Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) – Sonata, Opus 57

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Sonata, Opus 57


Beethoven wrote his opus 57 sonata between the years of 1804 and 1805.  It was first published in 1807 in Vienna.  The name came about in an 1838 publication of the work.

Of the named sonatas, only Pathetique and Les Adieux have names considered by the composer before publication.  Beethoven’s roots in programmatic music as seen by the Romantics of the nineteenth century may have been part of his inner spirit, and part of his symphonic writing, but “programs” were probably not his intention in writing the piano sonatas. In any case, these names probably came about because of marketing considerations by his publishers.

During Beethoven’s middle period (1803-1812) the composer explored expansion of many classical forms.  With a complete underlying structure he incorporates a growing ingenuity and creative process, expanding and developing individual elements of the form causing the structure to be more hidden.

The first movement is a strict sonata-allegro, though it takes study to find the parts.  In the Appassionata, Beethoven’s ingenuity effectively pushes the structure into the background.  The listener suspects a strong order to events but focuses more on the musical ideas.  The ear is confused in many ways including form, key and with dramatic energy changes.

Classical sonata-allegro form has a first theme in the key of the piece.  A second theme is generally easily recognized in the exposition.  It will be in a related key and it will have a contrasting mood.  Though the second theme is required, it does not have to be contrasting.  For example, the last movement of the Appassionata is also in sonata-allegro form.  However the second theme is not contrasting.  If you listen for modulation and key change you will find the form.

The first movement has several interesting points.  The opening theme is immediately restated a half step higher.  This half step becomes a consistent motif throughout the movement.  In many instances the raised note has an altered use in the ongoing harmonic structure.  Another ongoing concept is the triplet pattern, which comes in many forms from repeated notes to, scale patterns, to alberti bass-like patterns.  These triplets add drive and motion.  Sometimes when Beethoven arrives to end a piece he decides to continue on.  He then seems to want a lot more. At the end of the recapitulation, Beethoven continues on to what might be considered a second development section.  After this second development section, he adds a robust coda which then ends in a quiet tone.

The second movement is another classical form: a theme and variations.  Each full thematic statement has two sections each with double bar and repeat.  The first section has thematic material surrounding the tonic while the second section has thematic material surrounding the dominant.  This Baroque period concept eventually transformed into what we now call sonata-allegro form.  The third and last variation has its repeats written out so Beethoven can enjoy some variation of the variation.  (Schubert does this in some of his variations) The movement changes mood in each variation while progressing to a rather lofty place: a place which becomes even loftier in the late sonatas.

The third movement emerges from the second without break.  It is a veritable whirlwind of perpetual motion.  This sort of final movement is common to many composers both before and after Beethoven.  Consider Schubert’s final variation in his Opus 142.

Unusual to this last movement sonata-allegro, is that the development and recapitulation are marked to be repeated as a single unit. A classical sonata-allegro generally repeats the exposition.  (Scarlatti’s K159 also repeats development and recapitulation as a unit)  Repeating the exposition allows the listener to be “exposed” to the musical ideas a first time with a more informed understanding during the repeat.  A brilliant coda ends the whole sonata.

Beethoven was one of the greatest pianists of his time.  He did some competing in the salons with his peers and wrote some of the most virtuosic piano music of any generation.  The Appassionata embodies much of Beethoven’s temperament, from brooding to dramatic outbursts, calm, wildness, beauty, peace, fury, a myriad of human concept and emotion: And all of this is built on a well defined structural base.