Let's open with the
Beethoven's middle period is starting with this sonata in Ab opus 26. When you have mastered the art you are allowed to start breaking the rules.
In this Sonata Beethoven dispenses with a Sonata Allegro opening all together and opens with the slow traditional 2nd variation movement. Very obvious variations.
And he will develop a taste for it, like with the famous Moonlight Sonata, although here Beethoven does write four movements, as if he wanted to make a statement. He was not just forgetting the first movement, but is experimenting with the Sonata as a model. Hence there are four movements in opus 26.
Some familiar compositions of other composers always pop up in comments on this Sonata. But the 'chicken or the egg' question does not surface when compared with Schubert's impromptu in Ab opus 142. Schubert wrote 'his' so much later and they were only published after his death, so close to that of Beethoven.
And now we are talking death anyway, the third movement is a funeral march and of course Chopin's famous funeral march is inspired by it.
It would be very interesting to know whose funeral Beethoven had in mind especially considering the outburst of joy in movement no. 4.
Unlike Schubert's impromptu which is beautiful even when played too slow, this opening should really be easy going. It is written in 3/8 for a reason. Feel one pulse per bar. To play it in slow three would really spoil the mood of this beautiful set of variations. And the variations are beautiful all five of them.
If you do that you will discover that the variations flow very naturally into movement 2, which is a lively Scherzo.
With the opening of the Sonata and this Scherzo you feel the Moonlight Sonata coming. It's only one opus number after this one!
And then you have this dramatic funeral March. Which is sooo sad, that indeed it does become suspicious.
To really see that just notice what Beethoven is doing the moment the last hand-full of earth is thrown on the coffin!
And now let's party! It is a real Rondo also. For the first time Beethoven has written an entire Sonata without a movement in Sonata form!
Students. This sonata is an excellent programme choice, but handle with care! Here is a performance by John Lill, which I think catches the mood very well.
John Lill, movement I
John Lill, movement III John Lill, movement IV
Contrast the first movement with this: