Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas

No. 1 in F minor (Op. 2)

I listened to Alfred Brendel’s recording of this sonata from his album Beethoven – Complete Piano Sonatas and Concertos.  The texture of the first movement is predominantly that of melody and accompaniment, with the left hand given chords or arpeggiated passages, sometimes not dissimilar to the alberti bass pattern used in the Classical era.  The second movement is a gentle Adagio in F major; this movement uses ornaments such as mordents which sound particularly Classical in style, as well as suspensions which were also common in this era.  The Menuetto movement modulates to Ab major, the relative major of F minor which was a frequently used modulation in the Classical style, and then back to F major.  The final movement sounds more like Beethoven’s later works, with loud chords, octaves and very fast arpeggiated passages, sometimes low down in the piano’s register.

No. 32 in C minor (Op. 111)

This sonata was composed around twenty five years later, around 1821-22.  I listened to a recording from the same album performed by Brendel.  It’s definitely much more Romantic than the previous sonata – large chords, more extreme dynamics and more demanding of the pianist’s technique, encompassing a larger part of the piano’s keyboard.  Harmonically it is also more advanced, containing dissonances, chromatic passages and more frequent modulations, staying in one particular key for a shorter amount of time.  It is also quite different structurally, containing only two movements, the second of which is a theme and variations.  Perhaps one throw-back to the Classical era is the use of repeated sections.  The piece has a very gentle ending in C major, with a long sustained trill in the right hand and an arpeggiated left hand.


Beethoven’s first sonata was dedicated to Haydn.  The first and last movements are in sonata form (very much a Classical structure), and parts of the piece have been likened to some of Mozart’s work, such as Symphony no. 40.  His Op. 111 on the other hand is the composer’s very last sonata, and unmistakably ‘Beethoven’ in style.  Whereas his first sonata is looking back at the likes of Mozart and Haydn, his last is very forward looking – the syncopation in the second movement almost anticipating jazz and ragtime.  As  I thought from listening to it, the piece is considered a serious challenge for pianists.



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