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

I still feel sketchy when analyzing the melody or thematic material. Otherwise, my formal and harmonic analysis is fine. I may not analyze any more sonatas or only sonatas I really like since it may take a year to analyze them all and I would really like to compose my own music thank you very much. Improving my own skills is the reason I do such tedious work in the first place. Beethoven’s 3rd sonata is a brilliant finish to a unique triplet of works, each showing very different moods. The Fm sonata was tragic and brooding, the D sonata was lyrical, the C sonata is vivid and dazzling; it’s virtuoso score hints at piano concerto material.

As usual, a complete formal and harmonic analysis of the piano sonata is in the video above, an overview of the sonata’s overall form below.

Form of C (Op. 2)

0:00 The 1st movement, in sonata form, has the most distinct piano concerto feel to it, since the transitioning passages do look very much like a piano accompaniment to an orchestra. The main subject on the other hand is not that energetic by itself but does have enormous potential energy, which Beethoven exploits by setting it off like dynamite. Unlike with the earlier sonatas, Beethoven’s doesn’t focus so much on the main subject; most of the music in this movement sounds like stock set of riffs Beethoven used to improvise, which he did a lot early in his career.

9:30 The 2nd movement is far off in the mediant key of E, a relation we see for the first time. The movement itself is made of two very different characters; the first one is a rather complex lyrical melody Beethoven goes out of his way to leave unresolved, the second character devotes the left hand for a singing baseline with dotted rhythms lifted from the first character while the right hand plays arpeggios similar to those of a Baroque prelude.

16:40 The 3rd movement has cheeky scherzo that uses F# and starts the downbeat at A, which confuses the key of C major. The scherzo consists of a descending subject that changes registers (and hands) as it keeps going down the keyboard. Meanwhile, other voices join it in counterpoint, often based on the playful turn at the very beginning. The minor trio is more conventional; the right hand plays triplet arpeggios while the left hand plays a simple base. The coda is built on the Bdim-C cadence (vii/I) as opposed to the more usual G7-C cadence (V7/I). All this is subtle humor on Beethoven’s part but sadly most of the jokes are lost to us as we don’t understand the language of sonata form like Beethoven and friends did. It’s hard to get parodies and jokes when you don’t speak the language fluently.

19:57 The 4th movement is an extensive rondo as Beethoven returns to the main subject over and over again, changing it in many different ways, while departing from it afterward in a new direction almost each time. What you get is a pretty complicated rondo, so complicated you could even see sonata form elements in it, complete with two expositions, a long development section, two recapitulations, and a coda. Beethoven, as I said before, wanted to give the finale of a piece the most weight, and tried different ideas throughout his career. He often settled this problem in his early days by expanding the rondo by making it more like a sonata.


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