About this Recording
8.571255 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3 (Biret) - Nos. 7, 21, 25 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 5)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Piano Sonatas, Volume 3
Sonata No. 7 in D major, Op. 10, No. 3 • Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 (Waldstein)
Sonata No. 25 in G major, Op. 79


In order to appreciate fully the remarkable Sonata No. 7 in D major, Op. 10, No. 3, study of its two predecessors reveals Beethoven’s strong perception of character allied to supposed mood changes of its dedicatee (Countess Anna Margarete). Op. 10, No. 1 contains strong determinations and calm resolutions, while Op. 10, No. 2 reflects lighter, more lyrical persuasions and passionate leanings where solemn doubts are finally swept aside by joyous acceptance. Both works have three movements each. The clear superiority of the Third sonata, in musical terms, derives from the greater significance of material allied to the span of development of main themes and counter subjects within four, closely compact and concisely laid out movements. The striding octaves at the start of the opening may suggest the equestrian gait of one of the animals from the Count’s stables. The Presto marking, piano on the phrase fall soon rises in clipped pizzicati to a sforzando dotted minum, while playful quaver replies have a feeling of gay abandon. Perhaps Allegro molto would be safer, especially after Beethoven extends his main subject repeat to F sharp and expects his performance to clarify successions of quavers, grace notes and leaping phrases at the same tempi. There is remarkable cohesiveness throughout involving the changing moods and ideas.

The Largo e mesto movement is the composer at his greatest, most tragic and hypnotic. The peaks of helpless despondency are expressed in Beethoven’s own words as “the melancholic state of mind which portrayed every subtle shade, every phase of melancholy”. He was still deeply affected by his mother’s death. Linked eighth/sixth note phrases transport the key of D minor into higher echelons while a turbulent central build-up cuts off dramatically, leaving tearful three-note replies suspended above a sustained left-hand chord. Even more telling are the crunched second intervals (G sharp, A, A sharp) in bars 84/85 which transform and intensify the music just prior to the close. Are we listening to premonitions of Bellini and Donizetti?

The third movement, Menuetto, Allegro inverts and transforms the previous one’s main subject into a state of translucent light, the left hand taking up a new G major melody for the Trio, joyful and exuberant in character. A further surprise is the start of the Rondo: Allegro finale where it appears as fragmented statements with an added flourish which build to a climax before embarking on a lengthy exposition of new subject and intensive development combined. A mini cadenza, three part chords and snake like semiquavers return us to normal status quo for the close.

Together with the “Appassionata” Sonata, Op. 57 the Waldstein Sonata laid the foundations of Beethoven’s fame as a composer-pianist. Count Waldstein became the composer’s first really important patron, and here was a work which began life as a massive creation covering the whole keyboard that broke away from the normal tonic-dominant key relations in part—the transition from C to F major early on is a case in point—and contained a number of new composing ideas ahead of their time. Once the composer was persuaded to replace his original “Andante Favori” slow movement—too long and vastly preferable in its new, independent status with a short Adagio introduction for his finale, he had another masterpiece to add to his list. 1804 which saw its completion also corresponded to the “Eroica” Symphony and Triple Concerto. Sketches for the first and last movements together with the original Andante to the sonata appear in the Eroica book, although earlier references were made in Landsberg. Beethoven also contributed further interim sketches.

The Allegro con brio repeated quavers at the start encompass first theme and answering reply, while a brief secondary motif links back to the beginning. There is this growing sense of uninterrupted motion coupled with constant modulations. Whether its chosen pulse or intentions are dictated by Serkin or Kempff, both hands are kept eternally busy extending the rhythmic line from pianissimo beginnings through crescendi that generally do not rise above forte, except in the final measures.

Introduzione: Adagio molto, as it stands, compares with some great scene from dramatic opera. In essence it is comparable to some other lingering glimmer of hope that Leonora might tender Florestan as he lies beneath her in his dungeon, but here in its rightful context as a structural link to the Sonata’s Rondo finale, it reveals aspects of recitative that evolve into just three calm statements of coloratura before resuming its customary guise. Just seven bars before the close, Beethoven widens the distance between notes then narrows his vision for the sustained entry into the last movement.

It has been suggested that the Rondo’s main subject might be a man singing a gay ditty as he sails his boat down smooth waters with trees either side. More realistically, I see it as Beethoven planning ahead for even more proud rejoicings, such as the Shepherds’ Hymn after the storm in the final movement of the “Pastoral” Symphony, as he embellishes right hand semiquavers and whips up the bass in fortissimo outbursts. The second subject’s three semiquaver note groupings are treated fugally—not dissimilar to the bucolic central section from the finale of the “Eroica” Symphony, especially when restated in the minor key. Or does it perhaps relate to those ominous swirls of thunder’s aftermath in Symphony No. 6? Full praise indeed, to the pianist who produces clean evenness of notation at the correct Prestissimo tempo during the glissandi in the final section.

Situated between the two-movement Sonata Op. 78, dedicated to the Countess Therese von Brunswick, a work Beethoven greatly admired, and the celebrated “Les Adieux” Sonata, dedicated to Archduke Rudolph, the three-movement Op. 79, more correctly known as ‘Sonatine’ by virtue of its style and stature, is a gem of its kind. Other labels attached to it were ‘Sonata facile’ and ‘Cuckoo Sonata’. Sketches are to be found in the book of Carl Meinert.

If facile means easy, the octave leaps and propulsive, unbroken quaver lines threading across both hands, sforzando and staccato markings on second and third notes in the bar (the ‘cuckoo’ effect), and demands for consistent clarity during the opening movement alone require expertise of the highest order. Presto alla tedesca in accordance with the popular German fast waltz of Beethoven’s time, has several meanings. Basically, the melodies go in and out of sequence like a Roundelay. Für Elise is a better known example, and in the first movement of this sonata there are two repeats.

The expressive Andante movement in 9/8 (G minor) with a middle section in E flat major has something of the poignancy of Schubert’s Organ Grinder from Winterreise, although Beethoven’s sadness is spun on a gossamer thread unlike Schubert’s grim picture of bleak tragedy. The Vivace finale reminds me of children playing round the maypole, countered by older ‘minders’ tipping back their jars of Pilsen in rejoicing approval. The solitary Dolce marking suggests the ageing composer peering sharply through mottled spectacles, ear-trumpet tilted towards some pleasurable reminder of lost youth as he gazes fondly through the door of his favourite bierkeller.

Bill Newman

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