Studying Beethoven – Piano Sonata in Bb (Op. 22)

We now enter the last of Beethoven’s early piano sonatas, the sonata in Bb (Op. 22), and it is a fine and grand ending at that. It is the last sonata where Beethoven uses the conventional four-movement format of fast sonata, slow sonata, scherzo, rondo. While he did compose four-movement sonatas later in his career, they all depart from convention in form and content. The “Jagleid” sonata (in Eb, Op. 31) has no serious slow movement, the sonata in A (Op. 101) and “Hammerklavier” sonata (in Bb, Op. 106) put the scherzo movement 2nd and the slow movement 3rd. Even the sonata in Eb (Op. 27), that follows this sonata right after, follows a revised four-movement pattern, though to less effect.

I mentioned before how Beethoven’s earlier four-movement sonatas, though intricate and beautiful, were stilted and forced in some ways, as if Beethoven was still trying to teach himself how to construct the many Classical forms he inherited from Haydn, Salieri, Mozart, Clementi, and other older masters. This sonata, the sonata in Bb (Op. 22) is the last of these earlier sonatas. Beethoven, in all his later four-movement sonatas rewrites the old format to suit his purposes. The sonatas in A (Op. 101) and Bb (Op. 106) put their heavy, slow movements later so as to better lead to a great, satisfying finale. The new format levels the dramatic weight of the sonata at a climactic ending, not at the first movement, a problem Beethoven worked to solve for decades.

Allegro con brio
This sonata in Bb (Op. 22) has the style of a piano concerto – like the sonata in A (Op. 1) – complete with imitations of virtuoso piano passages, orchestral accompaniment, and orchestral tuttis; all of this is most obvious in the first movement. The very main subject itself in Bb imitates a quiet orchestral beginning with softly playing snare drums, a grand statement, and a decisive half cadence. The orchestra builds up in a crescendo as two voices climb up the broken Bb chord together. The grand statement itself is made of two broken descending scales, both built on the notes A (leading tone) and G (submediant), the first ending in an imperfect authentic cadence, the second decisively landing on Bb (tonic). – However, Beethoven surprises us by writing this passage in subito piano (suddenly playing it softly) to hold us back a bit. – A second ascent, now in a full forte, takes us up the Gm broken chord, then slams down on F (dominant), ending the main subject in a half cadence. This both leaves the music open to further lines and prepares for the usual modulation to the dominant. Like in many sonatas before, Beethoven makes his main subject as complicated and dynamic as he can.

So now what? Beethoven delays us a bit with a surprising episode; he undermines his main subject by putting the rising Bb chord passage as a baseline for counterpoint. He even surprises us with harmonies; he jumps to D (mediant), then goes down the circle of 5ths like this: D-Gm-C-F-Bb. This episode concluded, Beethoven gets down to business with a straightforward modulation. Tremolos jump to C (secondary dominant), and hover there while circulating among F and Bd7, the base hums on repeated C notes the entire time, making a secondary dominant base. All this builds expectation for a firm C-F cadence, to solidly nail us to the dominant, a cadence Beethoven avoids completely by softly trailing to F.

The subordinate subject in F builds on the ascending broken tonic chord with two voices moving in parallel thirds, like the main subject; but here we have sweet woodwinds, the virtuoso flurries kept firmly in an F base (new tonic). But keeping the music this way would be boring, so Beethoven suddenly dips into D7 (submediant). The virtuoso base truly goes down a broken D7 chord, but all the D7 chord’s notes are offbeat, so it sounds like Beethoven is going down a C#7 broken chord, so you could call this section bitonal. The F# leading tone in the melody is strongly expected to resolve to Gm, but Beethoven never does so; instead he peaks his melodic arc at C (the secondary dominant) and plows down the scale to loudly land on F (the tonic). Beethoven moves down the circle of fifths again, with the general harmonic plot being D7-Gm-C-F, but he does mutate Gm to Gd and G7, which further develops the music.

We enter a second subordinate subject in F, but this time using parallel thirds to move down a broken chord. It builds a melodic arc from A to D, then breaks that pattern at the end, as Beethoven often does, to jump to G, then falls back down to the tonic. Beethoven leaps down the 3rd with harmonies with Ehd7-C7-A7, which does not resolve to F, as you would expect an Ehd7 chord to do, but prolongs the tension to resolve to Bb (subdominant). Beethoven develops the subordinate subject with a synchopated variation, but finishes it on A, not at a proper resolution. Beethoven builds a lengthy bridge with this open question in A, full of flying arpeggios and broken octave scales in the treble while an active base fills in harmonies below; something you see a pianist do in almost every piano concerto. The closing statement drops suddenly to pianissimo, a base in F (tonic) acting as a drumroll. A treble in three voices starts low but climbs higher, with many diminished progressions: Ahd7-Dm, Ad-B, Edh7-F, and Ed7-F. The diminished chords makes a darker and more mysterious tone, giving the right feel of suspense – until Beethoven suddenly goes to fortissimo! The full orchestra returns to climb up the F scale, peaking at the subdominant, and falling down the F scale to end the exposition.

Beethoven begins his development with a benign precore in F; the snare drum cell breaks into little dominant-tonic motives, and we have an orchestral tutti in F7 that emphasizes the subtonic as its highest note. It suddenly shifts gears into D7 (submediant) as it falls down. The first core is based off the rumbling, suspenseful moment of the closing statement. It starts in D7 (where the precore left off) but soon resolves to Gm, revealing the true home key. The harmonies revolve around Gm, but extends slightly through C#hd7-D cadences, in other words keeping the core suspended on the dominant. The second core is built on a solo virtuoso treble on a broken chord of dominant or leading tone, then resolving to an orchestra tutti – this time developed with parallel sixths and thirds. Thus we have these progressions as the keys keep changing: D7-G, Bd7-C.

The third core keeps this harmonic trend, but turns the treble into ascending and descending arpeggios while the base draws out a broken chord; both parts function to more definitely outline harmonies, which are now more condensed. The harmonies resolve in these progressions: Ed7-F, G7-Cm, Gbd7-F7, Bbm7-Bbd-Eb7. The retransition falls to a low, suspenseful tone; the treble keeps the arpeggios running but its top note keeps hovering over the Eb or Eh note. The base itself takes up the orchestral tutti motif, but softly and only the contrabase is involved. This way we cycle through Eb7-C7!-F7. The base motif breaks down into only the descending line, a held base note in F being a constant, which prepares for a F7-Bb cadence to return us to the home key. Beethoven transforms the downward line motif into an upward F7 scale but denies us a cadence. Instead, he suspends us on a soft, prolonged F7 chord, the top Eb note (subdominant) chosen to further soften both harmony and melodic arc.

The main subject in Bb returns with no change. The transition starting, the brief episode is slightly developed as the opening snare drum motif exchanges base and treble roles in Bb. The soft descending scale is developed as well, the melodic arc now prolonged from Ab (subtonic) to Bb (tonic); the harmonies progress in a similar fashion but using more distant progressions: B-Cm, Eba-Ab, D-Gm, Ad-Bb, Ehd7-F. The tremolo part of the transition trains its focus on Bbm (mutated tonic) rather than C. The subordinate subject repeats but all harmonies based around Bb, as do the second subordinate subject and the long bridge to the closing statement. The closing statement assumes its old character, revolving around Bb; it briefly hops to different harmonies like Ebm7 (subdominant minor) and Cm (supertonic), while we have diminished progressions thus: Ahd7 (w/Cb)-Bb, and Fhd7 (w/Cb)-Bb. The orchestra leaps into a grand tutti, the snare drum motif softly returns with a leading tone-tonic progression, and two final tutti chords.

Adagio con molto espressione
The humming base chords throughout the second movement in Eb are typical of a slow movement in a piano concerto, while the movement itself is in sonata form without the repeated exposition. The main subject in Eb is built on the upward turn and a held out dissonant leaning tone, the first sentence rising: G-Ah (leading)-Bb-Bh (leading)-C (appoggiatura)-D. In essence, we move the mediant of Eb to the median of Bb7, and the harmonies in the base follow suit. The second sentence takes a different approach, built on notes a minor 3rd apart: F-Ab, F#-Ah. Beethoven then breaks the pattern to develop material, in this case using an Eb arpeggio to reach a high Bb (dominant) before falling down an arpeggio to C (submediant), the harmony drifting to Ab and Aba (subdominants both), then Fm (supertonic). Beethoven, never leaving well enough alone, hits an extra sforzando note in C, higher than the Bb high note, and finally falls to Eb. What follows is a kind of closing statement of the main subject, built on a long descending broken Eb chord, arriving to a warm and melancholy cadence in cello and base lines.

We enter a brief transition to take us to Bb, built on an abridged version of the closing statement, itself built on the rising and falling 3rd. This way the melody is built on an Eb chord: G-Bb-Eb. Now Beethoven must resolve his transition down to a Bb (dominant) note, while also modulating to that same harmony. He does so by taking his melody down a chromatic scale from Eb to Bb, while his base acts as counterpoint to guide the harmonic progression through upward chromatic cells: Ah-Bb, Eb-F. Beethoven drifts a bit to Cd7-Gm-Ebm7, but he ultimately he cadences with a diminished chord: Ed7-F7+4-Bb.

The subordinate subject is based on a descending scale of complex rhythms and small note values, with a brief stretto where the tenor takes after the soprano ceases to climb up again. First time in Bb: the subject falls from D to D two octaves below, the soprano turning upward to F (dominant). Second time in Eb7a: subject falls from D to Bb in the base, while the soprano turns upward to Bb as well. Then the melody breaks up into leading tone cells, going up the Bb chord and down the Cm chord. Beethoven augments his melody with ever smaller note values so the subordinate subject may reach its climax, and to bring out a virtuoso passage typical in a piano concerto. The virtuoso passage peaks at a high F note (dominant) before falling down an elaborate road built on the Eb chord, then a long chromatic scale rising to that high F again, and finally an F7 arpeggio fall to Bb (tonic). The closing statement builds on a rising 2nd and falling 3rd, with an offbeat leading town first. The harmony can be interpreted as A (major leading tone)-Bb-F7-Bb.

The precore of the development is simple, where Beethoven takes the turn and leading tone motifs of the first subject, climbing up a Bd broken chord as the base hums a G base note, making the overall harmony G7 (submediant major of Bb). After Beethoven reaches the important F note his melody divides into two parts among soprano and alto, as they both move their way down the scale; the soprano moves F-Eh-D-Cb and the alto in a parallel 6th – but broken by moments it leaps a fifth to the subtonic of the chord and falls down a m2nd. All this happens while the base moves down the circle of 5ths: C7-F7-Bb7-Eb7-Abm. So we arrive to a brief three voice core; the soprano melody rises and falls a m2nd, the alto and tenor move in parallel thirds. The harmony now moves up the circle of 5ths in leading tone progressions: Gd7-Abm, Dhd7-Ebm, Bd7-Bb7, Ad-Bb. The retransition holds out the soprano on Bb and repeats an Ah-Bb leading tone sequence while a fourth voice, the base, arrives to hold out a low Bb note. Beethoven hovers on Bb (dominant of Eb) to prepare us to return to Eb (tonic).

The main subject in Eb repeats but with the melody augmented with embellishments, again quite common in a piano concerto. In addition, Beethoven throws in more leading tones, both to suspend the melody (F#-G notes) and to spice up the key notes in arpeggios. The closing statement cuts to the transition straightaway with no extra cadences while transition takes a longer chromatic descent down an Eb octave. The base is built on cells rising up a m2nd; the cells themselves hop down and up the base registers. The harmonic progression takes a surprising twist by leaping to harmonies a M2nd and m3rd away, such as Ab-Gb-Bb9 and modulating back to the tonic through Fb-Gb7-Bb7-Eb. The subordinate subject and closing statement follow the same program as the exposition, just all around Eb.

Menuetto
The minuet and trio in Bb are refreshingly simple after the grand first and second movements. The minuet subject is built up a rising Bb chord, then once it reaches a Bb (tonic) it moves up the scale through dotted notes to F (dominant). Beethoven keeps the base, based on thirds, interesting through rising leading tones. After this small modulation to the dominant, the subject resolves by rising and falling in broken Eb and Ad chords, while the arpeggio base keeps the harmonic context in F7. Then Beethoven uses a turn motif to climb up the Ahd7 chord to a G note (subtonic), then cadences to Bb. The baseline in turn holds on to the dominant note, while the tenor moves down the scale from Eb to Bb.

The development comes is composed of a sentence divided into two parts. The first part is a tremolo built on the C#d7-D progression, building to a fortissimo crescendo. The high treble takes over, falling from a high D (dominant) to G (tonic); in this way D is established, then subverted by becoming the dominant as the music modulates to Gm through Ad-Gm-Ahd7-Gm. Gm is itself the submediant and relative minor of Bb. The second sentence: the tremolo is built on the Bb7-Cb progression, using the Neapolitan, but holding out the dominant-tonic progression that typically comes afterward until the very last moment; the melody falls from Ab (subtonic) to Ah (leading tone) and the harmonies proceed in Bd7-Cm progressions, only entering Bb-F-Bb at the lead us back to the reprise. The reprise carries as usual, but Beethoven adds a codetta at the end. The melody’s broken chords carry out through Gm7-Bb-Bb, the harmony progresses Bb-Eb-Bb-Cm+4. The end of the codetta is unusual as the melody grounds itself on D-Eb (leading tone to subdominant), the harmony exchanging Bb-Cm+4, and only making a F7-Bb cadence at the last moment.

In the minore, Beethoven lets the base put many turns into a virtuoso chain while the treble becomes a set of block chords. The base tumbles down in such a manner that it falls down and up Gm and D broken chords as to be able to rise up to a D note (dominant) in the tenor range. The melody follows a simple path, D (dominant) leaping to G (tonic) but falling to F# (leading tone) to end on the dominant harmony. The “resolution” of the minore ends in the dominant; the treble and base spell out a Ed-F progression but breaks a Ehd7 progression with the secondary dominant, moving A-D. The melody is itself bizarre; it leaps from G (tonic) to C# (leading tone to the dominant) to D (dominant). The melody, in a way, progresses D-G and G-D, the opposite pattern you would usually expect.

Beethoven follows a brief development where both treble and base move contrapuntally down in 3rds in a virtuoso flurry; three motifs overlap each other in three voices. Beethoven’s melody starts in a high Ab (mutating D to Dd – an interesting turn), and the key notes keep falling from G down an Ab7a chord, landing to the Gm harmony to begin the reprise. The harmony revolves around Cm and Gm through: G-Cm, Ad-D-Gm. The reprise is short, with no extra material, in fact shortened; the melody D note (dominant) leaps to G (tonic) but then to C (subdominant) – small harmonic movement down the circle of 5ths – then a dominant-tonic cadence. The harmonies follow the same Ad-D-Gm progression as in the development, giving the revived minore subject a new perspective.

Allegretto
The last movement in Bb is ostensibly a rondo, and similar to the rondo in the sonata in Eb (Op. 7) in holding complex subjects with three or more voices, though thankfully the harmonies are not too complicated. The main subject in Bb begins up on an F note (dominant) and functions by dipping and rising, using a dissonant leading tone (like in the second movement) to lean on the last note of the phrase. Our first phrase, the question, does this by building around the notes of the F chord (dominant), leaning on a C note (secondary dominant). The second phrase, the answer, builds around a Bb7a chord, ending on a D note (median of tonic). The base voice hangs on A (leading tone) and Bb (tonic) during both respective phrases. The main subject resolves itself by using Alberti to hover on G and F notes, scales up from D to a high D (median) and resolves on F (dominant), where it started. The harmony gets interesting at this point as G (submediant major) replaces Gm, as one would expect. But the main subject is not fully resolves. It repeats in a variation, treble in octaves, base an octave lower to give a fuller range from highest to lowest notes. Extra Ab and Ah notes enter in an alto part, putting a hard dissonance on the G harmonies while complementing the F harmonies. An extra phrase acts as a codetta of sorts; a chromatic scale up from Bb to high Bb, with augmented notes, peaking at the tonic to signal a firm resultion, and a perfect authentic cadence to conclude it.

Beethoven transitions from tonic to dominant through a brief episode, using two complex little motifs based on the rising 3rd, one to add tension, the other to resolve. We have two harmonic progressions in this manner: Bb-Cm-F7-Bb, then Bb-C-C7-F, where Cm (supertonic) mutates into C (secondary dominant), allowing the C7-F cadence. The subordinate subject comes in two parts; the first part is made of simple rising arpeggios with the notes held out, the top note consistently A, while the harmony stays in F, only once veering to Bb7 and Dd, then topping on a high F note (tonic).

Then comes a long descent of synchopated octaves, with the base acting as counterpoint and root the harmonies. So Beethoven moves the melody down from F (tonic) to a lower F, but with a slight upward curve. A bit more comes afterward where the structure of the base duplicates in the melody, which itself uses leading tones while the key notes move up and down a broken F chord, and end with syncopated alto and tenor voices in parallel thirds. A new sentence emerges in the subordinate subject, rising arpeggios, similar to those at the very start, moving up and down different chords, the base holding rising notes to also spell out a harmony. The F-C7 progression happen twice, then the melody condenses, keeps climbing up over and aver again, peaking at F (tonic) at the very top, harmonies being F7-Bbm (a small surprise) then falls down the Gb7 chord (Neopolitan). The closing statement acts also as a retransition, since it is a rondo, built on two descending scales complimenting each other throw counterpoint, but as it intensifies, only one scale survives, that starts at a high F and repeats over and over again, then augments, the peak notes traveling through F-Gb-G.

The main subject returns in Bb with no change, but a variation of the transition appears in Bbm (tonic minor) to act as a precore in development would. Beethoven takes advantage of harmonies related to Bbm that would otherwise be distant, such as Ab, but now we modulate to a new key through C-Fm, and Bd7-C-Fm; to the dominant minor. The second subordinate subject in Fm acts as a development of sorts. The soprano uses C (dominant) and F (tonic) as its top notes to lynchpin the alto as it follows a dipping and rising melodic arc, the tenor and base moving in parallel thirds, in opposing counterpoint. The subject makes two attempts to each a climax, a tactic Beethoven used to keep building suspense. The soprano makes the first attempt (harmony in Bbm), climbing from F (tonic) to C (dominant), but this lifts all voices up an octave, so the alto tries climbing from Ah (Fm briefly mutates to F7) to F (tonic). This success a quick and savage motif tear down the melody from a high F down two octaves.

Beethoven gives us a second precore, one even longer and more convoluted than the first. We starts with the first precore’s motif, slightly more embellished, and slowly rises up the treble clef with it, fitting whatever harmony it is in, starting in Gb but soon falling into a nexus of Bbm-Cm-F7. Two new motifs enter, of the same nature but moving in opposite counterpoint, and they alternate in stretto, developing the rhythm. Beethoven has no clear melodic arc in this area, neither a clear harmonic progression; he uses the change to jump around various odd keys related to Fm, such as Ebm, Gd,Db, Cd, Cm, Gb, and he finally lands to Bbm through Ebm-Bbm-F7-Bbm. The subordinate subject enters again, but in Bbm (tonic minor), and repeats itself the same way, save for forte climax where the Bb note leaps to the F note, not up the octave. This is just one example of how the dominant note is so important to Beethoven since it harmonically grounds the work in tonic or dominant, keeps the music ambiguous to a certain extent, keeps tension as it has not resolved yet, and makes modulating to distant keys easy.

The retransition to the main subject uses the dominant in a unique; the melody uses a chromatic dynamic between Gb and F notes while the harmony progresses in Chd7-F (only one Ad7 is the exception). And this way we return to the main subject once more in a sort of recapitulation. The main subject enters a unique variation with broken octaves, normal octaves, parallel sixths, and heavily embellished melodies – yet the harmonies and basic melodic arcs stay the same; a true variation. The transition and subordinate subject remains the same but centering on Bb, though the rising arpeggios at the end emphasize Dd and Eb, signaling a subdominant, as important in all recapitulations. A small tonally ambiguous variation of the main subject is added in, using three melodic arcs to bring us to the retransition; built on C-F notes, D-G notes, and Ab-D notes. The Bb harmony, which should be clear, is blurred by being mutated in Bd so often, while the familiar F (dominant) is replaced with Gm, Eb, and Cm, all related keys but not providing the solid cadence a dominant harmony can give. The retransition mirrors its old self, though a rising chromatic scale brings us back to the main subject while we have an F (dominant) basso continuo.

Another variation of the main subject ensues, though it is not so outlandish, the melody simply being augmented to triplets and 32nd notes; later with the octaves the triplets get broken to add more diversity. The movement ends in a coda that is especially beautiful even by Beethoven’s standards, built from the transition’s motif inverted; the soprano repeats F (dominant) while the alto climbs from Bb (tonic) to Eb (subdominant). The soprano then assumes the melodic line while alto fills in the harmony, rising from Bb (tonic) to F (dominant) before falling back to Bb. The sentence repeats with the base embellished in an orchestral drone. The second little phrase, where the soprano soars high, is twice repeated in crescendo, climaxing to fortissimo where the entire orchestra of the piano concerto joins in. The movement quietly trails off, soprano and alto falling in parallel 3rds, where the melodic arc of the main subject is “perfected”; F falls to F and simply rises in Bb, this happening twice. A soft dominant-tonic cadence, then a sudden loud one!

 

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