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.

Prestissimo

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

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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.

Examples:
– 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.

Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in D (WoO 47)

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FIRST MOVEMENT – ALLEGRO

Beethoven’s last “Kurfursten” sonata is more lighthearted in tone than his first two sonatas, especially the dark and sublime sonata in Fm, but it has the most intricate design of all three. The young Beethoven does not necessarily develop his musical ideas more thoroughly than before but he does expand the overall structure of sonata form. He uses his musical material a little more purposefully and he makes some savvy use of mutations, chord progressions, and sixteenth notes.

I created a roadmap (below) and a YouTube video of the sonata with all annotations. Link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkJKexgQIE4

Scan Form iii

The first movement is in sonata form. We turn to the exposition; the main subject (bars 1-12) has treble notes in intervals of 3rds and 6ths to give the music a mild, relaxing feel. This subject in particular evokes the image of a lounge room, gentle and reclining, and is thus similar to the second movement of Mozart’s Symphony no. 23, which also treble notes spaced apart in 3rds. In either case, Beethoven uses accidentals to be more diverse with his harmonies as playing I-V-I can get boring fast if no ideas are developed soon; I refer to the G#3 note base implying E (V/V) and the Ch5 note implying D7 (V7). Beethoven uses those accidentals and harmonies to rise slightly above and dip slightly below the I-V chords. He also uses them to lead to the next relevant harmony. E (V/V) leads to A (V) in a V-I cadence of sorts (relevant to the key of A). D7(I7) leads to G(IV) as using I7 is a common way of dipping down to the IV chord or subdominant.

The second sentence is much plainer in its harmonies; only using I-V7 chords but Beethoven does develop his main subject a bit. He flips the descending 3rds from before upside down to create a rising melodic line. He plays arpeggios in the base but it is not the cliché Alberti base. The transition (bars 13-17) is short and boils down to Beethoven’s strategy here; he descends down the scale from the D2-D3 octave to the G#1-G#2 octave, then just rises up a m2, leading to A2 (is not an octave). The arpeggios in the treble imply the harmonies that happen; here Beethoven deviates a little into Bm7 (vi7), then to G (IV), before going to E (V/V) and A (V). This transition is pretty quick and simple but it does show how Beethoven makes good use of something simple and basic like playing notes down a scale.

In first subordinate subject (bars 18-31) Beethoven takes the eight note snippets from the transition and changes them a bit to create material, allowing the snippets to make turns and rise up and fall down as a melody. And he mutates to Am just to make it more interesting. He wants to dip down back to D (to play IV-I chords relative to A) in the second sentence so he uses the C#dim7 harmony as a leading town. Beethoven then uses arpeggios here to stop the first sentence from dropping the tension but he sharpens the 3rd note in each one to make a more interesting sound.

The second subordinate subject (bars 32-37) is much plainer with the more typical Alberti arpeggios in the treble and a simple V-I harmony. Beethoven does this to trick you, to make it sound like he is making his closing remarks to end the exposition. V-I-V-I, done! But he is not. He takes a brief detour in Am (38-44), using an E-B-E7 (V-V/V-V7) cadence at the end to keep the music suspended on the V or dominant harmony. Had Beethoven used a E-A-E7 (V-I-V7) cadence it would work too but it would be less special and would be less able to hold you up in the air. The last sentence in the exposition (bars 45-50) is plain and finally wraps it up. This is the first piano piece where Beethoven purposefully delays an ending to develop ideas more and keep the suspense lasting longer. This technique will become one of his staple skills in later years.

Beethoven makes a long development section with two cores. He follows custom with a pre-core (bars 50-57) to prepare for the first core, where he transposes the main subject to A and chances it a bit to emphasize Bm. As I look back on other sonatas and symphonies, I see how often composers base their pre-cores off the main subject. At first I wondered why they did this but now I have an idea. In older music, like the music of Haydn, and even older music, like the music of Scarlatti, sonata form hardly had a development section; it was basically an exposition and recapitulation repeated twice. The pre-core is like the main subject but it is used to lead to “cores” where a bit of music is cycled through many different keys.

Moving on, the first core (bars 58-64) is made of material taken from the transition. Beethoven uses Bm as a home key with a lot of D7, the relative major, thrown in as if to show how the core relates to the home key. Bm has another use; Beethoven can mutate it into B7 and easily take us E. In fact, this is the key of the second core and retransition (bars 65-73), and Beethoven uses the second sentence of the first subordinate subject as material. Beethoven uses E to hang on A (the V chord or dominant of D) at the retransition, at this point we can see Beethoven’s entire plan. Bm led to E led to A. Beethoven starts at the relative minor of the home key (D) so he could go down the circle of fifths. His plan has a purpose in style not just in form; he moves down the circle of fifths to create a more relaxed feeling to the listener, fitting the nature of this sonata. He uses a similar tactic in the “Archduke” piano trio decades later.

We are in the recapitulation. The main subject (bars 73-77) is triumphant and slightly embellished; this slight altering made to announce the return of the main subject, after which we go straight to the first subordinate subject. The transition is completely gone, like it was in the first movement of the Fm sonata. Perhaps Beethoven felt adding a transition after such a big development was too much. He certainly does not do such a thing in his later work. In fact, he even goes so far to play the main subject differently and create a new transition more or less based on the old one, to develop the music even further, to keep the tension going, yet also to give the music a sense of homecoming. It is similar to how you end an argument by repeating your main points but not verbatim and add some important points to provoke thought long after you leave the podium or put down your pen. In this sonata, while Beethoven skips the transition, he does develop what comes after.

The first subordinate subject (bars 78-87) is strikingly in G (IV) instead of the usual D(I), done so to not stay on the home key for so long. The movement is not done yet! Mozart did something similar in the first movement of his “Facile” piano sonata where he played the main subject in F(IV) in the recapitulation. Beethoven himself does the same in the “Name Day” overture. The point is to further emphasize the IV harmony or subdominant while not being stale. If you should play some notes in IV why not play entire subjects and base the recapitulation around it? Though this will be the last time Beethoven takes this specific approach; that is playing subordinate subjects in the subdominant.

The second subordinate subject (bars 88-99) is in G but has 4 bars of extra material where Beethoven uses octaves in the base to go down the A7 and G chords to spell out the harmonies. A7-G (V7-IV) seems awkward at first but it’s more interesting than D7-G (I7-IV) and Beethoven uses it to play G7-D-A7-D (IV7-I-V7-I), a IV-V-I sequence in essence, to finally return to D. The closing statements (bars 100-112) begin in Dm and Beethoven uses three rising V-V/V-V7 (this time A-E-A7) chords to keep you hanging. The rest is in D.

SECOND MOVEMENT – MENUETTO, SOSTENUTO

Beethoven tries out a theme and variations in a piano sonata in the first time. While he does use some interesting harmonies his overall approach is typical for his time. Most eighteenth century composers, Haydn and Mozart included, would start with a simple melody and embellish it more and more with each new variation. Sometimes they play a variation where the key is mutated, played simply and often poignant, as resting point of sorts. The last variations are embellished again, sometimes to a greater degree than before, sometimes not so. Beethoven will break these rules later in his career, especially in his late period works, piano sonatas No. 30 and No. 32 and the Diabelli Variations; where he breaks down the theme to its basic structure and transforms it into something new each variation. But it is not that day. Beethoven is only twelve now.

The theme (bars 1-16) or subject that builds the entire movement is a simple minuet in two parts in three sentences. The melody in the first sentence us A-D (I-IV) harmonies, making it gentle, lazy, rocking like a hammock. But Beethoven puts interesting harmonies still; he includes Gr6 (really just VIb7), E9 (V9), and G#dim9 (vii9) in the cadence. – Maybe I complicate things too much. Baroque and classical composers would sometimes play the base in the I chord while they would briefly play the melody in the V chord before soon resolving it, blurring harmonies to create poignant dissonance. Beethoven may simply be doing this but we should understand that it implies a vii7 or vii9 chord, the leading tone back to the I chord. – The second sentence in E7 gives a loud contrast to the minuet before slipping back into a quiet third sentence. The harmonies in this second part are simpler than those in the first.

The first variation (bars 17-32) embellishes the melody into arpeggios, changing their function to filling out harmonies, while the base becomes the new melody. Beethoven plays with the D3 base note and I-IV-I harmonies in these variations; for instance here the D4 base note implies E7 (V7), not IV. The note is the same but the harmonies are different. In the second variation (bars 33-48) the base now becomes full of arpeggios, the treble goes back to a simple song but Beethoven writes it for two voice parts. He also reverts back to A-D-A (I-IV-I).

The third variation (bars 49-64) has the arpeggios get even quicker, the note values get even smaller into tuplets of three. At the end of the first and third sentences, Beethoven sharpens ever second note of each tuplet, similar to a tactic he used in the first movement. Harmonies remain the same. The fourth variation (bars 65-80) squeeze note values even smaller to thirty-second notes. Now Beethoven implies E7 each time he plays D in the base.

Beethoven rests in Am in the oasis that is the fifth variation (bars 81-96). Beethoven reverts back to a simple melody but now he syncopates it with the base while at later points he plays sixteenth notes with sharpened accidentals. Harmonies remain the same. In this manner Beethoven is still able to develop material and hold interest as to not merely repeat the theme in Dm. The sixth and final variation (97-112) has tuplets of eight notes as the melody. Composers of the period would sometimes end their variations by playing the theme again or playing a final variation where little of the theme is altered. Beethoven takes the latter route, developing material while still keeping the music friendly and gentle. He starts the coda (bars 113-120) on a deceptive cadence in F#m (vi), a different and more poignant way of ending the last variation, before smoothly rounding it off.

THIRD MOVEMENT – SCHERZANDO, ALLEGRO MA NON TROPPO

The last movement is most playful and buoyant movement of the whole sonata but you should not be fooled. Beethoven still has a few tricks up his sleeves, a little more wit to spare for our humanist. It is no walk in the park. The word “scherzando” roughly translates to “little joke” but you should not be fooled by the title. The movement is in sonata form, not in the ternary form of a scherzo or minuet. Haydn and Mozart made plenty of musical jokes in their career. Haydn’s method was to start a work with a closing statement, making the listener think the piece was already over. Mozart mocked bad composers and performers in “Some Musical Fun” by exaggerating the dullness of boring melodies and the dissonant sounds of wrong notes. Beethoven made jokes out of harmony throughout his career, as you will see in this movement.

We begin the exposition. Part of Beethoven’s humor in the main subject (bars 1-17) means jumping the melody up and down a sixth and octave while briefly jumping to B7, a rather remote key. The transition (bars 18-36) has a very long sentence; its rapid augmented sixteenth notes are funny like someone getting a little too ahead of himself. Beethoven modulates by quickly jumping to A and simply playing A-E-A (I-V-I) a lot, but he splatters some Bm(vi) and B7(VI7) to spice up the harmony a bit and to recall that funny B note.

Beethoven designs the subordinate subject (bars 37-52) to have two contrasting sentences, one exuberant the other grounded. He rushes with rising arpeggios in the first sentence while he swoops low with a M2 treble and humming base in the second sentence. As part of his joke, Beethoven gives each sentence the “wrong” harmonies. He gives A-D (I-IV) harmonies, the quieting subdominant, to the gay first sentence while he gives A-E7 (I-V7) to the quieter sentence. He even plays a prank in the closing statement (bars 53-58) by using A-D (I-IV). It’s as if the piece doesn’t want to move to a new key and you’re trying to move it as if dragging Homer Simpson away from the couch. Beethoven creates humor in the second half of the exposition by misplacing harmonies and keeping the texture light and transparent, even by “Kurfursten” sonata standards.

The development (bars 59-70) is hardly anything at all. Even the harmonies are stale, mostly A-D (I-IV), only briefly in Dm. Beethoven makes light of our expectations. We heard a terrific development in the first movement and listeners in Beethoven’s time expected a darkening of mood or some new harmony, so we have the right to expect at least something. But the young Beethoven laughs, “It’s nothing!” and so we move to the recapitulation.

The main subject (bars 71-86) repeats with no change. The “transition” (bars 86-89) can hardly be called any such thing. We expect something similar to the exposition, some emphasis on the IV chord or subdominant, yes, but at least something substantial. Beethoven again spurns us. He cuts straight to G without any fluff, and even makes it the key of his subordinate subject (bars 90-110), which he makes long by playing it in three variations. The first uses trills, the second gives the base the melody, the third gives the treble the melody. Now we can see Beethoven’s comic scheme; he puts all the development on the subordinate subject, the one part of sonata form we often think to be the most placid and uneventful.

He also expands the closing section (bars 114-129) into a long-winded sentence. In essence, he transplants the transition to the end of the sonata, highlighting the closing section, a piece of music most composers rushed off to end a piece. He “misplaces” harmonies here too. In the exposition Bm (vi/D) was an important punch line so we expect to be back but Beethoven replaces it with F# (V/Bm) instead. It is the vi chord of A, which Beethoven uses to suspend the music a bit. The closing section is done but the piece has yet to end. Enter the coda (bars 129-160); Beethoven plays the main subject one more time, one more little joke, then ends the piece in a long-winded flurry of sixteenth notes. Thus Beethoven ends the Kurfursten sonatas on a high note.

 

Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in Fm (WoO 47)

800px-Thirteen-year-old_Beethoven

MOVEMENT ONE – LARGHETTO MAESTOSO, ALLEGRO ASSAI

Beethoven, when making his second attempt to compose a piano sonata, wrote a more difficult and serious piece of music than he did when writing his first sonata. It is in the dark key of Fm, maybe the darkest key in classical music, has more complex harmonies, and has a denser harmonic structure. In this piece, Beethoven’s emotions are darker and more passionate in the minor first and second movement yet more pensive in the second movement in the middle. The second movement has a sublime quality we don’t hear in the earlier Eb sonata.

Yet, as I examine and play the sonatas of the mature Beethoven, I become shocked at how simply the preteen Beethoven wrote his early music in comparison. He still writes for two parts in most places, abuses the Alberti base, and uses the simple thin textures of octaves. Still, keep in mind that Beethoven was already a prodigy at twelve who could compete with most composers of the day three times his age. This sonata holds much promise for the young Beethoven, a promise he fulfilled in his later years.

All movements in this sonata are in sonata form. Click on the roadmap below to expand it. To hear the complete sonata with all annotations go to this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qioHA4HeXw&t=317s

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The exposition; the introduction (bars 1-9) is made of two contrasting sentences. The first sentence is a typical statement of slow introductions during that time, the first phrase goes from Fm to C, the next statement returns from C to F. He contrasts a heavy loud cord and dotted rhythm with soft legatos. The orchestration is not obvious but you can hear it; a loud tutti announcement followed by a soft string quartet. This beginning is important because we see Beethoven using music as a tool of speech and rhetoric, not just a way to string melodies together, which suggests that Beethoven will be able to build his ideas together, to create an argument or thesis if you will.

The second sentence develops the ideas of the first; he transforms the descend by 2nd into rising octaves, rising from F to Gb to A to Bb. Meanwhile he uses the Alberti base but in the base register, especially on the downbeat by striking the lowest notes on the pianoforte’s range. The bottom register sounds like a contrabassoon and base, especially on a pianoforte where the lower register is raspier. But more important, the rising line in the treble gives a slow, creeping, crawling feeling, a device Beethoven used a lot in his music to raise tension before releasing it. Beethoven also uses more inventive harmonies, like Gb (the Neopolitan major), then mutates it to Gbdim. And finally, he suspends the music on a C chord (V/Fm) with a C note as the base (the 5th or dominant note of Fm).

All this dense and detailed music at last done with, we move to the exposition proper. The main subject and transition (bars 10-17) are fused into one sentence and proceeds as thus; first the melody flies up two octaves in Fm as a Mannheim rocket, a tool Beethoven used a lot in his early career, inherited from Haydn and Mozart, and representing drama and angst. Then the melody descends in 3rds from Fm to Db to Bbm, a technique Beethoven recycled from his Eb sonata. I don’t blame him since using it takes you to a relative key so easily while using diverse harmonies.

The subordinate subject (bars 18-27) is in Ab, a typical key a composer would land on in a piece in Fm. The construction is very simple here; not one long intense passage but a contrast between a loud descend on the Ab chord and a soft rise on Eb. The closing theme (bars 28-36) feels a little forced but it is remarkable. The cello base descends down by 3rds (notes Ab, F, Db), something that fascinated Beethoven in his career.

The development (bars 37-46) is short and simple. In the first sentence, Beethoven imitates the Mannheim rocket but in Ab. The second sentence, the meat of the development, is new material not based on anything before it; alternates from chords to arpeggios and likewise alternates from Fm to Bbm. These are somewhat imaginative harmonies, as Beethoven mutates the home key and plays I-iv chords, not something too expected. And finally he suspends the piece with two chords on F.

He enters the recapitulation; the introduction here is very different from before, which is important as it shows how Beethoven adds new ideas to old material. It allows us to glimpse at how the mature Beethoven transforms the material he works with; he digs ever deeper into it, explores its potential, plays with it, changes it in all sorts of ways. He creates music that is different at the end of a peace or movement than before, making it feel like you went on a long journey and changed along the way. Of course you didn’t go anywhere. Beethoven was manipulating your mind all along, something he gets very skilled at over the years.

The introduction (bars 47-56); the first sentence changes harmonies a bit, Fm-F unlike before, which was Fm-C. It’s small but it takes the harmony down a 4th, giving a IV chord or subdominant like effect. The second sentence is very different; very loud rising arpeggios, important since this is material taken from the development section and expanded. Beethoven plays around with harmonies; he mutates the keys of Bb and Eb. He turns Bbm to Bb7 and Eb to Edim7. It doesn’t seem like much, but remember how he turned Gb to Gbdim? He’s doing it again but with more keys.

Beethoven plays recapitulation, almost exactly the same as the exposition, but with some differences in range and timbre he uses to create a darker sound to the music. The main subject (bars 57-64) is the same as before. The subordinate subject (bars 65-74), now in Fm, has the base and treble spread out by two octaves to create a more intense effect, then has phrases low in the tenor (viola) and base (cello and base) to create a darker feel. The closing statements (bars 75-83) have little change, the base only a m3rd lower than before.

MOVEMENT TWO – ANDANTE

The second movement shows the young Beethoven at his best on the piano; it has a certain sublime quality he achieves by doing three things. He uses ambiguous harmonies and rhythms, especially in the subordinate subject, he uses richer and more varied textures as opposed to octaves, and he writes for the key of Ab. Composers at Beethoven’s time thought each key had a special character best used to reflect certain moods and states of mind. The key of Ab had an eerie sound that made listeners pensive and sensitive to sublime thoughts, especially back in the day when performers used mean tuning to tune their instruments; the further a key was from C the more dissonant it sounded.

You could say classical music is based on the I and V chord (kind of how jazz is rooted in the I and IV chord), and composers use such a base to build a structure of building tension in the V chord and then resolving it in the I chord. Of course composers write in many remote keys in a work but the work, in the end, hangs on creating a I-V tension and resolving it. Beethoven turns this idea on its head during his middle and late period, like building a Eb-B tension in the “Emperor” concerto and a Bb-B tension in the “Hammerklavier” sonata, but that is many years from now. The young Beethoven suspends tension in this movement by not resolving in perfect or authentic cadences, allowing him to expand his ideas since he can avoid resolving them so soon.

I found this movement the most difficult to analyze out of all movements in these “Kurfursten” sonatas, leading to many mistakes in my annotation, which forced me to remake the YouTube video on this sonata.

The exposition; the main subject (bars 1-8), using 3rds to great effect while the base uses good counterpoint by rising by steps as the melody falls and having the melody an octave higher and with more sixteenth notes in the second phrase to heighten the emotion. The transition is made of two sentences; the first sentence (bars 8-16) expands on the main subject by having the melody, made songlike by its 3rds and 6ths, end in cadence that don’t resolve the music. Furthermore, in each cadence Beethoven uses Ab as the base to blur harmonies. It makes you wonder if Beethoven is really implying Eb7 with an Ab note thrown in or Bbm7. It would seem like an Eb7 but in the second sentence (bars 19-22) Beethoven mutates it to Bb so he can modulate to Eb with a Bb-Eb harmonies, which implies Bbm7.

The subordinate subject (bars 23-31) is the most special line in the entire sonata it starts on the wrong harmony. The first sentences starts in Fm in all places but then goes through many Bb7-Eb harmonies to imply Eb. The melody keeps climbing up the scale from the D note to the Ab note, then falls to a low F note, an imperfect cadence. The second sentence rising in dynamic and pitch up the scale to Bb, again suspending the music in Bb, the V chord. Beethoven is taking great pains to suspend tension as long as he can, something he didn’t do so well in the Eb sonata, and finally lands on Eb in the closing section (bars 35-40). He even uses three voices when closing, something a little new.

Beethoven divides the development into two pre-cores and two cores and uses it to replaces the main theme and transition in the recapitulation. The first pre-core (bars 40-44) mimics the main subject but in the harmonies of C7-Db and reverses the melodic arc from descending to rising. The core itself (bars 44-48) is in Fm, with a simple, sad, songlike melody rising and falling with a C note humming in the alto register. Beethoven purposefully makes the note C because it is the 5th note or dominant of Fm; by implying such he keeps tension and lets him play almost any melody without fear of dissonance.

The second pre-core (bars 49-54) acts as a “resting point”. Beethoven lingers in Edim7 (vii7/F), the leading tone to F, and constructs it in such a way to keep tension. He keeps most of it in Edim7, uses arpeggios to build up to a striking, loud syncopated section, and climaxes by keeping the music suspended briefly. Beethoven takes a syncopated section in the exposition as material and, while he doesn’t alter or expand it, he uses it for a different purpose. Then Beethoven resolves to the core, but lands on F, not Fm, like we expect.

The second core (bars 55-60) is pretty simple as Beethoven just plays thirty-second notes over an octave base. He concerns himself with returning to Ab. The base goes down the circle of fifths, from F, Bb, Eb, and Ab. The harmony implied by the thrity-second notes is not so simple as that Eb base is really part of a Gdim harmony. In the end, Beethoven makes an Eb-Ab-Eb cadence, ending with the base on the Eb, the dominant. Now on Eb, Beethoven plays the retransition (bars 61-64) like he played the transition before, serving the same function, just a 4th lower in harmonies. The subordinate subject (bars 65-76) and closing statement (bars 77-85) of the recapitulation change little, only a 4th lower in harmonies.

MOVEMENT THREE – PRESTO

The third movement is rapid and lighter in substance than the first movement but is still complicated in structure. The main subject (bars 1-32) comes in two sentences and it is the first time we see Beethoven develop a main theme by playing a variation of it. He approaches the main subject in later sonatas as well, such as the “Waldstein” and “Appasionata” but with far more invention. In this sonata, he changes the melody little and uses the Alberti base yet again, but the changed material still does its job to heighten the angst. But Beethoven does use some interesting harmonies. The very first bar of the main theme starts out in F but then mutates back to Fm and he makes use of the C9 (V9) harmony. It sounds like Gdim in the first sentence but later in the second sentence the Alberti base gives you context, letting you hear its true design.

The exposition; the main subject is also the transition, easily landing to the subordinate subjects. The first subordinate subject (bars 33-44) is in Eb7 and ends in a IV-I cadence, which is interesting because most composers would land on Ab instead. While Beethoven does land a 5th higher on Eb he makes it Eb7 and uses Ab to create a IV-I effect, suggesting he may move to Ab. The second subordinate subject (bars 45-59) makes the Eb7-Ab harmonies more obvious by using loud octaves in the base and arpeggios in the treble. The closing statements (bars 60-74) are also odd; he spends some time in Ab7 and Db, but finally lands on Ab. Beethoven delays modulation to the “proper” key.

The development and retransition fused together (bars 75-84) is extremely short. It’s even shorter than the main subject, and it does disappoint me a little as Beethoven could have at least played it again as a variation. Either way, Beethoven mutates the home key of Fm to F while developing the material a bit; he uses new keys like Gb (the Neopolitan or IIb) and Bbm (iv). He does develop the melodic arc as well by making it rise higher and more often. He dips the melody down a bit before rising it; he raises it Gb, then to Db, and landing it on C just a m2nd away.

The recapitulation; the first subordinate subject (bars 85-101) is a little more complex, dividing amongst the Fm-C7 harmonies, and uses the chromatic base of Bh to make a leading tone of Edim9 lead to Fm, but then makes an imperfect cadence in C to keep the tension high. The second subordinate subject (bars 97-112) is much simpler, arpeggios in C7 and Fm. The closing section (bars 112-126) has little change, just dropped by a m3rd to put the key in Fm. The very last notes are important though, as Beethoven throws all parts down to the lowest register to create a downward, tragic finale. He later replicates this ending in the Op. 2 and “Appasionata” Fm sonatas but to greater effect. Even now Beethoven seems aware the very lowest note on the pianoforte is an F note (the lowest note on the modern piano is an A note). It possibly represents a darkest, lowest point in music, in feeling and literally in tone with the pianoforte. Beethoven doesn’t find lower points in feeling or transcend them until his last piano sonatas.

 

Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in Eb (WOo47)

800px-Thirteen-year-old_Beethoven

INTRODUCTION TO THE KURFURSTEN SONATAS

We first see Beethoven writing piano sonatas in 1783, not the wild man we turned into a titan genius through myth but a mere boy of twelve. By this time Beethoven’s father Johan could no longer teach his son through his brutal methods so he turned his son over to more able tutors such as Christian Neefe, who introduced the young Beethoven to Johan Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. The boy learned quickly, practicing on the piano long past midnight for many nights to refine his skills, soon mastering J.S. Bach’s works.

Beethoven occupied himself with other tasks and hobbies. He played the organ in his church and the viola in the court orchestras of the prince electors ruling Bonn at the time. – The nation of Germany did not yet exist; the land was part of the Holy Roman Empire, broken into many small territories each ruled by a different prince. – In his spare time, Beethoven frequented the local university lectures, salons, and other forums, and quickly became enchanted by the principles of the Enlightenment, ideals he held until his final days.

The young Beethoven composed his first three piano sonatas in this climate, dedicating them to his Prince Elector Maximillian Frederick as per custom. The pianist Ronald Brautigam describes, in his booklet that comes with his recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, that Beethoven drew heavily on Carl Phillip Bach’s “sensitive style” keyboard works and Haydn’s “storm and stress” piano sonatas. He then mentions how Beethoven was lucky his father was too drunk to discipline his son to compose in a so-called proper style; had Mozart tried to write such music his father would have stopped him.

I am listening to C.P.E Bach’s keyboard works as I write this very essay and I do hear some of the same muses who stirred Beethoven when he was only a teenager and would inspire him for the rest of his life. The music is indeed in a “sensitive style”, with touching melodies one moment and stormy, abrupt chords in another, elements Beethoven puts in his own sonatas. I hear adolescent melancholy, youthful play, ventures in playing dark and difficult music, and some sight into the abstract realms music takes you when you really listen to it.

Let us now study the first of these earliest sonatas. I created a road map, posted just below this paragraph, and a YouTube video with the entire sonata in annotations, link at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tWsQlPM1rg.

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MOVEMENT ONE – ALLEGRO CANTABILE

The first movement, unlike Beethoven’s later sonatas, does not have any clear first subject, second subject, and so forth. It is like Mozart’s earlier sonatas and Classical ideals in general; you hear one gracious melodic line, then another, a new idea develops, all in balance and harmony. You can really think of movement one’s sonata form as a few melodies in Eb, then a few melodies in Bb, and so on.

Beethoven thinks along these lines of balance and harmony, his ideas mostly abstract, not trying to state any definite idea. He does explore a simple contrast between a high delicate woodwind range, a warm middle string range, and low stormy range. He does put more thought in his later “Kurfursten” sonatas on what he wants to say and how to say it; in the Fm sonata he explores loftier thoughts, but he is not used to writing in sonata form at the moment. Give the kid a break. He should do better things anyway, like try to get rid of his pimples, go to Hot Topic, and flirt with girls.

Beethoven’s “main subject” is made of a few melodies with little relation, but they do connect in the same way a few sentences create a paragraph; the paragraph being the “first subject”. The boy does put some color and contrast between sentences; sentence one has a rising then falling arc and implies a string ensemble (bars 1-4), another sentence leaps then falls in a woodwind’s register (bars 11-14).

When he modulates he plays many sixteenth notes to amp up the tension. Beethoven is technically in Bb already but he wants to establish a Bb harmony by modulating, so he does so as if he was in Eb in two sentences. In his first sentence he starts his first phrase in Bb, the second phrase in C (bars 15-18). He changes the harmony by moving it up a whole step, a technique Beethoven is fond of. The whole point of his exercise is to move to F, the V chord (or dominant) of Bb. By using the F harmony, Beethoven “overshoots” so he can play a V-I cadence of F-Bb.

The “subordinate subject” (bars 25-30) is very short and also counts as a closing statement, but what a striking and playful tune it is! Beethoven plays it twice, once as a flute, another as a violin. He brings back a similar contrast as before in his “first subject” but the order is reversed (woodwinds first, strings second). Beethoven does develop a few simple ideas; a contrast between high and low keys, and he develops it further.

We can break down the development into two “cores” where Beethoven explores an idea in the exposition. The first “core” . (bars 30-40). imitates the second idea but in Cm, among the highest keys. Nothing too new here. The second “core“ (bars 48-55)  is made of arpeggios in minor chords, mostly Cm, the register low, dark, stormy. He retransitions to the “main subject” easily by playing Bb then Eb.

I can only comment little on the recapitulation since everything is the same as before, just a 5th lower, in Eb. The only difference is the “main theme” is truncated, so we only hear one sentence. For a while I wondered by Beethoven played a sentence in Bb so soon (bars 11-14) but I may have a clue now. Beethoven may have seen how the line in the recap is in Eb exactly repeats the line in the expo, so he may have changed the latter to Bb to avoid repeating himself and create a bigger feeling of returning home as the movement closes.

MOVEMENT TWO – ANDANTE CANTABILE

Beethoven shows his true talent and craft in this movement. Like in many sonatas, including the Fm sonata, the middle movement is the heart of the sonata, the highest seat of thought and feeling and a fulcrum between the two fast movements. Beethoven uses this form in many later sonatas throughout his career but he takes it to a much higher level. A good slow movement can change the nature of the entire sonata, such a crucible seems to transform the music as you go from the first movement to the last movement. As a composer myself, I find slow movements hardest to write but when I do it somehow helps me write later fast movements far better.

In the second movement we can really see Beethoven express the sensitive style he picked up from C.P.E. Bach as he sings his lonesome and tender song. The constant mood is of adolescent melancholy; you truly understand how sad and lonely this boy was, with no intimate friends, with only a few sensitive adult women to comfort and protect him. Already we see the young Beethoven improving as a composer in learning what emotions to express and what techniques he needs to do so.

Beethoven sets this mood by cleverly using chromatic notes in the treble and base and in the way he uses his sentences; he makes them “two-bodied” where the first phrase or clause, if you can call it that, is simpler and the second one is more complicated and intense. You tend to hear this in the second part (of B part) of the exposition and recapitulation. However, his base is somewhat staid, as he plays Alberti base for almost the entire movement. He lets the melody do most of the work and, like in a lot of early classical music, the base is used for harmonic filler.

In the main subject and very short transition (bars 1-13), Beethoven makes both Bb and Eb natural. This adds color, yes, but also suggests the key of C, which is the V chord of F, the dominant. He plays a chromatic rising base as he transitions, up from Bb, to B, to C. This way he plays an inverted F chord, making the cadence imperfect, keeping suspense kind of like how a novelist refuses to resolve the plot of a story just yet. The harmonies he implies throughout are Bb, F, C, F (IV-V-V/V-V), again he “overshoots” by playing a C-F cadence, which is V-I relative to the key of F.

Beethoven writes two subordinates subjects in F. The first subject (bars 14-19), is in the tenor and base registers. Beethoven suggests a viola and cello, the warm tones contrast high notes in the rest of the piece. It is a shame Beethoven doesn’t use more contrast. He again plays a chromatic rising base, this time suggesting Bb-F (IV-I) harmonies, and again keeps us in suspense with an imperfect cadence.

The second subject (bars 19-25) is more straightforward. The harmony is “offbeat here”, starting as V-I not I-V, and Beethoven plays a string of 32nd notes in fortissimo afterward to intensify the emotion. He also plays an F# note, implying Gm to make the harmony more ambiguous. Beethoven is very fond of the F# and Bh chromatic notes in the second and third movement of this sonata. And finally, he plays a perfect cadence at the end, resolving the tension he set up earlier and leading us to a poignant closing statement (bars 26-31).

The development section (bars 31-37) is very short but Beethoven makes good use of it by playing many chromatic notes; these include F#, G#, Eb, and C#. While Beethoven technically plays F-C7 (I-V) the whole time the chromatic notes imply other harmonies like Am, Cm, and Dm. In the very brief retransition he plays the Bb note at the end to imply a subdominant harmony (relative to the key of F) to return to the home key of Bb.

The recapitulation, like in the last movement, repeats the exposition almost verbatim, most of the material is transposed a 4th higher. The main subject (bars 38-42) is shortened so much it merges with the transition to make one sentence. The second subordinate subject (bars 49-56) has an extra bar but it is important. Beethoven uses it to play an Ab note; at the moment it suggests a Bb7 chord but in the entire subject it creates a strong subdominant feel. Most composers at the time dwelled in the IV chord in their recapitulations to anchor your sense of hearing back to the home key and usually to play a IV-V-I harmony. Beethoven does something similar here.

MOVEMENT THREE – RONDO, VIVACE

Beethoven changes form in this movement; now he opts for a rondo form not the usual sonata form, but it does sound a lot like a sonata. Its three main stanzas of A,B,C each resemble an exposition, development, and recapitulation, and each stanza is made of four lines of a,b,c,d. Like the first movement, this last movement is made of a string of different melodies that have little relation to each other but the emotions expressed are more intense. The major lines are more zesty and playful, the minor ones more brooding, the cadenzas otherworldly.

In stanza A, line a (bars 1-8) is a theme in Eb in the standard I-V-I harmony. Line b (bars 9-16) acts like a transition of sorts; Beethoven plays a arpeggios throughout to fill out harmonies, he toys with a chromatic rising base a bit to create Ebaug harmony, and later modulates by playing Bb-Cm7-F-Bb. Line c, the “subordinate subject” (bars 17-23), Beethoven plays arpeggios again, just with the hands reversed, plays Bb and Eb to create a I-IV-I feeling, as if he didn’t modulate to Bb at all. Beethoven ends the line by playing Edim7 then holding out on F a bit. This is a diminished cadence where the composer plays viidim7-I rather than the usual V-I (relative to F in this case). It adds some spice to the music and lets the composer travel to a distant key easily without having to worry about a V-I cadence. It becomes clear to us at this point this piece focuses more on harmonies than having distinct melodies, a contrast to the first two movements, especially the second movement.

His closing statement is in two sentences (bars 18-36). Beethoven must get back all the way from F (which is a whole step above Eb, notice how this parallels the first movement) to Eb. He does this by going down the harmonies by 4ths, from F to Bb to Eb. Once there, he goes briefly to Cm before going to Bb (playing I-V-I) where he suspends us in a Bb chord. We are now in the end of stanza A, the suspending chord acts as a cadenza, which many pianists fail to improvise as they lack invention.

Stanza B begins. Line a (bars 37-44) is our familiar first tune. Now in line b (bars 38-55), we enter the first “core” of a “development” section. Here Beethoven explores the arpeggios from before but this time he cycles through a bunch of flat harmonies close to Eb; these are Ab, Fm, Bb, Gm, Cm, Bb7, and F7. The second “core” in line c (bars 56-62), he plays a Ebdim7-F cadence so he can hold on to F a bit. Then in line c, the “retransition”, (bars 63-71) he hangs around Ebmin (the minor version of the home key) before arriving to a second cadenza in Bb.

Stanza C mimics a recapitulation but Beethoven is more inventive here than in the last two movements. Before he played the exact same material just a 4th below in harmony. Now he does a few new things. We hear the first tune again (bars 72-79) as a “main subject”, barely any different than before. In line b, the “transition” (bars 80-87), he moves to Cm. He returns to using diminished cadences, this time twice; first with Bdim7-Cm, then with F#dim7-G. In line c, the “subordinate subject” (bars 88-99), is in Eb with the standard V-I, spiced up a bit with Ab (the subdominant) and another diminished cadence from F#dim7-Gm. Next Beethoven hangs around Cm, playing V-I with some Fm in it. This Cm sentence thus mirrors the Eb sentence before.

We enter the final cadenza, the notes held out in a single voice on the C note. Then we enter line d, the “closing section” (lines 100-109), where the main tune repeats again with a small extra flourish at the end to finish the movement. The main Eb theme changes very little throughout the entire movement, which shows how the young Beethoven is still pretty new to sonata form. The mature Beethoven would never repeat himself like that, a good counterexample being his “Rage Over a Lost Penny” rondo. He transforms the theme in so many ways; he changes its register, plays it in a remote key, diminishes it, embellishes it, shortens it, develops bits of it elsewhere in the piece, makes at least two variations out of it, uses it build a coda, and so on, all in five and a half minutes. However, the young Beethoven’s genius is emerging, even now he is getting the knack of writing complex and passionate music.

 

Beethoven Piano Sonatas – Road Map

sonata-scan

Before I get down to analyzing all the Beethoven sonatas I wish to explain the many forms Beethoven and other composers used when writing music. I drew a guide to the four most common forms used at the time, which is the headline picture of this blog post.

I would like to emphasize a disclaimer beforehand. Sonata forms and other musical forms were not set in stone. They were not a rulebook but trends composers tended to follow when writing music, and it was not uncommon for composers such as Beethoven to toy around with the forms’ conventions and people’s expectations. You will hear plenty of examples from Beethoven in almost all of his sonatas, even in his early “Kurfursten” sonatas he wrote when he was only twelve.

SONATA FORM is the most complex form out there with only fugues being harder to write. Most professors say sonata form is in “ternary form” or is made of three parts but this is not true. Sonata form is really in “binary form” or made of two main parts. Professors mislabel the development section as a third part of the sonata but it really isn’t, just a space to improvise, as I will show below.

Sonata form’s two parts are the exposition (an “A part”) and recapitulation (B part). Both are basically the same, divided into two smaller parts where you start with a subject (or a distinct musical idea) and follow up on it with more ideas. The exposition has a first half (or “a part”) where you begin the piece with a main subject that will be the main idea of the entire movement in the home key. The example home keys I use here will be C major and c minor (I or i key).

After stating your main subject you enter into a transition; you develop your idea while moving (or modulating) to a new key. If your home key is C major you usually modulate to G major (V key) or if your home key is c minor you usually modulate to Eb major (III key). Often a composer will do a few V-I cadences in the new key at the end of the transition to let the listener settle into a new key. If you started the piece in C major you will now be playing D major – G major cadences or if you started the piece in c minor you will now be playing Bb major – Eb major cadences.

Now you are in the second half (or b part) of the exposition; you play a second subject, sometimes more, usually to contrast with your main subject. These new subjects are sometimes called subordinate subjects. Then you follow up with some closing statements where you cement the piece in your new key. In our example it’s G major or Eb major.

Now you enter into a development section where you take the different subjects you played before and explore them in many different keys, usually far away from your home key. Often the development is divided into three smaller parts. First is a “pre-development” part where you start this new phase of the music. Then you play one or more “cores” where you play a musical idea in many different keys. Then you play a re-transition where you go back to the home key. This begins the recapitulation.

The recapitulation (or B part) is very similar to the exposition. You play your main subject, (a’ part) which is in C major or c minor in our example, and enter a transition, except here you don’t go to a new key but stay in your old key. You even do a few V-I cadences in your old key to let the listener know you’re staying there. So in your subordinate subjects (b’ part) if you started the piece in C major you make a G major – C major cadence. If you started the piece in c minor you make a G major – c minor cadence or a G major – C major cadence. Then you conclude the piece with some closing statements in that same key.

Rarely is the recapitulation exactly like the exposition, especially when a skilled composer is writing this music. You will play the main subject a little differently; maybe even develop it even further. While in the transition you may linger in the IV key. You may even play the subordinate subjects a little differently and you may expand on the closing statements to give the piece a strong ending.

It is not uncommon to think sonata form (and other forms) as a debate or thesis since even composers of the day saw this kind of music as very intellectual. The various subjects are like the main points you make in an argument and the various transitions and closing statements are like the train of thought of logical statements and examples you bring up to support your ideas in greater detail.

You can think of sonata form as a story or character arc just as easily. Your character starts out in the main subject and dramatically changes during transitions. Subordinate subjects are like resting places for your character between adventures or a place to reflect how your character has changed. The development is like the lowest point in a character’s life or the area of greatest struggle while the closing statements at the end of the piece is like the climax of the story.

I now argue why sonata form is a binary form of two parts and not a ternary form of three parts. This is because the development section isn’t really a part in its own right, more like a free space to explore your musical ideas however you wish. It even grew over time. In Scarlatti’s and Mozart’s earlier sonatas, and even the younger Beethoven’s sonatas, the development is small to the point where the entire second half of the sonata (development and recapitulation) is repeated. But when you get to Mozart’s later works and most of Beethoven’s works throughout his career, the development section gets so big it’s almost as big as the recapitulation at times, and the second half of the sonata is no longer repeated. But even at this point the development is not a formal third part of the sonata, which is still, in essence, a creature of two halves. Some sonatas even lack a development section.

I must also point out how earlier sonatas, like Scarlatti’s and the teenage Beethoven’s, don’t have definite subjects like later sonatas do. What you get instead is a stream of different musical phrases, like sentences or stanzas, that travels to different keys.  You can still hear definite A parts and B parts but not so much definite subjects.

MINUET FORM is far simpler than sonata form but still has a structure to it. Unlike sonata form, minuet form is an actual ternary form since it has three parts with similar structure. You have the minuet (A part), a trio (B part), and return to the minuet (A’ part). Scherzos are quicker and livelier than minuets but are no different in basic structure.

The minuet is divided into two halves. The first half (a part) is where you state the main ideas of your minuet in the home key, and is often brief. Our example will again be C major or c minor. Then you enter a so-called development (or b part) where you explore the music in different keys for a while, then your return to your home key. Sometimes the minuet ends like it began but a little differently (with a’ part) while at other times the end is completely new (a c part).

The trio is also divided into two halves but is at a different key. If you began the minuet in C major you will often begin the trio in G major (V key) or F major (IV key). Sometimes you may even begin the trio in c minor (i key). If you began the minuet in c minor you will often begin the trio in C major (I key). Other than difference in key the trio contrasts the minuet, but otherwise has the same structure as the minuet.

Then you return to the minuet (A’ part), which may be slightly different than it was before and may even have a coda at the end. Keep in mind that Beethoven sometimes plays the scherzo and then the trio more than once like in his Symphony No. 7 but this is rare.

RONDO FORM is another simpler form of music, and is easiest to compare with a poem or song that frequently refrains to its main idea. You often get different lines, often repeated, in different keys. For instance you get the main line of the rondo (a part) in the home key, then a different line in a different key (b part) and a different line in yet another key (c part). All these different lines, like stanzas in a poem, can be put into a group (or A part). Then the next group of lines (or B part) begins. You play a variant of the old lines (like a b’ part or c’ part) or play new ideas (d part or e part), but you will always refrain to your first line (a part). You proceed in this pattern until you play the first line one final time, then play a small coda to end the piece.

VARIATION FORM is the simplest form but can also be the most profound music as it allows the composer to explore an idea as deeply as he wants. Beethoven himself used variations to great affect, especially later in his career, and would often play variations of ideas in other forms.

Variations tend to stay in one key throughout, with the theme divided into two halves that repeat. The first half is the main subject of the variation in the home key (a part). The second half has a small so-called development that explores the subject a bit (b key) and then returns to the subject (a’ part), which may be slightly different this time. Each variation that follows has the same basic structure; often it even has the exact same harmonies as the theme.

But even variations can change. Sometimes a composer will play a variation in the minor version of the home key (like c minor to contrast C major). Many variations in the 18th and 19th centuries tend to have a similar structure. The first few variations embellish the theme with more and more notes. After a certain point you play one or more simpler slower variations in a contrasting key. Then you play the last variations in the home key again.