Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in A (Op. 2)

This sonata gave me a real headache. Anyway, this is the second of three Beethoven piano sonatas in Op. 2. This work is light, lyrical, and witty, as opposed to the dark and tragic Fm sonata. But don’t be fooled! The A sonata is more complex and difficult as Beethoven plays with mediant (III) and submediant (VI) keys a lot, frequently leaping to them. He also likes to leap to the supertonic (ii) and flattened subtonic (VIIb), which are both a M2nd away.

A complete formal and harmonic analysis of the piano sonata is in the video above, an outline of the overall form below.

Form of A (Op. 2)

00:00 – The first movement plays a lot with downward triads and running up and down the scale, usually with a lot of counterpoint. Beethoven is fond of leaping by the III or VI in the subordinate subject, as well delaying the harmony from changing alongside the melody, which makes the keys more ambiguous. Beethoven leaps down the VI especially in the development and the subordinate subject in the recapitulation.

11:11 – The second movement suggests definite instruments; muted trombones and string bases in the main subject. Beethoven bases the whole melody of the main subject on peaking it at B4 and F#5, then taking it down. This is the basic structure to many classical melodies but Beethoven takes it to an extreme. The developments in Bm and D are in typical keys. The first development is based on the descending scale, a contrast to the main theme.

17:32 – The scherzo of the third movement is based on a rising arpeggio while the trio is based on a descending scale, like so much other material in this sonata in all the Op. 2 sonatas. Beethoven takes the development of the scherzo all the way to G#m (vii), an extreme place to go relative to A. The development of the trio is in C, a far less distant key relative to A.

22:18 – The last movement is very long and substantial for a rondo, showing that Beethoven is unhappy with the overall structure of sonatas. The minuet and rondo are usually short and light in content, which is lopsided considering how large and important the sonata form in the first movement is. The early Beethoven’s attempts to solve this problem involve making the last movement either sonata form or lengthy rondos, such as this movement. Save the best for last as the saying goes.

The main subject is an operatic dip from E6 all the way down to G4 or F#4, and is the most striking subject of the entire sonata. This movement may be the most gentle and lyrical of the entire sonata but it is the most complex and difficult as Beethoven leaps to the III and VI keys more than in any other movement. The “development” sections explore the dotted motif of the main subject while the “transition” turns the 16th note ascension of the main subject in all sorts of directions; descending down the scale, arpeggios, turns etc.

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