Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Ludwig van Beethoven

The Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90 (1814) is one of Beethoven's shorter sonatas, but its relatively modest proportions belie an emotional complexity that looks forward to his imminent valedictory works in the genre. By this time Beethoven had begun to provide tempo indications in German rather than Italian, perhaps acknowledging that his music had come to represent an especially personal, Romantic form of expression. The composer had for a time considered titling this work "Struggle Between Head and Heart" or "Conversation with the Beloved," the latter alluding to a love affair between Count Moritz Lichnowsky, the sonata's dedicatee, and an opera singer he later married.

The first movement's marking, "Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck," calls for "Vivacity and continuous sentiment and expressivity." It begins with powerful chords that could be a muscular updating of a Renaissance dance; these are answered by more subdued material. The music alternates between fast, impulsive gestures and gentle, bereft sighs, almost always in the minor mode. All this falls into two rather similar theme groups, each a mixture of emotions. Oddly, Beethoven bases the movement's curt development section on a tiny lyrical idea from the first group, building it into music restless and declamatory as that in the opening bars.

The count's future wife would seem to be a bad match, judging from the first movement, but with the Rondo the affair seems to have settled into naive, mutual submissiveness. Marked "Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen" (Not too fast, and highly songful), the music revolves around themes constructed from repeated notes, an idea echoed in the quite literal repetitions of the cantabile main subject. The music is not quite as simple as it seems; contrasting episodes introduce fleeting minor-mode shadows, and even some subtle polyphony. Unlike the count's marriage, the sonata ends peacefully.