Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Ludwig van Beethoven

By the time Beethoven composed this work, his output had declined substantially, perhaps owing to his deafness and disappointments in life. The only complete works to emerge from the period of 1820-1823 were the last three piano sonatas, the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony. Even when compared to these imposing works, the E major Piano Sonata retains its status of a masterpiece. It is a remarkable work in several respects. The first movement has a nearly unique structure: it opens with theme marked Vivace ma non troppo that almost immediately slows to an Adagio espressivo. Thereafter, the two contrasting tempos and utterances alternate. Scarlatti and Mozart had used such a scheme before, but never in such a bold and innovative fashion. On the surface, this short movement has a serene, almost angelic quality, but, like many other works written during this period, the composition's surface is merely one dimension among many. Indeed, nothing about this sonata is one-dimensional. Thus, for example, the subdued, brightly lit realm suggested by the beginning of the works eventually leads the listener to sections where the narrative slows down, conjuring up dark shadows that intimate feelings of longing and doubt. The second movement, given its sonata form structure would be typical of a Beethoven first movement if it were not for its terse development and extreme brevity. There are two subject groups in this Prestissimo, with the first led by an assertive theme that more than vaguely suggests Schumann's piano style. More subdued at the outset, the second subject generates tension and energy as it progresses. Following a brief development, an interesting reprise leads to a concise coda. The finale is twice as long as the previous two movements put together. It is a theme-and-variations scheme, whose main theme is marked Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo. The melody is beautiful, in style looking toward the Romantic movement that was then in its infancy. It is tranquil yet melancholy, pleased but valedictory. Some of the six variations generate further variations either through development (the third variation), or as a result of a two-tiered layout (the second variation). While the finale contains many lively moments, it is predominantly slow-to-moderate in tempo and generally subdued, gaining in confidence as the narrative proceeds. This movement concludes with the main theme played slowly and serenely. While the ending suggests a certain peaceful resolution of life's struggles and conflicts, it also reveals a feeling of resignation which is free of conflict and fear.