July 2011

July 2011

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The closing Sonata of Beethoven's early period

Sonata Opus 22

This is Beethoven's closing Sonata in his early period. The distance to his previous sonatas Opus 14 is remarkable considering how many piano sonatas he wrote in his early Opus's. Obviously Beethoven in this period starts writing for other settings and is maturing as a composer.  

This Sonata is one of the lesser known Sonatas and is not at all easy to understand. I really didn't like the Sonata very much until I heard a performance of it by New Zealand pianist Michael Houston, which was very masculine and classical Beethoven in his way of playing. 

I consider it Beethoven's last attachment to Joseph Haydn and from now on Beethoven will embark onto his own particular style. 

This sonata appears approx. 2 years after his opus 14, but it is most likely that he wrote most of it more closely to his opus 14, which is around 1798. It only was published later.

Which means Beethoven's early period closes around 1799 and it is interesting in this respect to see what happened in Beethoven's life around 1800 to understand this step into maturity. 

Beethoven Deaf
by Artigas
His first symphony was performed at Vienna in 1800. This explains to some extend the gap between opus 14 and opus 22. It also indicates that Beethoven now thought himself ready to start writing for an Orchestra. 

Around 1800 he discovered the beginnings of his becoming deaf. 

The gap unfortunately also involves his letters. There are many before 1797 and many from the year 1800, but a noteable silence in exactly these years...

Does Amenda think that I can ever forget him, because I do not write? in fact, reserved! The best man I ever knew has a thousand times recurred to my thoughts! Two persons alone once possessed my whole love, one of whom still lives, and you are now the third. How can my remembrance of you ever fade? You will shortly receive a long letter about my present circumstances and all that can interest you. Farewell, beloved, good, and noble friend! Ever continue your love and friendship towards me, just as I shall ever be your faithful.

Biogrophies still write about the 'young Beethoven', but around 1800 Beethoven approaches his 30th year and the discovery of his deafness will have prompted a period of reflexion and withdrawal from writing letters. 

His works though were in great demand and he maintains his connections with the music lovers amongst the  nobility whom he approaches with confidence, yes more - as Joseph Haydn joked - 'the great Mogul'. 

This is still very classical and probably the last time Beethoven will do something like this. But even the opening is tricky, but that is because it is not really piano texture. Some contrasting elements of the second theme: 

This filled me with horror the first time I read through it. Even the rhythm of the theme associated with some quite vulgar folk tunes I knew. But again Michael Houston's performance of this Sonata revealed it was really me that was the problem not this Sonata. We leave him this honour, because my favorite sonata this one never will be. 

Let us just assume that Beethoven had more important things to do around this time, and indeed he had. 

The second movement did not bring a change of mood, apart from the idea that perhaps this Sonata was not intended to be for piano at all. It was just a sketch for a violin sonata of some sort. That would just make this second movement beautiful. And his brother Carl - as with the Opus 49 sonatas - published them without his consent. That certainly would have done for me. 

The thematic unity of the third movement - a minuet - with the first two is very striking. 

And then suddenly, even though the second movement might have charmed me, the minor trio re-enforces my doubts again. Did Karl Czerny put in an unexpected chance visit for one of his students? :

Do we expect a change of mood in the last movement? No! By now, I am absolutely convinced that this sonata is only a sketch for a violin sonata. Up to the typical popular key for the violin. Bb!  

There being only one man - not even the famous Beethoven interpretors - who can bring me off that conviction. 
Michael Houston .

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