joseph Haydn.  

The first of the set no.1 in F major is still my favorite and is of the purest Sonata form ever. It is not otherwise possible for a 'first'. But even there in his last movement Beethoven sets himself apart. He has a free spirit. Normally the last movement in a Sonata - as model created by Joseph Haydn -  is supposed to be a light-hearted lively Rondo, with simple form A B A C A etc.... Right from the start it becomes apparant that he doesn't like Rondos in this form. Beethoven can't handle it and the first Rondo of this type will appear in the Pathetique's last movement. By all means that was Beethoven 8th Sonata! 

Hence Beethoven will write a lively movement as final for Opus 2 no. 1 allright, but it is dramatic, it's in Sonata form and actually a mini Sonata in itself. The development section namely is very cleverly reworked into a slow section! 

Likewise his Opus 2 no. 3 was the foundation for Beethoven's Piano Concertos. Remains Opus 2 no. 2. One of the hardest Sonatas by Beethoven I find. A grand Sonata at that, surely intended to bring a piano Sonata up to the level of a Symphony. 

With Opus 2 then Beethoven has set his style for his entire life and that includes his final period. 

Beethoven will continue to build on what he did in Opus 2 and this we are going to explore in following blogs on this topic.

Two very different interpretations to listen to:
Glenn Gould, Sonata F-minor 1-3

Barenboim Sonata no. 1 F minor 1-2

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