Studying Beethoven – Piano Sonata in E (Op. 14)

Beethoven’s next sonata, the Sonata in E (Op. 14), is a breath of fresh air following the dark and weighty Pathetique Sonata (In Cm, Op. 13), and it comes with a sibling; the Sonata in G (Op. 14). Both sonatas are lyrical and mild, but sophisticated as ever – Beethoven always has tricks up his sleeve – and are structured as the Pathetique, where a weighty first movement in sonata form is balanced by two other movements. The Sonata in E resembles a string quartet with its frequent four-part writing, counterpoint, and imitations, most easily found in the first movement but also present in the later movements.

Following the idea of a string quartet, Beethoven opens with a main subject in E, with violin parts sustaining long melodic notes high on the treble while the viola and cello parts play a knocking rhythmic motif. The melody rises in gentle open intervals of 4ths, 5ths, 6ths; in essence rising from dominant to tonic to dominant to tonic again. The little flurry at the end with the high tonic note is a frequent trope in violin solos. Yes, the phrase ends on E, the tonic, but it’s unresolved; a question waiting an answer. And Beethoven chooses to answer with a motif played in violin I, violin II, viola, and cello parts; this way he brings the melody back down to earth. In essence, the dominant note, B, leaps down an octave four times.

Now Beethoven is ready to bring all string quartet parts at once, and he once more makes the dominant note the crux of the music, repeating the same small phrases but in different registers, using them to travel from one B note to another to another. The harmony is basic V-I, not too special, but he does use a chromatic rising and falling line for the viola and cello parts in the latter parts of the first subject. It transforms the usual harmonies leading back to E; D#d7 becomes augmented to D#m and B7a becomes diminished to B7.

So how does Beethoven get us to the subordinate subject in B? His solution is to use a variation of the first four bars to carry us from E to Bm. The melody rises up the B scale (or E scale in Lydian mode, take your pick) to the new tonic note while the harmony plays F# but delays resolving it to Bm; instead progressing chromatically F#-E-Am-A#d-Bm. But Beethoven avoids the usual V7-I cadences, opting for F#-Bd instead, while his melody trades between B and Dh notes until finally touching F#, dominant of B. Again, Beethoven highlights the dominant note.

The subordinate subject in B acts as a subject for imitation and counterpoint, especially the descending pickup notes used to get your attention (as pickup notes starting a subject are common to most contrapuntal subjects). Beethoven uses the four voices in chords to spell out three harmonic progressions: D#s4-F#7, F#7-B, B#hd7-C#m-A#d7-B, which avoid a typical V7-I with a secondary dominant (D#s4) and a deceptive cadence (B#hd7-C#m). Beethoven uses an extra sentence as a bridge to take us to the closing theme so as to not make the transition awkward; the harmony is now pretty typical V7-I but the melody itself builds from an F#7 chord.

The closing subject mutates Em (subdominant) from minor to major many times; a technique also used by composers such as Schubert, and as such the melodic line changes from a rising half step (F#-Gh) to a rising whole step (F#-G#). Beethoven then builds a bridge to smoothly return to his main subject, which makes sense in this gentle sonata. Beethoven uses a B scale melody to rise to a climax; a deceptive cadence in C#m, before resolving us back to F#7-B with a leading tone melody. Beethoven then leads us back to the main subject with a bridge using IV-I where the cello part now takes the opening motif.

The development is smooth and straightforward, built on two cores, the second core also acting as a retransition. The precore, yet another version of the opening four bars, takes the melodic line up the E scale, from E as tonic to E as mediant, but the harmonies, the context the melody is in, drastically changes; Beethoven wanders into F7a (Neapolitan), then into diminished chords finally resolving G#d7-Am. Beethoven brings in new material of octaves (based in part from the opening motif and the movement’s obsession with dominant note octaves), and where Beethoven makes a poignant modulation from Am to C. He moves from Am to Dm7, which seems odd until it mutates to D7, becoming a secondary dominant; we now see a D7-G7-C progression as Beethoven modulates to C (relative major of Am). The subject develops; the melody rises to a high F note and cadences to C to mark this transition. The subject develops again; the melody starts in Em but shifts gears to A#d7 to leap up an E note octave in a lamenting call before resolving to B.

The second core, also the retransition, exchanges the opening motif in the base and treble, the new home key now Em. Beethoven slowly winds down with a V-i progression, with some A#d7-B and A-Em (a major subdominant), knocking with B notes the whole time, using this constant dominant to return us to E. The main subject returns in a loud and excited variation, then returns to normal. Now Beethoven uses a different transition to show growth and change in the music, now in C, which surprises us as the melody seems to lead to at Em. This new transition develops the knocking eight notes into a fast rising scale while the opening motif is exchanged between treble and base. Then Beethoven modulates to the subtonic through Chd7-B, using an A# leading note in the cello part to guide us to B. The remaining bars are similar to their exposition counterparts, albeit with a A#d7-B progression.

The subordinate subject remains the same, just in keys a 4th lower. The closing subject has a similar exchange as in the exposition with the melodic line rising a half step one moment (B-C) a rising whole step (B-C#) another, but the harmonies are slightly different; D# mutating between D#d7 and D#hd7. We enter the coda, where the opening motif returns low in the base, the knocking eight notes now in the middle, creating the warm, rich feeling of strings in the lower registers. Beethoven develops the motif with a downward phrase to resolve it, the harmonies and base shift between dissonant progressions, F7-E and F#d7-E (exchanging between Neapolitan and supertonic). The motif moves to the treble, now developing by rising to a high E; the movement makes a quiet return to the tonic.

The second movement is a minuet in Em and is based on a dotted swinging rhythm, leaps up a 3rd, and half steps, giving many accidentals. We see four-part writing throughout the movement, once more suggesting a string quartet. The subject builds around a broken Em chord, the melodic line rising to B (dominant) before resolving. Beethoven uses atypical harmonies, moving to C (submediant) very early, then using leading tones to progress A#hd7-Am and D#d-Em. The first sentence ends in B, hanging, the second, now an octave higher, resolves to Em. We enter a major section in C, the melodic line built on the 3rd (E to G) and repeating G (dominant). Andras Schiff mistakes the progressions here as Plagal cadences (IV-I) but Beethoven always uses D as the base note, making his harmonies Dm7-G (ii7-V). Beethoven then moves the melody through E to F#, the harmonies, A#d-B, hanging on the dominant.

Beethoven returns to his Em subject but develops it, highlighting Dm with drawn out block chords and frequenting on the eight note turn, progressing G#d-Am. He then uses a codetta to draw us to quiet, wistful finish in the high register, constantly using D#d7-E. The music now becomes very contrapuntal; the cello stubbornly on E (tonic), the violin I in leading notes D#-E, the violin II and viola in eight note turns in opposite directions.

The minore part of the minuet finished, we enter the maggiore part in C. Beethoven once again builds his material on the 3rd (E and G), but his melody is looser, moving around broken chords, and connects to the higher octave with a rising broken chord and chromatic notes. Now the melody is in sustained three quarter notes and drops by small intervals of a 4th and 3rd, whatever puts him in the tonic and dominant. The cello part is interesting as it makes a long chromatic descent. The violin II does a similar thing but in smaller phrases. The maggiore subjects resolves to the dominant through Dm7-G, once more the “Plagal” cadence.

Now Beethoven develops his subject in A, with extra counterpoint in opposite motion in the viola part; now the melodic line builds on the G and Fh notes, using what the downward whole step “naturally” suggests to move down a C scale. As surely as Beethoven developed the falling whole step, he develops the chromatic rising cell, taking it up high two octaves, then preparing us for the return to the minuet in Em; the melody falling from E (tonic of Em) to B (dominant of Em), the base subtly shifting like quicksand C-Em-B. The coda of the entire movement proceeds as the second half of the development, but softer, sweeter, sadder.

Allegro commodo
The third movement is a Rondo in E, exuberant and simpler, lacking most of the four-part string quartet writing from the first two movements. We enter the main subject, melody in octaves leaping up a dominant upbeat to E (tonic), climbing up the scale and settling on A (subdominant). The base comes in triplets, in essence broken 6ths, descending the E scale to a dominant pedal, the harmony moving from E to B7. So now the main subject is suspended in the dominant, how do we resolve it? Beethoven introduces a rapid descending scale and four-part counterpoint so the melody falls from A (subdominant) to G# (median), then resolves to E (tonic). Beethoven repeats his opening line again but this time develops his material to transition to B (dominant). He does so by exchanging the descending scale cell in different registers in imitation and expanding it so it so it drops low to D# (leading tone) and high to G (mediant). This lets melody build up to a climax trill A# (leading tone to B) and having it fall to B.

The subordinate subject is very brief, based on the same large open leaps at the climax of the transition, but this time the music is calm even though almost the exact same notes are being played. In a way the subordinate subject is a bit disappointing. The subject sounds like it will begin a counterpoint but the violin II, viola, and cello just fill in the harmony; but at least that harmony progresses as C#m-F#9-B, focusing on C#m (relative minor of E). A small variation follows, and the melody sits on B (dominant of E) as the harmonies modulate back to E through B-F#7s4-B#7, the sustained 4th at F# and 7th note in B signaling a descent back to E.

The main subject returns but repeats differently, leading us to a second subordinate subject that acts as a development section by leaving E to go to G (mediant). The melodic line now reaches higher to touch on Ch (submediant of E), and the harmony follows suite from Am-Gs4. Beethoven expands on his rapidly falling cell, repeating it, letting it drop to lower and lower registers, going G-D-G so we hit the development. Beethoven composes this paragraph to be pretty straightforward. The triplets take the front in the treble, the melodic arc rising and falling through broken chords, the base in octaves; no subject is borrowed from previous material except maybe a fragmented baseline early on, which makes sense as Beethoven quickly moves through many different chords. Regarding harmonic progressions, the development slowly leads us from G back to E, moving from D-G to E7-Am to C#hd7-F#m7-Bm to Dm7-G to B7-Em to B7-C to G#d7-Am to F#hd7-A#hd7-B7. The retransition is really simple; a E-B progression, the triplets rising up a chromatic scale to a high B, hanging on the dominant.

The main subject and transition return, almost the same as before, but modulating to A (subdominant) rather than E as usual. Beethoven takes the harmonies to an interesting route by modulating to F (submediant) through Bb (Neapolitan) with A-Bb-F-Ehd9-F. Now Beethoven takes the melody to D# (leading tone of E) so as to return the harmony to B (dominant), which he does through F7a-D#d7-B7; he moves the harmonies down by 3rds. Beethoven synchopates the main theme into a variation but he brings imitation back as the rising melody that distinguished the main subject now assumes a base role with a descending countersubject on top. Then the main subject (still in the base) becomes a variation moving from C to F# (dominant of B); the harmony starts in D#d7 but moves to B7 instead of E, delaying the leading tone. We resolve into a coda in E with a cell of chromatic notes. The rapid falling scales return, finishing the piece in a sentence similar to the transition. The last harmonies are A#d-B-E.

Studying Beethoven – Piano Sonata in Cm (Op. 13)

The Pathetique sonata (in Cm, Op. 13) is arguably Beethoven’s first great sonata; at least it was the first one to earn itself a nickname, one that Beethoven liked for a change. The sonata is a milestone for Beethoven, where the composer achieves a high sense of drama never done before in his career, taking his skills to the next level. He was only 27 years old at the time.

The sonata itself comes in a structure prominent in Beethoven’s later great sonatas; it is composed in three movements, with a great first movement in the full scope of sonata form balanced by the second and third movement combined; in the same structural approach in the Waldstein (in C, Op. 53) and the Appassionata (in Fm, Op. 57). The Pathetique is in a minor key, so it follows a structure where a serene and deeply felt middle movement stands between two emotional abysses. Later sonatas that follow this pattern are the Moonlight (in C#m, Op. 27), the Tempest (in Dm, Op. 31), and the Appassionata (in Fm, Op. 57).

Grave – Allegro di molto e con brio 

The first movement is of truly epic proportions, boasting a grand and tragic slow introduction followed by a dark and agitated sonata form, with the grand, tragic motif recurring at the development and coda sections. The introduction motif exists to add extra weight to the sonata form and to vastly increase the first movement’s emotional breadth and depth. While the main subject in the sonata form proper is truly pathetic, the sonata would be hardly better than the early Fm sonata (Op. 2) without the extra motif. Beethoven always looked forward, to climb higher and higher, and so he considered it a failure if he merely repeated himself.

The Grave motif has a melodic arc based on forcefully rising up two steps, then sighing down one step; it holds a dotted rhythm that characterized French Baroque music by giving it powerful feeling and royal grandness, most effectively used by Jean-Baptiste Lully; it harmonically moves to a diminished seventh chord and hangs on it before resolving to a new key. Regarding melodic line, Beethoven peaks twice, with the melody at a high subdominant note relative to the key he resolves to; the first note being Ab with Beethoven resolving to Eb and the second note being F with Beethoven resolving to Cm.

Beethoven spends the first few bars slowly rising up the Cm scale, his harmonies Cm and Bd7, later adding some F#d7 to lead to G, the dominant. – The melodic note is first the tonic, then subdominant, then tonic of Cm, pointing that Beethoven makes much use of the subdominant key in this movement, which is Fm, significant since Fm was considered to be the darkest key in Beethoven’s time – Beethoven slowly climbs his way up to the Ab note (with a small leap from F to Ab), meanwhile his harmonies lead F#d7-G before using keys close to Cm to reach Bb7, preparing us for Eb. (Notice that Beethoven briefly plays C instead of Cm, adding a more colorful touch to the passage.)

Now in Eb, Beethoven develops his Grave motif further by contrasting a piano, tender, pleading phrase with a fortissimo, forceful denial. – Beethoven uses this idea of pleading and denial in other words, such as the second movement of his piano concerto in G (Op. 58) – Beethoven slowly works his way up the Eb scale (but never “perfectly” as he almost always includes small leaps to make the melodic arc more jagged) all the way to the high F note, frequently using leading tones such as C# and Eh. However, he does take the melody in interesting turns by using interesting harmonies; he moves to D of all chords, mutates it to Dd, and moves to Fd.

Once Beethoven reaches that high F note, he modulates Gm7-Ab, meaning he briefly denies us the Cm we expect to hold us hanging a little while longer and to play the softest and most tender phrase of the introduction. The last bar comes in the standard harmonies of Cm, Bd7, and G7, and shrinks the note values further to play a long descending chromatic scale. And Beethoven hangs us on a diminished chord (Bd7) while holding us on a sudden high note, which is a typical technique for Beethoven at this point.

The sonata form is monothematic; it makes use of the main subject and its variations throughout the entire movement; as a main subject, subordinate subject, closing subject, development, and coda. Haydn, the great composer and Beethoven’s teacher, also created monothematic sonatas where the same material appeared as main and subordinate subjects. The main subject itself is a rising Cm scale but uses Eh frequently, which makes the harmonies to often be Ed leading to Fm. Beethoven emphasizes Fm, the darkest key, and the leading tone gives a sharp edge that highlights the wrathful and tragic subject, which you wouldn’t get if the rising Cm scale had no accidentals. All this established the main subject, now Beethoven must add to it in order to resolve it; he does this by using half notes that move down the Cm scale, an inversion of the main subject before. Beethoven resolves through F#d7-G-Cm.

For the transition, Beethoven uses as material the syncopated sustained notes held in G, the dominant of Cm, then follows it with downward eight note arpeggios where Beethoven again uses F#d to lead to G. But all this is a small episode in Cm the whole time, now Beethoven modulates for real. He brings back the main subject so he can break it up into smaller leader notes, and he pairs it with a huge contrast; low, thundering whole notes resolving down a step. This way he modulates from F#d-G to Gd-Ab to Ad-Bb, then he breaks down the whole notes so he can use a cell to descend by the octave; he uses Ad-Bb over and over, so by highlighting Bb he prepares us for Ebm.

The subordinate subject uses material from the main subject but part of it is broken off and placed in the base. Beethoven uses repeated notes in the middle register to give harmonic context with his left hand while he jumps between low and high registers with his right, and trails this striking motif with a falling melody in the treble, again an inversion. Beethoven’s new key is Ebm, which subverts our expectations of Eb or Ab, and he points it out more by using Gb notes. He modulates us to Db during this time, from Bbd7-Ebm to Ab7-Db and Ab7a-Db. Time to raise the pressure; Beethoven uses large leaps and trails off with the descending melody more to build our anticipation as he leads us to the closing section; the harmonies change from Db to Ebm7 to Bb7, making us expect Eb major.

And for the closing section in Eb, Beethoven makes use of a long rising Eb scale but with chromatic notes thrown in; Eh-Ah-Dh, thus linking the harmony Eb to the harmony C7, the major submediant. Beethoven builds us up slowly, with sixteenth note Alberti base in opposite motion, taking the melody higher while the base goes downward, taking us to a high Eb note before falling quickly downward, resolving through Eb-Eba-Ab-Bb7-Eb. Beethoven brings us a new phrase, using a half note to underline that high Eb and descending downward in sixteenth notes. It also holds examples of where Beethoven has the implied harmonies of the two hands not agree with each other. The left hand fleshes uses repeated notes to flesh out the harmonies Cm-Fm7-Bb while the right hand fleshes out diminished sevenths of the left hand harmonies;

And finally, Beethoven plays the main subject once more, untampered with except in the key of Eb, and brings back whole notes that keep leaping by octave from the Eb6 to the Eb5 notes. He cycles through keys close to Eb, then he falls to a D note and makes the leap by two octaves, and shifts the harmonies to D7-G7 to prepare us for Cm.

Now here is where performance gets tricky. Most print editions of the Pathetique direct us to repeat the Allegro sonata form, but Andras Schiff makes a compelling argument of why we should go all the way back to the Grave introduction; it further cements in our mind the bold and tragic material that gives so much weight to the first movement.

Beethoven reprises the Grave introduction before going to the development proper. He begins in Cm again but his high note is G, the dominant, not the tonic note of C like last time. Beethoven climbs his way slowly to a high Eh note, the median, before slowly moving down to a middle Eh, making much use of the F#d7-Gm harmonies, before shifting to D#d-Em.

Beethoven lands on Em for his development, the mediant of Cm, and for his first core he uses the subordinate subject in treble and base lines, meanwhile accompanying it with tremolos or repeated quarter notes. The material itself is, the subordinate subject, a more jagged version of the main subject made entirely of leading notes, the rising scale replaced by leaps from leading cell to the next. Thus Beethoven plays the material in the treble, taking us from Em to D to Bbm, then shifts the material to the base, taking us from Bbm to Gb to Bd, then leads us from F#d7-G.

Thus begins the second core, where Beethoven drums away tremolo notes at the base in G, the dominant of Cm, there is high tension here as the 18 th century audience would expect that G base to leap to C to resolve the tension through a V-i progression. But Beethoven has no interest in letting us off the hook easily; he uses arpeggios in the tenor range to cycle through C#m-Dd-Ab-G, keeping an Ab (the submediant of Cm) as the top note. He does suddenly shift to the soprano range to play a variation of the main subject, using C#d-Dm, then makes use of something new; whole notes and trills, to bring us to Cm-G. Once Beethoven has brought us to G7, the dominant, he uses eight note arpeggios to throw us all the way down from a high F, the subdominant he makes so much use of in this movement, to a baseline C.

Now in the recapitulation, Beethoven still develops his main subject even after just reintroducing it; he develops the descending half notes to function as a new transition to trail us to the subordinate subject, modulating from Db to Bb7-Ebm to C-Fm. Beethoven puts the subordinate subject in Fm, which deviates from the usual as most listeners expect the harmony of C. But Beethoven does modulate to Cm, but even still he uses harmonies such as F9, Bb, and Ab, as if he was in Eb the whole time. The closing section is the same as before, only transposed to Cm, but at the end, when Beethoven thunders with his whole notes and two octave leap, he crashes us to F#d7, which appears like he is leading us to the G, the dominant.

He returns to the Grave introduction but without the large thick chords; the point is to create a poignant and sad feeling and keep us in suspense, which works very well as Beethoven built so much expectation beforehand. Beethoven, perhaps more than any other composer, knew the value of silence. Silence is as important to music as zero is important in math. He leads us from F#d7-Gm to Bd7-Cm to Ed7-Fm, before softly floating down the Cm scale, using Cm-G7. Beethoven uses the main subject a final time to bring the movement with a fortissimo close, using F#d7-Cm-G7-Cm, delaying the F#d7-G7 progression a bit with an in-between harmony of Cm.

Adagio cantabile 

The second movement is romantic and deeply felt, and its pensive nature contrasts the agitated and violent first movement. It is rondo form where the main subject appears three times and is contrasted by two subordinate subjects and a coda. So what about the main subject itself? The melody is based more or less on the Ab triad while also making use of rising chords, leaps downward, and resolving by a downwards step. The harmony usually sticks to Ab and other nearby harmonies, but does have a Ghd7-Ab and a Ahd7-Bbm progression. The etxture is sophisticated, with a songlike soprano melody above and a similar base below, both using quarter notes and first species counterpoint, while the alto and tenor roles come in sixteenth notes to flesh out the harmonies.

Now Beethoven arrives to a brief subordinate subject in Cm, the texture simplified to only two voices, the melody built around the cell of a held quarter note and descending sixteenth notes taken from the main subject. The peak note is always Ab, the submediant of Cm, until it becomes G when Beethoven suddenly moves to Eb. The retransition shifts the melody, now a chromatic descent and later a chromatic turn, to the tenor part, the repeated eight notes give the very thick harmony of Bb9s4 before resolving to Eb9 so Beethoven may return to Ab.

Beethoven replays the main subject but only once but avoid repeating himself too much. Now he mutates to Abm to play a second subordinate subject, and breaks it into two parts; an eight-note descent by scale followed by a leap or a step in the treble, and a chromatic descent in triplets in the base, while the alto is made of repeated notes to flesh out a harmony. Beethoven lingers around in Abm and Eb for the first sentence, then makes a sudden leap to the F# note, the dominant of the relevant key, to a passionate outburst in B7, the median of Abm. The triplet descent swaps to the soprano role as the harmonies modulate to E through the progression B7-E-F#7-E (in between harmony)-B7-E.

Beethoven begins his second sentence in E and B7 but rather than taking his material to any special places he slowly modulates back to Ab; he uses rising broken chord triplets way down in the base to do so, going through Dd7 (leading tone of E) to Bbhd7 (submediant of D) then to Eb7 (subdominant of Bhd7 and dominant of Ab). Beethoven returns to the main subject, playing it in full, and slightly develops it further by using triplets in the alto and tenor parts.

The coda makes use of descending triplets in the melody, with the melody starting high on an F note (submediant of Ab), then falling to an Eb note and later an Ab note. The whole movement can be said to be a gradual development where sixteenth notes gradually become triplets as the movement progresses. Either way, Beethoven gently lets us down with a turning and descending phrase. He uses Ab and Eb7 as harmonies the whole time to let us know the piece is over.


The third movement is a rondo in Cm and, together with the second movement, balances out the massive sonata form first movement. While this last movement is not as grand and tragic as the first movement it is still a heavyweight piece of music in its own right, and should be respected as such. Most listeners would agree that this rondo satisfies us as an ending to the entire sonata. Beethoven himself may have disagreed, as he would go on to try different ways of putting the most weight on the end of a sonata, not the beginning. His later third movements, such as those of the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas, do have a higher drama and urgency than the first movements and create the climax of the entire sonata, not just one movement. Beethoven would later blow even that out of the water with the fugue finale of the Hammerklavier sonata (in Bb, Op. 106), and repeated that success with the choral finale of the 9 th symphony (in Dm, Op. 125) and the Große Fugue finale of his massive string quartet in Bb (Op. 130).

But we have not arrived to such heights yet.

But we have not arrived to such heights yet. The main subject begins with a dotted swinging motion in Cm, peaks with G and Ab (dominant and submediant) half and three quarter notes, and swings back down to Cm. Beethoven draws a tail to our subject, where the melody peaks to the Bb and C notes (subtonic and tonic) before decisively ending with G-Cm chords. The harmonies never leave the usual Cm nexus except for a brief moment in C, between Ab and Fm.

The transition uses loud whole note chords to suspend us before resolving to the “proper” harmony, whereby rising and falling arpeggios in piano take over. In this matter Beethoven easily takes us to the subordinate subject through C7-Fm and Bb7-Eb. Again, Beethoven is fond of playing the dominant or leading chord of the new home key first, then resolving to it, and even modulates to the dominant or leading chord through keys relevant to them, not the new home key.

Beethoven uses the subordinate subject to raise the blood pressure; he uses eight notes in both hands; arpeggios in the left hand, a brisk melody in the right, all in Eb. Beethoven sprints around in Eb before climbing up with half notes to Bb (dominant) and Eb (tonic) so he can slip into new material; two phrases built on triplets imitating one another in the soprano and alto parts. Beethoven builds his first phrase, and its triplets, on the high Bb note, dominant of Eb, and peaks his dramatic descent with the highest note in F, the supertonic. In the next phrase, Beethoven centers on a high Ab note, subdominant of Eb, and Db, the subtonic. Never one to leave well enough alone, Beethoven squeezes in one more dramatic descent, the peak note being C, the submediant of Eb. The harmonies throughout the entire subordinate subject are rather plain, mostly Eb and Bb7, with only a Cb7a, an Ad-Bb, and a Cm7 chord throughout.

Beethoven begins the closing subject with a theme made of repeated notes and slow turns, the key notes are Bb (dominant) and F (dominant of dominant), and includes a chromatic descending base with a Cb note, which adds dissonance to an F harmony. This small episode acts as a brief respite and a bridge to the real closing subject, one built on the imitation of eight note triplets among soprano and alto, based on Eb and Ab notes. Using this standard I-IV-I progression, Beethoven uses it to build to a climax, at first using the triplets in a melody in a full bar to peak at a G note (mediant), then jumps up a broken Dd chord (leading tone of Eb) to reach high up to F (subdominant of C), playing the harmony of G7 in the process. This way Beethoven modulates through Eb-Abs4-Dd-G7-Cm.

Beethoven briefly returns to the main subject, then immediately jumps to a second subordinate subject in Ab; it functions like a canon with a subject of half notes that leap up by 4ths and down by 5ths. The harmonies have a marked contrast to previous subjects because Ab is by no means emphasized, drifting through almost every key closely related to Ab while Ab itself only appears once in the beginning. Beethoven repeats the subject many times, trading it among alto, base, tenor, and soprano, each new version a variation, and he tails it off by using whole notes to lead the base through F-F#-G, while the treble climbs down from a high C (median of Ab) to a low G (dominant of Cm). Now in the retransition, where the triplets are crushed into sixteenth notes, Beethoven hammers G in the melody (dominant) over and over, slowly jumping into higher Gs by octaves, then to Bh, then to D, then peaking at F (subdominant of Cm); in other words, up the G7 chord. The harmonies are just are straightforward; G-Cm-Bd, and so forth, and like the melody they function to prepare you for a return to Cm.

We now return to main subject a third time, which Beethoven cuts up after the first sentence to lead us to the subordinate subject in a different way. His transition his built on rising arpeggios figures that climb up the Gm7 chord to peak at F (subdominant as usual), and drop to G (dominant), while the harmonies are built on leading tones Bd-Cm, Ed-Fm, and F#d-G. The third subordinate subject is similar to the first one, transposed to G rather than Eb, where Beethoven peaks with a high F note (subdominant of Cm) and later when he uses triplets in imitation he holds on C notes (subdominant of G7) and G notes (dominant of C).

The closing subject begins in C, the mutation of Cm, which you would expect to be in the subordinate subject, but Beethoven develops it by leading his melodic line, through three fourth notes, up a Gm chord to an Ab note, the essential harmonies progressing through Cm-Gm-Dd-Eb-Dd7. The retransition is brief; Beethoven uses whole notes to make a chromatic fall from Ab (subediant of Cm) to Eb (median of Cm) while the harmonies progress G-Da-Bd-Cm.

Beethoven repeats his main subject a fourth time, and jumps to the coda, which is once more a long dramatic climb up a C chord of all things, before leaping to a G note (dominant) and repeating it to raise the pressure, then another leap to a high F note (subdominant of C), then rapidly falling to a Bb note (dominant of Eb). The harmony at this point is build around C7-Fm, where the subdominant Fm is key in a recapitulation and this coda functions as such, with some progressions to relative keys mixed in; F#d7-Bd-Cm, Dd-G, Db-Eb7. The base notes remain the roo

Beethoven holds us on Eb for a while to signal he is still not done yet, which you wouldn’t get if he went to Cm. So he delays Cm a little more with calm Ab versions of the swinging phrase from the main subject. A small leading melody from F#d7-Cm (in between note), then Beethoven plays a fortissimo finish from G7-Cm, the melody flying down from F (the usual subdominant) to C.

Studying Beethoven – Piano Sonata in D (Op. 10)

The sonata in D (Op. 10) is overshadowed by the “Pathetique” sonata (in Cm, Op. 13), but unjustly so. I could even describe this sonata in D as superior to the “Pathetique”, if not on the whole than at least in a number of ways. For instance, it tells a larger and more nuanced story than the “Pathetique” does; its movements explore more different nuanced moods and are less linear in form; while “Pathetique” is intense and dramatic but in stark colors of black and white, and its Sonata Form structure goes from point A to point B. While this sonata in D (Op. 10) does have a four movement structure typical of Beethoven’s earliest sonatas the movements come together in a more organic way. While Beethoven lumped contrasting moods together in his earlier sonatas he still, in essence, followed an outlined script of how he should structure his ideas, but here it is different. Now Beethoven is using the different movements of the piano sonata genre to tell a larger story, a pattern he develops for many different kinds of works later on: the “Pathetique” sonata, the “Eroica” symphony, his last string quartets, and his last piano sonatas.

So what story does this sonata in D tell? It is hard to say because the moods are so varied; the first movement has a light touch but is neither too lyrical or comic, the second movement takes us through a sudden mood whiplash to very grim and profound emotions, the third movement is lyrical and gentle, and the last movement is a little strange but lively. Beethoven usually thinks of death when he writes such dark and grim slow movements; either he thinks of the death of a person, where he evokes a funeral march, or death as a general part of the life cycle, such as in this sonata. Beethoven centers the whole sonata on his deathly slow movement, and he devotes following movements on how to respond to death, which he does in a way that evokes triumph, beauty, gratefulness, optimism, and other such emotions. Once Beethoven, we listeners, and the sonata itself go under such a death-rebirth cycle we are never the same again.


A Presto first movement is uncommon but not unheard of, but here we have it; either way it makes extreme use of the main subject as a motif throughout the entire movement, and goes through a winding path of different subjects and moods. It could have as many as three subordinate subjects depending on how you look at it, as if the sonata itself does not know what emotion to have so it simply tours different lands. It lacks an emotional center.

Either way, Beethoven builds his main subject with a turn and a rising D scale, suspending us at the melodic tip in A, the dominant. He establishes everything this movement will be made of in at most five seconds. The rest of the main subject is turning that opening turn into variations, one soft and lyrical, the next loud and bouncy, then Beethoven repeats the opening phrase (in variation) and suspends us in F#, the median and dominant of Bm…

…which is where Beethoven begins his transition. He inverts the opening turn and breaks it into its three opening notes, uses it again in eight notes, and further builds on it to make the entire transition in one very long melodic phrase. Perhaps this is where the humor is. He uses the turn and scale to create a long tine of arpeggios, and uses it to create two slow melodic climbs, building in intensity until he finally falls to A. The first climb peaks at D, our current home key, the second peaks at E, the dominant of A. Beethoven pairs his arpeggios with pieces of the rising scale and even spends some time swapping registers in them to make cells imitate each other. His method of changing Bm into A is by mutating F# (dominant of B) into F#m (subemdiant of A), then going F#m-E-A. The rest is basically A and E.

We reached the subordinate subject but Beethoven meanders around different variations of the falling scale and turn, as if he doesn’t know what mood to cast his music. He converts the falling scale bit into something more lively and witty by putting grace and eight notes in it, and rising scale material from the transition is further collapsed. Beethoven suddenly stops this idea and tries something different; a placid second subordinate subject, where he uses the opening turn in the base, then uses imitation with a rising scale motif, all the while changing harmonies many times: A-D-G7-C (moving down the circle of 5ths), then Dm-Bb (submediant of D), then returning to A with G#d-E-A.

Now, a third subordinate subject, where Beethoven tries something a little more spunky. He uses the turn to create a descending melodic line, then swaps the Alberti base to the treble, using it as a variation of a long climbing scale, meanwhile the tenor imitates the descending turns from before. A tranquil episode later, we arrive at a closing subject at last; created from a piece of the descending scale, and suspends us in A.

The development is one very long unbroken phrase, like the transition except even longer. He leads us from A right into Bb! He bases his precore on connecting many turns to make a descending scale (again), which moves right away into the core; he builds a phrase with a rising scale of quarter notes in the base, then answers it with a descending scale of eighth notes in the treble, and so he uses Bb and Gm. He then takes the base part longer, and answers that larger expectation with quarter notes that oscillate between the cello and flute parts, taking advantage of how his filler eighth notes are in the middle register. This way Beethoven takes us to Eb (with F# notes implying Gm, so you could interpret it as Gm in Aeolian Mode), to leap to A, which comes with Dm (minor subdominant) and Bb (neopolitan), an inventive alternate to the usual V and IV, then suspends the melody on G, the subdominant of D, while the overall harmony is A7.

Now in the recapitulation, Beethoven repeats the sonata’s opening phrase but then develops a little afterward with a rising chromatic base to take us from A to B, which is the dominant of Em, where our new transition begins. The transition and subordinate subjects are more or less the same but all in D, but Beethoven adds on to the closing subject to build a Coda: he develops it by cycling through D-Gm-Dd-Bb, then falls down a minor second to A-G-Em-A-D. He builds the Coda with a long falling scale and a long rising scale, guns blazing with a eight notes in both hands. His final cadences are novel, based on the G# note leading to the A note, which means he creates the unique harmonic progression Dd-D-G-D.


Now we arrive to the deathly slow movement, the lynchpin that anchors the entire sonata, gives context to the story. I could say that among composers before Beethoven only Mozart himself used slow movements to such effect, but Beethoven goes further in this sonata. I could say that this movement is the deepest and most melancholy piece of piano music ever created, only surpassed by the slow movement of the “Hammerklavier” sonata (in Bb, Op. 106). Beethoven often likes using dotted notes in serious slow movements to amp up the drama and grandeur, borrowing from French Baroque music, used to great effect by composers Lully, Rameau, and Gluck. Not so much in this movement; like the “Hammerklavier” slow movement ironically enough. Perhaps he did not want to remind people of a funeral march.

The second movement is in Dm, and is in Sonata Form, but the transitions are so long you can see the movement as large blocks of ABACoda; the form like a lengthy elegy, one eloquent statement to the next without too much connection between them. The main subject is based on the minor 2 nd interval and a leap; the melody goes from F# to stop a bit at B (mediant of the Gm harmony), then B to climax at F# (mediant of the Dm harmony), before falling to D. The harmony is designed to take us to Gm (subdominant) in the first phrase, then use less typical harmonies to keep tension; like going to C#d7 but changing to E7 rather than going to Dm so soon, then finally going G#d7-A-Dm.

We can say the large A block as two transitions; the first one modulates to C, the second to F. In the first transition, Beethoven hangs around A7 and Dms4, so he can take us to G7 and Cs4. Even in C, Beethoven surprises us with some D harmonies (major subdominant of Am, supertonic of C). This small hopeful major episode gives nuance to this dark movement, which Beethoven drives home with a C and D note played together, a soft dissonance. The second transition gets very angsty; Beethoven builds up tension with counterpoint with similar lines in the tenor and soprano parts and leaps to a high F# where the opening motif is transformed into heavy chords, and the harmony transitions from G#d7-Am. The repeated phrase amps the tension with octaves, thirty-second note imitation, and leading notes D#-E-F# to lead to three heavy chord motifs; the harmony moves from G#d7-C#d7-D#d7-G#d7-Am. Beethoven does not lead you from G#d7 to Am right away. Instead, he develops his material by treating G#d7 (yes, a diminished seventh), as a kind of home key and moves around it with diminished seventh dominants and subdominants.

Beethoven lingers in Am a bit before silently ending there. Then, he begins the subordinate subject by leaping to F. He convinced us this entire time that he was moving to A or Am but now he takes to a different place entirely. Granted, the relative major is what is usually expected, but Beethoven seemed to be preparing us for something different. Anyway, Beethoven takes the 6/8 rhythm of the main subject and turns it into a baseline and harmonic color, giving the melody an anchor while it floats freely above. Beethoven makes a point to peak his melody at the E note (leading tone of F), not quite making it up the octave, so the dejected melody can fall down an octave, moving chromatically downward to the D note. Beethoven also plays his F harmony alongside Dm, Am, and Gm instead of E and D, to once more make the point that this hope does not last.

A mournful phrase take over, treble triplets above, a basso continuous and alto coloring below, from Gm-A-A7-C#d7, where the retransition happens. The triplets fall far down the scale to slowly diminish tension, then suddenly leap out of nowhere to a sharp pang in Bb. You will see Beethoven use a similar tactic in his “Tempest” sonata (in Dm, Op. 31) where he interrupts a downward scale with a sudden leap to a sforzando, then hang us there for a short while before falling down again. Here, he says that grief comes in long numbing pains and sharp pangs.

We return to the main subject in Dm in a recapitulation of sorts. Beethoven uses extra thick voices in the alto and baritone registers, later swaps voices in the treble cleff, the whole point is to make the main subject stronger and more dramatic in its return. Beethoven skips a phrase and goes right to his first transition, where he modulates from Gm to Bb, and he does use C7 sometimes, major subdominant of Gm. This subverts our expectations since we usually expect the subdominant of a minor key to also be minor.

Passing the second transition, same as before but in Dm, we enter the Coda, where Beethoven ramps up the pressure by using ever smaller note values but, being resourceful as always, reprises the main subject in the base. With his baseline he slowly climbs up a chromatic scale from D (tonic) to A (dominant) but he uses harmonies that do not match the leading tones in the base. While an A note leads into a Bb note, Beethoven does not play Ad and Bb harmonies but instead mutates Ebd into Eb, and so forth.

Beethoven returns with the same descending triplets to slowly guide us to base clef to make his final grievous statements, where he sharply contrasts his ferocious arpeggios from before with stillness. Andras Schiff compared the Coda to winter, where everything is frozen, dead, still. Beethoven leads C# into D in the melody many times but his harmonies are Ed7-Dm. Using the C# as a dissonance grinds the pain in more.


The third movement in D in Minuet Form can be compared to new shoots growing in spring; overall the movement is easygoing. Beethoven builds his melody loosely from the turn motif from way back in the first movement and uses it to go in a placid downward motion; first A (dominant) to F# (while playing D), then B (while playing Em) to D, pretty standard. The three voices underscore the melody with simple first species counterpoint, again to convey an easy, relaxed feeling. You can breath.

Beethoven brings up a new little motif to imitate among different registers, cycling around the relative keys F#m-B-E-A (down the circle of 5ths), then reprises his subject but develops it: he extends the two phrases by having the motif climb upward to build tension before letting fall in a longer arc, he gives greater counterpoint to the other voices, especially the alto voice, and extends the harmonies as far as B.

For the Trio in G, Beethoven uses leaps in the base and treble, not unlike in the first movement, and uses the turning motif in the minuet. The harmonies are very straightforward here; close keys to G, climaxing in A7 to modulate us to D7. (He chooses D7 over D so he can easily move us back to G.) Both subject (in the base) and triplets (in the tenor) rise higher, with the triplets hitting the soprano line at the peak. Both subject and triplets go in a similar pattern when the phrase resolves but the triplets don’t go as high up when the Trio ends, with Beethoven hanging us in A7, dominant of D.


The fourth movement in D in Rondo Form functions as a book end to the sonata; like the first movement it meanders through different keys and moods but the moods it does reach convey a more confidant and assured feeling. The piece makes its Rondo Form clear by ending each Part in an unresolved fermata; similar to the Rondo of Beethoven’s very first piano sonata, the “Kurfursten” sonata in Eb. Beethoven has come a long way since then, as have we.

We begin Part A: the subject at the heart of the movement is a melody where a leading tone is followed by a rising 3 rd , the base descending the broken G chord in opposite direction. The harmony is D-G, with the leading F# note making G the core harmony, not D. Beethoven does use the rising third cell to build an ascending broken G (subdominant) chord melody to complete his first phrase in A7. – Notice how Beethoven turns G7s4 into G#7, but mixes a base B# note with a treble G note; all before resolving to A7. – The second phrase, that resolves the A7 tension, develops the motif, having it ascend a broken Bm chord (submediant).

Beethoven builds his transition on a rising scale and downward leap, countering with Alberti base, then has both parts swap hands in imitation, while Beethoven constructs his Alberti base in a way to imply keys such as Em, Bm, and C#d7 to not have a stale I-V-I progression, and overshoots to E7, pretty typical stuff. The subordinate subject is made of the second and third beat of the subject, transformed into chords with a knocking rhythm; melody turns into rhythm, while Beethoven builds tension with a rising chromatic scale, first peaking at the E note (E7 harmony, dominant of A), then peaking at the E note again (but with the A harmony, the tonic). He moves downward to the G note (with the A7 harmony) where he suspends us, readying us to return to D.

Now Part B: Beethoven repeats the main subject, but he suddenly leads from A7 to a bridge in Bb to take us to a new subordinate subject; where the treble and base parts of the motif swap hands and call and answer the other. He also used this A7-B tactic in the first movement. The Bb subordinate subject builds on the rising 3rd part of the motif: to invert it and dip down a broken Bb chord before rising a broken Ad chord, before doing it again in Eb and Dd. Beethoven ramps up with sixteenth notes in Eb, climbing up, going somewhere, but suspends us in Ed (Neapolitan of Eb).

And this way he leads to a false reprise of the subject in F. Beethoven takes us through a broken Gb chord (Neopolitan of F), then peaks his melody in G (Neopolitan of Gb), then descends down a chromatic scale, to further emphasize a chromatic feel to this episode, and suspends us in A7. It’s an interesting way to move to distant keys and return to D.

To Part C: He repeats the subject as before but the transition leads to a very different place than A; instead it features a more chromatic melody and progresses D-F#d7(diminished mediant)-F# (mutated into a major dominant)-Bm. Our third subordinate subject is quiet and mysterious; repeating woodwinds on top, the base strings taking up the motif, not sticking to Bm but floating around distant harmonies as the woodwinds slowly rise up a chromatic scale: F#-Gd7-Ebm-Ed7-G#d7. Beethoven raises tension: the volume goes into crescendo, the treble shortens into sixteenth notes, the baseline motif becomes more frequent, the harmonies G#d7-A, and once more crashes down to an A harmony suspension. This intense phrase acts as a retransition taking us back to a recapitulation of sorts.

To Part D: Beethoven develops the subject by putting sixteenth note counterpoint in the base, then drops to a Coda in the lower register. The Coda in D is complicated, with a phrase leading to a false ending, a remote key episode, and a final phrase. Beethoven builds the melodic line on the motif, both upright and inverted forms, and in this way he culminates at a high D note, the harmony being A7s4, to point out that the highest note being on a tonic note does not make it the end of a movement. Beethoven moves to Gm into an episode of synchopated chords, the melody descends a chromatic scale, into a soft finish; the base picks up the motif with a I-IV harmony, the treble gently goes up and down and up and down the chromatic scale and later arpeggios of D and A7, finally falling to D. It’s a silent and unassuming end to a great sonata but Beethoven knew silence to be as worthy as any note.

Studying Beethoven – Piano Sonata in F (Op.10)

Beethoven left his usual pattern once more when he composed his piano sonata in F (Op. 10); it is in three movements only and lacks a slow movement, usually the heart of the sonata and the crux that divides the large first movement from the lighter third and fourth movements. In later sonatas, Beethoven will fully exploit using the middle movement as a crux that contrasts and balances out other movements in emotion and form. Striking examples include the sonata in D (Op. 10), the sonata in Cm (Op. 13) (Pathetique), the sonata in Dm (Op. 31) (The Tempest).

Beethoven takes a slightly different approach in the sonata in C (Op. 53) (Waldstein), the sonata in Fm (Op. 57) (Appassionata), and the sonata in Eb (Op. 81) (Les Adieux); their middle movements blend into the final movements, acting as part of the counterweight to the weighty first movements as well as the dramatic crux of the whole piece. But these sonatas are for another time.

However, Beethoven uses other forms as central cruxes in his sonatas, such as minuets, which he does use in this sonata in F (Op. 10). Here the minuet acts a melancholic episode to contrast the bright and witty first and third movements. A more famous example is the sonata in C#m (Op. 27) (Moonlight) where the sweet minuet contrasts the dark and gloomy first and third movements. Franz Liszt compared it to a flower between an abyss on one side and an abyss on the other.

The first movement is in Sonata Form in F, mostly lyrical and funny but sometimes suffers from small bouts of angst. So how does Beethoven go about building such a movement? He establishes his main subject using two thick calls made of chords followed by a thin turn. Then he follows up this idea with a long and complex melodic arc, full of syncopated and dotted notes but in essence climbs up and down the F scale through turns, peaking at the high D6 note of the Bb (subdominant) harmony before falling back to F (tonic). Beethoven uses chords, an idea borrowed from the two calls before, to anchor the melody with a solid rhythm and flesh out the harmonies, and they move mostly parallel to the melody.

Beethoven makes a striking move by developing his main subject a little before going to the transition; he uses two chord calls to carry us to D#d, then uses loud triplets (borrowed from the thin turns before) to carry us to E, which D#d leads to. E is a nice distant harmony but is the median of C (dominant) and submediant of G (V/dom). Everything connects to everything else like a spider’s web in Beethoven’s world.

Beethoven constructs the transition melody as a simplified version of the main subject and in octaves, which heightens the emotion. He states a question and answer to establish us in this area, then develops it to lead us to the subordinate subject. He does this by using two phrases in the top voice over and over again to raise the tension in the music. He leads F# to G, then descends C to G; it’s all vii/G and IV/G, the usual tactic to “overshoot” at the V/dom before going to the dominant. Again Beethoven underscores his melody, with arpeggios in this case. At first it’s mostly C and G, with some Em and Dm7 to keep things interesting, then uses Gs4 and D7 over and over when he really wants to transition.

So far Beethoven created a lyrical tone to his music, now he brings humor into the work. The subordinate subject is a simple arpeggio in Bd7 resolving to C, a descending melodic arc to contrast the main subject’s rising melodic arc, and ending in a few block chords similar to calling chords at movement’s beginning. Then Beethoven jerks sharply into an angsty variation in Cm, the alto or viola voice continuing the subject while the soprano or violins are in wide triplets. The block chords seem to lead to Cm but ends in Ab instead! Here we see Beethoven’s humor; upon seeing his “mistake” he “corrects” himself with a meek chord in F#d. Beethoven designed his subordinate subject to be simple so he could have this kind of fun as complex melodies don’t have that much potential. I should know as I myself dug deep into simple music to find treasure hidden within.

Beethoven builds a bridge to the closing section by using more comedic phrases, a variation of the main subject; broken up into choppy woodwind parts that peaks on the G (dominant) harmony, then returns to the tonic in triplets. The joke is how the left and right hands cannot play together and it conjures the image of a clown wobbling on a ball. The closing subject has a murky tinge to it’s sound because Beethoven uses a D# note leading to an E note and an F# note leading to a G note, which he supports with harmonies of D#d7 and F#d7 respectively. But both harmonies lead to C, not Em or G as you would expect. The subjects reminds me of a skit with one man being tall and skinny and the man short and fat; Laurel and Hardy.

Beethoven uses two ideas for his precore in Dm; he expands the triplets he worked with from before into longer melodic turns while he uses phrases of three block chords from before, and both ideas swap registers with each other. For his first core, Beethoven uses broken 16th note octaves underscored with a conventional base; the treble is an expanded version of the turn while the baseline moves up or down a scale before dropping down a 4th or 5th. Beethoven travels through a rather tame route of relative harmonies, with nothing crazy; the progression goes from Dm to Gm to Bb back to Dm. The second core uses precore material, taking where it left off, and Beethoven now jumps to the distant key of Bbm. Beethoven then retransitions, preparing us for the first subject by going back to Dm and suspending us in A…

Which leads us to D, the wrong key. Again we see Beethoven’s humor; he begins the main subject in the wrong key, then “corrects” his “mistake” by returning to F, which he does by going from D to Gm, then holding us a while in C7. Beethoven deviates into a small variation during the transition so as not to repeat himself; he swaps treble and base while making a variation of the rising chord motif we saw from before. The closing subject has its usual properties, but Beethoven expands it while raising the dynamics to fortissimo to finish the movement on a strong note.

The second movement is in Minuet Form in Fm, but while the mood is not of deep tragedy it is melancholic to balance out the humor of the other two movements. The best comedies in plays, books, and film have dark moments, part of the real and serious aspects that underpin the work. This sonata is no different, and the painful Fm minuet functions to give it depth by grounding it with heavier human emotions. Keep in mind that 18th century artists saw Fm and Ab as distant and dark keys, meaning Beethoven turns the light minuet into serious music.

The music of the minuet itself is simple in rhythm and arc to contrast the complex and odd melody of the main subject from the last music. Beethoven basically ascends and descends the Fm chord with parallel arpeggios, while also using Ed7, which changes to Eb to take us to Ab, the relative major. Beethoven then uses new material; a melody that now ascends the Ab scale, then suddenly drops to C, dominant of Fm. The alto voice joins in imitation while the base delays timing in keeping up to allow less plain harmonies.

Beethoven resumes his subject but adds many new elements to heighten the drama. He returns with the subject but an octave higher in the woodwinds, and he plays a striking sighing phrase; the dissonant Eb7as4 chord (the seventh note, Dh, augmented and containing Ab, the root of the subdominant) resolves to Ed (iibd). Beethoven takes the music to its logical conclusion with the last phrase, a codetta of sorts, by having the melody ascent up the Fm chord to the high F6 note.

The Trio in the dark and rich Db, contrasts the Fm Minuet with low notes and thick chords, suggesting a string ensemble to contrast the thin woodwinds in the Minuet. Beethoven borrows from the Minuet, making the melodic arc a rise up the Db scale, but suddenly he makes a leap before resolving it by a step into the Eb7 (dominant) harmony. This is a common tactic for Beethoven; to break a step-by-step melody with leaps or break arpeggios with step-by-step climbs, and he even emphasizes his leap with a sforzando, before resolving his sentence with a gentle arc to Ab. He repeats the sentence to cement the Trio in your ear but he plays a variation of it; he uses falling staccato notes like in a cello part and he drifts into Bbm, Ed7, and Fm to give the Trio a darker feel.

He develops his Trio by exploring the diminished chords and progressions he touched on earlier, but he does subvert the chord progressions you would expect by using a chromatic descending base. His big example is Ebm to Ed7 to Ad7 to Ab, and finally to Db. He lets the chromatic base take him to whatever diminished harmonies they offer rather than quickly resolving to Ab as another composer may do. This idea, of letting a melodic or base line give you harmonies to choose from, is something Romantic composers take advantage of, such as Chopin. And later, rather than finishing off the segment with a V7-I phrase, he uses Ed7 to Db9a to Db to create an extra segment that suspends us at the end. As we saw before, Early Beethoven is fond of suspending us in this way in a Minuet before resolving.

He returns us to the Fm Minuet using Db to Cd (diminished vii of Db) to mutate to C7 (dominant of Fm), then to Fm. The Minuet repeats as before except now the treble and base are syncopated and the base is a little more active, which Beethoven does to develop his material further even when wrapping things up. What use is a journey if you haven’t changed or don’t see things in a new way?

Beethoven returns us to a happy F key to play a breezy Rondo, but it has some fugal traits to it and heavily uses counterpoint. The entire Rondo is based on a subject, first heard in the base, that Beethoven uses constantly to build the entire movement, around as compact and austere as his 5th Symphony or Bach’s fugue in D from the Well-Tempered Clavier. The movement is a gem the student of Euterpe should not carelessly pass by.

Beethoven begins the movement as if he was writing a fugue; he puts the subject in the tenor, then alto, then soprano registers, a countersubject singing below. His harmonies are F & C for the subject in the tenor and alto registers, then C & G (harmonies around C, the dominant) for the subject in the soprano registers. So far, so good. Now you would expect Beethoven to use some free counterpoint to take us to Dm, where he will play the subject again. But he doesn’t do that; he condenses the subject, repeats it in even higher registers, and makes the music homophonic. He takes the melodic line very high to the F6 note then races it all the way down to C4 with a flourish of 16th notes. With harmonies; he jumps to A (submediant of C), a striking move, and progresses with A to Dm (iv/A) to G7 to C to smoothly move to a quiet closing phrase in C. Beethoven does all this in 32 measures.

What does Beethoven do now? He decides to develop his subject in a development-like section you see in Sonata Form. He jumps far away to Ab (submediant of C), a striking move similar to how he jumped to A before, and builds tension; he does so by having his subject, now in unison, slowly rise to higher registers. Now he has the subject swap around many different ranges alongside some free counterpoint, meanwhile moving from Ab to Bbm. He then keeps swapping the subject among soprano ranges, to have the soprano lines constantly imitate each other, with a basso continuo underneath, now in Fm to A7. Then free counterpoint in the soprano that is like the basso continuo while the tenor and alto play the subject in thirds at the same time, now in A.

Beethoven returns to D, now in a kind of bridge, but now he takes a piece of the subject to make some new material. Two countersubjects are almost the same as the subject, and they play along just fine, while a basso continuo persists, as he modulates back to F by progressing D to G to C to F to Bb (notice the subdominant). But Beethoven takes us to a new development section instead, now in two voices; he once more uses the subject but has it swap roles with free counterpoint based on the 16th note flourishes from before. Thus he moves from F to Gm to Bbm; now to a variation of the fugue-like beginning with the subject and countersubject in 16th notes to raise the pressure. Beethoven progresses the melodic line as before while he guides us back to F by basically moving to Fm, the mutating to F.

We are at last back to the gentle closing phrase, but it is not over yet; now we enter a brief coda, built like the bridge in D two pages back. But a piece has to finish, and Beethoven does so by going down the F scale in octaves, in crescendo, finishing the movement in a confidant fortissimo. The Comedy of Errors comes to fulfilling end.

Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in Cm (Op. 10)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I will continue analyzing Beethoven sonatas in blogs but I will no longer make YouTube videos on the subject as it takes way too much time. I have also struggled with some time to describe melodic line and harmony changes without being tedious, sounding like I’m merely describing every little thing in the music, and making YouTube videos does not help. I should hopefully do better. – I should still learn to condense this a bit. Sonata form movements are the hardest. It should only have 4 paragraphs.

The Cm sonata (Op. 10) is Beethoven’s first published piano sonata to have only three movements instead of four. Beethoven wrote the first four sonatas to sound like symphonies through many different means; he wrote them in four movements, wrote each movement to be large to allow subjects much space to develop, and often writes for orchestral parts such as clarinet parts in the Fm sonata (Op. 1) and horn parts in the Eb sonata (Op. 7).

Now Beethoven tries something different and writes a more typical sonata; with only three movements and with no obvious orchestral parts. Still, Beethoven develops his subjects and follows his ideas in a clear, forceful, concise way, in fact even more so in this sonata. It is useful to see the striking differences between this Cm sonata and the Fm sonata (Op. 2) Beethoven wrote a while back as both are dark and impassioned music but approached in very different ways.

The way Beethoven ends this sonata is also important; a fizzling out to a quiet finish rather than slamming thick chords at the end. Indeed Beethoven ends many future sonatas in this way as an alternate way to finishing a piece of music and fulfilling the journey back to the home key.

Allegro molto e con brio

The first movement is in sonata form and is based on the Mannheim rocket; an intense phrase where notes rise in a broken chord to a high register. The main subject in Cm is short but complex, broken into three parts. In the first part Beethoven forces two sharply contrasting colors together; a thundering Mannheim rocket played in dotted notes to make it even more intense followed by a soft sighing motif. In the second part Beethoven builds off a descending scale, starting at a high G (the dominant note), and repeats it, each new phrase more intense, until he hangs at a low G (again the dominant note). In the third part, Beethoven suddenly breaks away into new material again; right hand arpeggios resolving in Cm. Beethoven consistently plays Cm and Bd (diminished) chords the entire time, using Bd as a darker counterpart to G7. He uses only two chords for most of the main subject but he does much with them.

The transition is simply the Mannheim rocket again, using G (again) as the high note. Beethoven simply uses Cm and G the entire time and simply decides to break it off after he resolves in Cm. The main subject and transition here are very different from their counterparts in the Fm sonata (Op. 2). The Fm sonata main subject is far simpler as it slowly moves from piano to sforzando using a simple Mannheim rocket the entire time. The Fm sonata transition, by contrast, is complex as Beethoven makes a big deal modulating to Ab, using Dba (augmented) and Bbm to spice things up. But in this Cm sonata, it is quick and simple. Beethoven is fine jumping from Cm right to Eb (the mediant).

The subordinate subject is based on the submediant; the first phrase starts in Eb7, the second in C7, the third in Ab7. A simple descending base makes up the backbone while the soprano and alto parts fill the harmony in. From now on Beethoven stays in Eb, which is pretty typical for classical sonata form. The second subordinate subject is a rising arpeggio with an Alberti base underneath, harmonies simple Eb-Bb7. He quickly gets more interesting with a chromatic melody, using Ad and Aa harmonies. He thunders with the Mannheim rocket again for a while so he can lead us to the closing subject, but he uses Ebd and Cd7 instead of Bb. The closing subject itself is built on the small sighing motif we saw way back in the main subject to slowly fall to a low Eb, while Beethoven uses some Cm7 and Gm7. The purpose is to darken the Eb closing theme a bit and connect it to the main theme in Cm, to show how close we are to dark and minor keys.

Beethoven builds the development with two cores, both based on the less striking melodies in the exposition. He elevates those melodies by playing them in octaves in a very singing manner. But first he needs to make a bridge to lead you to the first core; and he does this with the Mannheim rocket subject in C (submediant leap from Eb), and he uses it like he did with the transition by cutting it off after he resolves. The first core in Fm is based off the filler melody of the first subordinate subject underscored by an Alberti base. The second core in Bbm is based off the second subordinate subject while the base is taken from the closing subject. The retransition is based off the sighing motif but he strings many motifs together to make a long melodic descent all the way from a high G (dominant) to middle C (tonic). Meanwhile, he keeps the base at G to emphasize a V-I return to the main subject. But do notice how many different harmonies Beethoven plays throughout; it’s anything but a boring V-I for 11 measures.

The main subject is just as before and Beethoven skips a transition altogether, making the journey even more streamlined. The subordinate subject comes right after, now in Db7 (IIb7 of Cm), and he breaks his descent by submediant theme to quickly move to Cm. However, do note how he frequently plays C also, the mutation of Cm to make the harmonies more interesting. But the quick resolution to Cm is a ruse. The second subordinate subject is in F instead (mediant of Db) then quickly goes to Fm (the subdominant of Cm). This is important as the subdominant is usually emphasized in a recapitulation but Beethoven delays for a while to keep the listener guessing. The closing subject neatly wraps it all up in Cm.

Adagio molto

The second slow movement is in sonata form without development but with a coda with a variation of the main subject. The main subject is in Ab and is played twice; the first in its “base” form and the second as a variation where the base becomes arpeggios and repeating 16th notes. The subject is based on a rising and falling third, the melody rises to a climax in Db (the subdominant) before making a long fall back to Ab. The transition is a striking contrast to the lyrical subject; a loud drop by two octaves. The harmonies sometimes blur together in the little sighing motifs and, while F7 is a striking submediant leap from Ab, the harmonies are the usual ones around Cm.

The subordinate subject in Eb is made of two different parts. The first part; we have a rising 3rd motif similar to the main subject, and it also peaks at a subdominant note (Ab in this case). The virtuoso 64th note arpeggios in Bb9 is a development of the rising 3rd. The second part; a long rising scale from G to Eb on dotted notes. This would be boring in itself but Beethoven uses Eba, Dd7, and Ad7 to make chromatic use of it. The variation that follows peaks in the harmony of Cb7, the tension highest in a distant key of Eb. The retransition is based on the subordinate subject and is in Eb, preparing to return to Ab.

The main subject has little change in it except some variation in the base, first dotted notes and later arpeggio triplets. The transition has an extra phrase; sighing motifs clumped together to make a chromatic descent to Db. Beethoven uses many distant keys such as Fb, Gbm, and Fhd7 (half diminished); a striking alternate way to going to the dominant. The usual method is F-Bb-Eb or Dm-Bb-Eb, but Beethoven plays odd F chords before going to Bb-Eb.

The subordinate subject and retransition are almost verbatim similar as before except now in Ab. The coda is a variation of the main subject, now in cantabile as we have a viola part in the middle made of syncopated notes. The coda has no dramatic peaks but simply slowly falls down the Ab scale: from Eb5 to Ab4, from Ab4 to Ab3.


The finale is in sonata form but is very brief, much like rondos of classical sonatas, a breezy finish. Still, it has some weight. The main subject is based on a rising chord, this case Cm, but the melody dramatically peaks in dissonant F while the harmony is F#d7. The second time around Beethoven climbs up the G scale and peaks at F again while the harmony is in Fm. Then the rhythm intensifies to 16th notes so Beethoven can rush down to G (dominant) with flair. There is no transition. A jump from G to Eb happens instead. Notice how the melodic line of this main theme climaxes on a subdominant note, not too unlike the main theme from the last movement, while also highlighting G like in the first movement. The harmonies matter too; Beethoven sometimes mutates Cm to C, while he uses the F#d and Bd chords to lead to G and Cm.

The subordinate subject is based on a rising and falling 3rd with a distant last note; it reaches a sudden climax in Ab (subdominant). At first Beethoven falls to Bb into what seems a quiet finish but suddenly rises to Eb at the last moment; a creative way to avoid a typical resolution. The closing theme uses the turn motif of the main subject over different registers, and it peaks at Ab (again subdominant) before resolving to Eb. Beethoven then resorts to more distant harmonies; Ed and Bd, diminished versions of the tonic and dominant, and frequently uses Fm and Cm too. He does all this to make the ear less certain it is in Eb, making Cm stronger. He also drops a sudden Cb7; instead of going from Bb to Eb to goes from Bb to its Neapolitan (IIb7/V).

We only have a small development of the main subject motif; though in Eb it uses Bd, Dd, and Bb, all related by a 3rd. Beethoven also briefly uses C7 to again disrupt the expected Cm and he develops the melodic line by having it rise to a very high F (subdominant of Cm). The main subject makes little change while the subordinate subject is in C (mutation of Cm), except with a chord progression from Dm-D7-G. The closing theme is different, starting with the main subject motif rather than a tremolo. The next part has the same chord structure as before except tailored around Cm; this includes C#d leading G and the sudden drop now in Ab7. The closing theme halts, holds the tension on suspended Ab7, withholding the ending.

We enter a brief coda based on the subordinate subject in Db, the music suspended in a slow calando. It’s mostly V7-I except for a brief Ebm-Eb-Ab (chromatic base) and how the colando suspends in Ad7. Then, an abrupt eruption as the music resumes its normal tempo, but rather than race to the finish it fizzles out, slowly moving from Ab to C. Beethoven does this by pretending the C is just Cm and playing the usual nexus of neighboring chords. The melodic line, back in the main subject motif, starts at a high Eh note but falls down the C chord to lowest C on Beethoven’s pianoforte. The lowest range of the pianoforte back then was F1.

Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in Eb (Op. 7)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: As interesting as it is to analyze Beethoven’s sonatas this may be my last analysis. Even if I did analyze each sonata for my benefit as a composer I would still need to analyze symphonies, string quartets, and works from other composers. I would never get to write anything of my own ever again! The best path to take now is to work on my ear training, sight reading, and piano playing. Then I can easily analyze any music I listen to.

The Op. 7 Eb sonata is the young Beethoven’s most massive piano piece; only the Hammerklavier sonata will surpass it in size. Beethoven seems to have truly struggled to take his music to the next level by putting more stuff into the sonata; longer subjects, denser harmonies, more detours to prolong the music before resolving it. The sonata is truly a great work and while the score is cumbersome to look at the music itself is smooth, leniently winding down its way like a river into the sea.

Of his first sonatas, like mini-symphonies, this one is the most like a symphony of them all in scope, grandeur, and orchestral-like score for the piano. His later sonatas feel less like symphonies not because they are lesser works but because they don’t have the symphony’s four-movement structure or formal and harmonic progression you hear in symphonies. On the contrary, the later piano sonatas are greater works as Beethoven strives more for depth and less to impress as time goes on, likewise making the sonatas more connected as he outgrows the stilted formula of a four-movement sonata.

Form of Eb (Op. 7)

0:00 – The first movement, in sonata form, is famous for its horn calls and gently rising and falling triplets, but don’t think Beethoven uses 6/8 time only for triplets, he creates all sorts of different rhythms. Beethoven uses a false closing theme to mislead the audience into thinking the movement is over only to float around in many different chords, all this for a striking effect. Beethoven uses diminished chords and the chords they lead to in the transition more densely than he had ever before.

8:23 – The second movement is a complicated sonata-rondo form where the main subject refrains like the chorus part of a pop song yet the other rondo parts behave like sections of sonata form; transitions, subordinate subjects, development sections, and so on. Beethoven keeps putting turning the main subject this way and that as he gives it different embellishments, which he contrasts with a stark and gloomy subordinate subject in Gm.

15:24 – The third movement is a gentle minuet based on the Eb chord and a cadence based on chords as well. Beethoven develops the minuet subject in Ed7, the Neapolitan of Eb, assumes a false reprise, and trails away. The pause he takes before he resumes is a musical joke as if he forgot the script and doesn’t know how to get back. The trio is a small tempest in Ebm where triplets are once more used, this time with vigor and angst. Again, Beethoven avoids convention as he modulates from Ebm to Bbm instead of Bb and begins the development on that same key.

21:24 – The fourth movement is the greatest in emotion and harmonic density. The subject itself uses such blurred harmonies and changes them so often it was a nightmare for me to analyze; he pulls this off by using four voices while using the base to constantly hum away in 16th notes. Many parts of the rondo are like this, with gentle singing melodies underscored by blurred and complicated harmonies, they create a very gentle and surreal feeling. Then Beethoven jolts you with a terrible beast to contrast the beauty, a creature made of strong chords and clear minor harmonies. But Beethoven tames his beast, as he often does, and rewards beauty with the laurel; in the coda the terrible beast transforms into a sweet melody to bid you goodbye, the most beautiful passage Beethoven ever wrote up to this time

Beethoven’s Style


At this moment I have a strong grasp of Beethoven’s personal style with harmonies and overall music structure, at least the style of early Beethoven. He tries very hard to avoid the cliché I-IV-V harmonies in classical music to the point where it almost feels forced at times. He is fond of taking you to remote keys using otherwise ordinary intervals and builds many a harmonic structure on the 3rd interval. The whole idea is to make the music dense and weighty while also expanding the overall structure of the peace by delaying IV-V-I cadences in creative ways.

– The 5th interval normally takes you to V, the 4th to IV, but Beethoven may take you to v and iv instead, the minor versions of those keys. C to Gm is one example.

– The 3rd interval normally takes you to iii or vi, which usually comes before a IV or V and then I. Beethoven takes you to a major or a minor version of those keys that is very remote. He will go from Eb to G, or C to Ab. He may even do something crazier like take you from B to Abm.

– The whole step (M2nd interval) usually takes you to ii, which resolves into IV or V and then I. Beethoven instead takes you to II or VIIb such as C to D or C to Bb.

– The half step (m2nd interval) is often used to go to the Neopolitan (IIb) before going to IV or V then I. Beethoven does that but he also likes going down a half step to a remote harmony, such as Eb to D.

– Beethoven is fond of using diminished chords and the leading tone (especially a chromatic base) to lead to a chord in an interesting way, even if that chord is common in a certain key, like C to F#d to G. He will sometimes pull a twist where the diminished chord leads to the dominant of its intended target, like C to F#d to D. During these times he may leap by a tritone, the Devil’s interval.

– Beethoven sometimes likes to mutate a chord into many different forms; such as D to Da or D7a or Dd to Dm. In this sonata he sometimes goes from Dm to Eb instead of Dd to Eb. Sometimes he will simply he happy to turn a major to a minor chord and back again, something other composers like Schubert did well. Sometimes Beethoven will even play a minor version and major version of the harmony at the same time.

– Beethoven will blend two chords together or mismatch the melody and base. This often creates a chord, like one in Eb, which can be read as Ebs4, Eb9, or Eb11. (He is also fond of minor 7 chords.) Beethoven will sometimes delay a melody, usually to keep it in the dominant of a chord, while the base will play the intended chord itself on schedule. Baroque composers often used this technique but at the end of pieces, not in the middle.

– Another trick is to play an ordinary melody yet make the harmonies going with it to be anything but.

When it comes to creating music subjects, Beethoven builds them from small cells based on intervals; in fact he builds the entire piece from these cells. Some composers are painters as Debussy, others are poets as Chopin, others are miniaturists as Scarlatti. Beethoven is an architect and sculptor, and so he builds his music brick by brick, chiseling out the raw stone of his improvised ideas until they are concise, defined, and strong. Beethoven places intervals, counterpoint, and voice leading over typical harmonies more and more as he grows as an artist so by the time he composes the Great Fugue he writes “pure interval music” as Stravinsky described it.

As for melody, Beethoven is usually careful to balance close intervals such as the step with striking leaps up or down the keyboard. He will often create the most lyrical music out of simply going up or down a scale or chord. As for large intervals, he tends to save them to help craft a distinct form to the melody, highlight a key point in the melody, or simply to strike a strong emotion.

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.

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.

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

Beethoven’s first published piano sonata is far longer and more complex than his Kurfursten sonatas, and we see the mature Beethoven for the first time. His basic musical tastes, harmonies, and means of developing material stay firmly in place despite him transforming through three different styles. We also see Haydn’s influence in using a few notes (like the Mannheim rocket) as a base to build the entire movement. Beethoven composed this sonata when he was only 25.

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

Form of Fm (Op. 2)

00:00 – The 1st movement uses the Mannheim rocket for its main subject and its inversion for the first subordinate subject. He uses the melody to create a hard dissonance (m2nd) against the harmony of the base. He blurs harmonies a lot with his “triplets” in the second subordinate subject.

5:38 – The 2nd movement is made from recycled material from an unpublished piano trio, but now the material is more complex and is developed more. It features complex melodies with a strong emphasis on rising and falling and a sighing motif. Beethoven is also fond of mixing a chord in the base with a note in the treble that implies the chords’ subdominant. Like in the 1st movement, he cadences with an 11 chord.

10:28 – The 3rd movement has has a murky feeling. The minuet is in Fm, yes, but it doesn’t sound like such a clear, tragic minor piece, because Beethoven uses Bbm (ii) a lot along with Fm. His orchestration as it were is frequently is in 4 parts, suggesting a string quartet. The trio is more straightforward, using a chromatic C-Bh-Bb descent in its latter parts.

13:13 – The 4th movement is volcanic, with less restraint than the other movements, as if Beethoven saving the pent up energy for the last movement. It’s main subject makes great use of 1st-7th-1st notes, a simple cadence, with V9 and viihalfdim chords. The transition is very dense, with many different harmonies squeezed into one measure, like Beethoven is trying his hardest not to play I-V. The subordinate subject is in a minor key (Cm, Fm) but frequently stays in the mediant (III) (Eb, Ab). The long downward scales give a dramatic, tragic feeling to the music, a falling down to ruin.