About this Recording
8.571266 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 7 (Biret) - Nos. 6, 12, 15 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 16)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Piano Sonatas, Volume 7
Sonata No. 6 in F major, Op. 10, No. 2 • Sonata No. 12 in A flat major, Op. 26
Sonata No. 15 in D major, Op. 28


Beethoven sketched his three Opus 10 Sonatas, dedicated to Countess von Browne, simultaneously in 1796. The publisher Eder opened a subscription in the Wiener Zeitung on 5 July 1798 by the time they were completed.

The first movement of Op. 10, No. 2 has been described as Haydnesque. It changes key several times—F major—C major—G major—C minor—C major—during the opening section alone, as if imitating the horse behaviour in Count von Browne’s stables. Resuming in D minor, divided octaves and syncopated passagework further support my impression. The middle, F minor Allegretto movement is altogether more serious, both ruminative and exploratory at the same time. But when the key signature changes to five flats, Beethoven entertains us with glorious new chord textures and harmonies including, in one place a B double flat. The Presto finale is a kind of ‘catch me, if you can’ situation, where everyone nearly gets clobbered. But, the pianist, who is, after all, the protagonist, has to sound clean, clear and upstanding at each and every turn of events. The writing is gloriously fugal, but I wonder if Presto is the correct marking? Play this music too fast, and both rhythm and clarity of notation suffer accordingly. Both sections are repeated, the second recommencing in A flat major, then twisting in and out of various key sequences while the left-hand writing becomes more and more diffuse. The whole is a massive undertaking.

The dedication of the Sonata Op. 26 reads: Dem Fürsten Carl von Lichnowsky gewidmet. Beethoven in 1792 seeking society, including meeting Viennese composers and proper teaching, had moved into his first lodgings—an uncomfortable attic room, soon exchanged for the ground floor of a house in the Alserstrasse occupied by one Strauss, a printer. Another occupant was Prince Lichnowsky. The composer was quickly invited into the older man’s lodgings, where he remained until May 1795 as a guest of the family. The Prince was a lover and connoisseur of music who, like his wife, played the pianoforte. After studying and performing Beethoven’s pieces—described by the composer as “often difficult”—he advised that no change was necessary in their style of composition. The three String Trios, Op. 1, were performed, and the players’ observations took place prior to the Friday morning concerts.

Wegeler, in his Notizen states that Beethoven was desired to be home at half past three (the Prince’s dinner was always at four, sharp), that he should put on better clothes, care for his beard, and so on. In revolt, the composer went to various taverns where he little understood the value of money. “The prince, who had a loud metallic voice, once directed his serving man that if ever he and Beethoven should ring at the same time, the latter was to be first served”. The young composer engaged his own servant, and when he had the whim to ride, he bought a horse. The Prince’s stables were offered, but Beethoven soon lost the urge, anyway. In a later letter to Wegeler, Beethoven writes: “In the last year, unbelievable as it may sound when I tell you, Lichnowsky, who has always remained my warmest friend, (there were little quarrels between us, but haven’t they served to strengthen our friendship?) has set aside a fixed sum of 600 florins for me to draw upon so long as I remain without a post suitable for me…” That was written in 1801, the year the A flat Sonata was completed and first published.

The opening movement is an Andante with variations, all in 3/8. It is believed that the model was Mozart’s Sonata K. 331, which begins with a set of five variations. The music is proud and couched in calm, stately terms, dotted notes acting as a pre-warning of the third movement. Variation 1 is a kind of inversion with its semiquaver emotive phrase “lifts” , while the next variation alternates the tune in the left hand with simple chordal accompaniment in the right. Variation 3 reverts to seven flats, the semitonal writing having a slight hint of menace. Returning to the tonic, the Variation 4 eases the tension with simple note reply phrases over a sempre staccato bass line. Rippling three note figures comprise the final variation, the content becoming more florid and decorative before the close. The Scherzo, Allegro molto movement—5 x 3 note phrases to open, 5 x 5 in the more urgent second subject with its added staccato tail-end piece, also contains a brief variant passage, but the Trio is legato minim-crotchet chords in D flat major. The Marcia funebre comes next—reversing the procedure of funeral march-scherzo in the “Eroica” Symphony, two years later. “On the death of a hero” in A flat minor, however, does not really align it with Napoleon in Beethoven’s great orchestral masterpiece. The enharmonic changes to B minor and D major have to make way for the drum rolls and salvoes of the magnificent middle part, so full of that kind of swaggering arrogance typical of Beethoven cocking the snook at his rivals—but the solemn music of the opening returns with a fortissimo outburst interrupting the hushed intensity of the close. Strong associations of rivalry also belong to the Allegro finale, which Carl Czerny accurately states coincided with the sensational playing of Cramer, whose own A flat Sonata “awakened great amazement”. Beethoven’s Opus 26 also alludes to Clementi, who made great efforts on his behalf. Beethoven, though, professed to dislike him when they met in 1803.

The dedication to Joseph Edlen von Sonnfels at the head of the score of the Sonata Op. 28, refers to the seventy-year-old Councillor and Secretary of the Academy of Fine Arts. Beethoven was not on intimate terms, but respected his brain power. The work’s sunny outlook quickly acquired for it the sobriquet “Sonata pastorale”. The intellectual grasp and span of development is, however, something else. Beethoven’s exploratory writing during the opening twelve staves alone, where long legato strands of melody are linked to descending quavers/semiquavers bespeak of nobler thoughts which were to find fruition in his Second Symphony, a year later. The following pastoral subject, repeated louder next time round, builds into a consistent dramatic outpouring higher in the stave, and something similar occurs during the reprise prior to the decrescendo and simplicity of the close. Beethoven’s favourite movement, an Andante in 2/4, poises a sad D minor dotted melody over straightforward accompaniment, yet the brief A minor modulation after the repeat suggests tender regrets. These are soon dispelled by the jolly D major central subject—gentle punctuated three-note figure and a downward turning phrase. The composer turns his material into extended variations, a forewarning of the “Pastoral” Symphony later on. The delectable Scherzo in 3/4 dotted—minim octaves introducing a playful three-note figure, is ingeniously reversed during the reply, stormed out fortissimo at the close. The final Rondo in 6/8 contains, as its main subject, a reiteration of the nine-bar melody of the first movement, now condensed into three bars. In place of the single-note accompaniment, we find a legato rocking motive. Swirling groups of semiquavers bring about a rising of tensions, interplays of development, then further courses of action before a Più allegro quasi presto terminates proceedings.

Bill Newman

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