Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Ludwig van Beethoven

This early piano sonata, his fourth, is the longest example of the genre in Beethoven's catalog except for the massive "Hammerklavier" sonata of 20 years later. Much is made of Beethoven the revolutionary, and it is too easy to claim that this sonata's symphonic scope is another mark of the young man's daring genius. However, this composition, although unusually long, is a fairly straightforward work which observes the conventions of its day. The first movement, Allegro molto e con brio, begins with throbbing chords full of anticipation, but quickly gives way to a bright, confident melody that wanders up and down the scale; it wouldn't be out of place in a Mozart sonata. Beethoven does insert a few brusque chords to introduce the jaunty second subject, and is in the habit of suddenly lightening the mood in mid-tune, but this is nothing compared to the mercurial sonatas Emanuel Bach had written a few decades earlier. Most of the thematic elements closely resemble each other, and they are even harder to differentiate over Beethoven's insistent, energetic 6/8 rhythm. The development section makes much of a strongly syncopated version of the second subject, then drops back to toy a while with the first subject and all the other miscellaneous material Beethoven packed into the exposition. Beethoven's treatment of this theme is a bit too sequential and level-headed for a good development section, but far too free for a serious recapitulation. Leaving this issue undecided, Beethoven eventually draws the movement to a close. The Largo con gran espressione is an early example of the stately slow movements that Beethoven would later bring to extraordinary poetic heights. The measured main theme is as arresting for its pauses as for its arrangement of notes; as the accompaniment becomes more elaborate, these pauses provide the melody with an aura of grandeur. Beethoven never loses sight of this theme during the course of the movement; he merely varies it by filling in the silences with a more legato melodic treatment, even while making the accompaniment (which shifts from bass to treble) more staccato. The Allegro third movement doesn't stray too far from the old minuet style, although Beethoven, characteristically, creates a melody full of hesitations and little deviations from the expected harmonic path. The mood becomes more serious in the central trio section, churning as it does through E flat minor, but the passage is too brief to alter the movement's essentially lighthearted character. A light mood also characterizes the concluding rondo (Poco allegretto e grazioso). This is not the manic sort of finale that Beethoven would later indulge in, but a gentle frolic interrupted by a single stormy episode a quarter of the way through. Admittedly, this is an otherwise uneventful rondo, with the main subject and its variants dominating the remainder of the movement. But it does offer many passages of something rarely found in Beethoven's music: an appealing sweetness.