Friday, October 02, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 22 (Stephen Kovacevich, 1999)

Carl Friedrich Lessing (1803–1880) : Romantische Landschaft (Abschiedskuss der Sonne von der Erde), 1830. Source : Emil Svensen : 1800-talets konst, Stockholm 1910. From : Wikipedia.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 22/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 21–25
Stephen Kovacevich, 1992 (Nos. 21, 24) and 1999 (Nos. 22, 23, 25)

Opus 54: Klaviersonate Nr. 22 in F-Dur (1804)
    Erster Satz: In tempo d'un menuetto, F-Dur, 3/4-Takt, fünfteilige Menuett-Form, 154 Takte
    Zweiter Satz: Allegretto, F-Dur, 2/4 Takt, zweiteilige Form mit Coda, 188 Takte
    Stephen Kovacevich (1999) 12 min

András Schiff: The Guardian Lecture on Beethoven's Piano Sonata Opus 54, Wigmore Hall, London. 33 min

AA: András Schiff signs up as a champion of Beethoven's Piano Sonata Opus 54, "the least known and the least liked" of the composer's piano sonatas, even "thoroughly disliked" by many pianists. "It is not easy to listen to, not easy to play". As always, Schiff spices his lecture, almost three times as long as the composition itself, with memories and associations to other compositions, such as Andante favori (WoO 57), the original but discarded slow movement of the Waldstein Sonata.

Schiff explores the first theme in which the phrases end in feminine cadences, a traditional term of musicology, probably politically incorrect today. Alfred Brendel discussed the whole movement as based on two contrasting themes, "a gracious, dignified 'feminine' theme resembling a minuet, and a stamping, assertive, 'masculine' theme employing accented octave triplets. They gradually influence one another in the course of the movement, until they become thoroughly integrated and combined in the final passages". Richard Rosenberg called the whole sonata "La Belle et la Bête", and Schiff emphasizes that the battle leads to the victory of the Beauty. "It was Beauty killed the Beast", to quote King Kong.

Schiff suspects that it is the "not beautiful" dimension in this sonata, the double octaves, accents and sforzandi, that have estranged listeners and pianists, but he warns: "don't iron out these edges", because Beethoven was "a great master of writing asymmetrically".

In the second movement, Allegretto, Schiff discusses the unusual structure and the perpetuum mobile quality, and advises to bring out the poetry, find the hidden voices, resist the temptation of getting lost in mechanical movement and also start playing fast because in the coda you need to play as fast as you can. Schiff pays attention to what Donald Tovay called "the jerk", the motif of two notes, the second with sforzando, imitated with the right hand. Beethoven invented a new, "very beautiful way of writing for the piano", first introduced in the fourth movement of the 12th piano sonata, after the funeral march. "The constant modulations and excursions are very difficult to follow even for insiders, so unusual, so unexpected". "There are so many transformations", and we are "so far from home very often", but the movement is "very humorous, like a Greek god playing with rocks". Towards the finale "timpani rolls" are introduced, and the dynamics gets extreme, between fortissimo and pianissimo. "It is a huge concept", states Schiff, and it all ends with a thundering coda piu allegro, yet in a way that "you don't know it's over because the piece is very short".

"No wonder people are lost", Schiff admits. This sonata was "not meant to make an impression", perhaps not even for being performed in public. "Making an impression interested Beethoven less and less".




"It might seem surprising to find this little two-movement sonata sandwiched between two of Beethoven's grandest offerings, the Waldstein and the Appassionata. It is true that it rarely gets performed outside complete cycles of the sonatas, but there's nothing conventional or even low-key about it, certainly compared to his earlier two-movement works. Along with the Triple Concerto, it was sketched in 1804 seemingly as relief from the troublesome time he was having writing his opera Leonore, the first version of Fidelio."

"The first movement is 'in the tempo of a minuet', but has little in the way of dance-like gentility, once the opening phrase is out of the way. It has more the character of a rondo, with increasingly thunderous episodes separating the presentations of the main theme. The second movement is a
moto perpetuo, with barely a break in its run of semiquavers. Variety and development are provided by a constantly changing harmonic palette, since, apart from the odd chord and octave doubling, the music is in only two parts throughout. Only with the faster coda does the texture fill out more substantially."

Matthew Rye
BBC Radio 3 The Beethoven Experience
Thursday 9th June, 2005



" Here, we turn to the two Beethoven researchers and biographers Kinderman and Cooper:  

"A remarkably original yet somewhat neglected piece from this period is the Piano Sonata in F major op. 54, of 1804, the first movement of which is above all a study in contrasts.  Richard Rosenberg dubbed it "La Belle et la Bete", and Brendel has described how its two contrasting themes--a gracious, dignified 'feminine' theme resembling a minuet, and a stamping, assertive, 'masculine' theme employing accented octave triplets--gradually influence one another in the course of the movement, until they become thoroughly integrated and combined in the final passages. (10: Die Klaviersonaten, ii. p 262; Musical Thought and Afterthought, pp. 47-50)  Here the music resembles the conventional form of minuet and trio only very superficially, and the point of the dissonant outbursts immediately preceding the final cadence is to remind us--through the diminished-seventh harmonies, triplet rhythm, and the use of register--of the contrasting thematic complex that has gradually become absorbed into the minuet while transforming it.  In this movement Beethoven thus explores a directional process and an ongoing synthesis of experience--qualities he further developed in many later works.

The ensuing Allegretto ins a perpetuum mobile  rhythm is already the finale--op. 54 is the first of Beethoven's major sonatas for piano to compress the formal plan into a pair of movements.  This sonata form unfolds with an irresistible momentum in long ascending lines punctuated by syncopated pedal notes.  The two-voice texture is reminiscent of Bach, but the dramatic power is unmistakably Beethovenian.  In the development Beethoven inverts the ascending linear motion so that it sinks chromatically into the depths of the bass, preparing a modulation into C minor.  The coda then accelerates the perpetual motion in a furious piu allegro.  We can discern in this rhythmic drive a key to the relationship between two strongly contrasting movements of op. 54.  The initial minuet had proceeded in halting fashion, stopping every two or four bars in cadences set off by rests, but the assertive contrasting theme of that movement infused the music with an energy that in the finale becomes an all-encompassing force.  The discovery, integration, and celebration of this rhythmic energy is a guiding idea of the sonata as a whole" (Kinderman: 96-97).

"Op. 54 is best viewed as the valley between the mountains of the 'Waldstein' and the 'Appassionata', and is Beethoven's first big piano sonata in only two movements (the two-movement sonatas of Op. 49 are scarcely more than sonatinas, which he did not even publish initially).  The moderately paced first movement is marked 'Tempo di Menuetto'--a minuet in rhythm, but not in form or style.  The form resembles a simple rondo with coda, but the refrains are increasingly decorated, while the two episodes use the same material as each other and are very unequal in length--45 bars and 12 bars respectively.  Two main rhythms are set up in opposition: dotted rhythms in the main theme and triplets in the episodes, with the two combined and reconciled in the coda.  The second movement, an Allegretto, uses incessant semiquaver motion throughout (apart from two strategically placed trills).  It is in a modified sonata form, with no distinctive second subject, and the exposition is extremly short, barely 20 bars, followed by an enormous development section, then further development after a reprise of the main theme.  Thus the proportions of the movement are bizarre, with Beethoven deliberately flouting convention, but they are none the less very finely judged, for the reprise of the main theme appears precisely where one might expect, about three-fifths of the way through, and close to the point of the Golden Section. (4: The Golden Section, which has been widely used in music since at least as early as the thirteenth century, is the point where the proportion of the smaller section to the larger section of the movement is equal to the proportion of the larger section to the whole" (Cooper: 139-140)

" Let us take a look at Joachim Kaiser's comment:  

"Diese anspruchsvolle zweisätzige Sonate wird -- von Kommentatoren auf Plattentaschen, seitens intelligenter Pianisten -- unentwegt gerechtfertigt.  Zunächst zitieren die Apologeten verdrießlich Einschränkendes: >> Schatten von...<<, >>fast unscheinbar...<<, >>am niedrigsten eingeschätzt<<, >>die Konzertspieler lieben wohl durchschnittlich Opus 54 nicht allzusehr...<<, dann nehmen sie all ihren Gratismut zusammen und gegen diese Verleumdungen Stellung.  Auch Opus 54 sei ihres Schöpfers würdig.

Die F-Dur-Sonate, in Beethovens Meisterjahren entstanden, Kompositionen gewaltigster Dimension benachbart, ist gewiß ein vollgültiges Werk Beethovens.  Jeder der beiden Sätze folgt seiner eigenen Logik, auch zahlreiche Analogien zu anderen, zweifellos bedeutenden Beethoven-Kompositionen verbürgen den Rang.  Das Hauptthema des Kopfsatzes etwas ist der Melodie jenes >>Andante favori<< eng benachbart, welches Beethoven zunächst immerhin der Waldstein-Sonate für würdig hielt, die Coda antizipiert jenen punktierten Aufschwung, dem wir am Ende des Andante der 5. Symphonie begegnen, und der Schlußsatz verbindet Durchführungstechniken der Waldstein-Sonate mit Perpetuum-mobile-Wirkungen der As-Dur Sonate Opus 26.  Die F-Dur-Sonate Opus 54 ist kein Nebenwerk, kein Abfallprodukt.  Sie wird auch keineswegs >>zu Unrecht vernachlässigt<<, sondern erscheint immer wieder auf Konzertprogrammen und Schallplatten.  Aber sie steht eben doch zwischen Waldstein-Sonate und Appassionata -- zwischen zwei Gipfelwerken abendländischer Musik, die sie überragen.  Ihrem Anspruch, ihrem Tonfall, ihrer Dringlichkeit und ihrer emotionalen Reichweite nach ist die Sonate Opus 54 kein solches Gipfelwerk.  Der erste Satz bringt ein immer reicher verziertes Hauptthema und einen donnernden Oktaven-Kontrast in folgenreiche Beziehung: beide Teile verändern sich im Verlauf des Satzes charakteristisch.  Das Allegretto-Finale läßt sich -- aus der Scarlatti-Haydn-Perspektive betrachtet -- als eine klassizistische, späte und raffinierte Toccata verstehen.  Man kann es aber auch als einen durchaus streng geformten Vorläufer jener vitalvirtuosen Finali sehen, die Carl Maria von Weber (As-Dur-Sonate), Robert Schumann (g-Moll-Sonate) oder Chopin zu noch effektvolleren, eleganteren und enthusiastischeren Reißern steigerten.  Allem >>Titanismus<< und >>Heroismus<<, aller rhetorischen Gewaltsamkeit bleibt diese verspielt artifizielle Sonate fern:  kaum ein Werk Beethovens entspricht dem Klischee-Bild der Beethoven-Verächter weniger" (Kaiser: 383-384; -


" The active pianist Anton Kuerti provides us with the following overview on this sonata:  

In his introduction, Kuerti argues that it is hard to praise this work, in spite of the fact that some excellent Beethoven defenders, such as Edwin Fischer and Alfred Brendel, spoke with particular feeling of this work, but as the only sonata between the "Waldstein" Sonata and the "Appassionata", this sonata should plead "no lo contendere".  Kuerti describes this sonata as one of the few Beethoven sonatas without effect, which might perhaps allow the conclusion that Beethoven might not have been very proud of it.  

Beethoven, continues Kuerti, was not beyond sarcasm and parody.  A good example for this is his own arrangement of his sublime Violin Concerto as a bizarre work for Piano and Orchestra, including a grotesque cadenza, full of hefty jokes--it even uses, writes Kuerti, the kettle drums for some un-noble utterances.  As Kuerti argues, Beethoven might have been angry at the pbulisher who asked him for this impossible arrangement.   

In Tempo d'un Menuetto

Basically, Kuerti wonders if here, Beethoven might not have written a parody on bad composers, as in the introduction, the music desperately stutters and offers a weak, ridiculous wisp of a melody that halts after only four measures and laboriously continues its path...the composer find no better solution than repeating this little wisp note for note.  Perhaps, Beethoven is mocking somebody, here, who is trying to improvise but who gets stuck here and there, and this goes on until something new is desperately needed.  

However, Kuerti is of the opinion that the music should preferably have remained in this nonsense than plunging itself into the burning coals of the following octave exercise that is, ridiculously, introduced as the second subject.    Kuerti aks himself if we are dealing here with Beethoven's response to stupid composers who had no feeling for what fits together.  Certainly, continues Kuerti, this empty passage of octaves with its sharp, irritating accents that are indicated for each measure, has no right to be connected to the main them, except in the event that it represents a temper outburst that one has to listen to something like that.  

Barely, writes Kuerti, we breathe a sigh of relief that this stomping has ended, when Beethoven only switches gear and offers us another dose of it and repeats this childish fanfare, practically unchanged, in the recapitulation, which Kuerti finds so clumsy that he considers that it can hardly have anything to do with Beethoven.  

Only in the coda, writes Kuerti, the real Beethoven appears briefly, perhaps, he has lost patience with this rough kind of joke and wants to compensate the listener for these sufferings with an exquisite phrase.   


When the first movement, continues Kuerti, sounded stuttering and constipated, then the second is certainly suffering from the opposite disease, for, once this sewing-machine-like operation is set in motion, it can simply not be stopped up to the last chord, so that, perhaps, one should call it "taylor's apprentice".  However, as Kuerti concedes, this constant chattering has a certain charm.   

However, argues Kuerti, by then, the "apprentice" has learned his pattern, a rather simple up-and-down pattern, which represents the only thematic material of this movement.  It winds itself gracefully but aimlessly, without form, through a great number of keys until it gets bored with itself, in the end, and rushes to the finale in a sudden spurt.  Obviously, the apprentice has lost control of his sewing machine when it hysterically sews up and down and tears his silly little patterns into shreds.   (Kuerti: 38 - 39)

Ludwig van Beethoven The Magnificent Master
Internet Archives, Wayback Machine

The Beethoven Experience (BBC 2005)

Ludwig van Beethoven: Magnificent Master (2015)

Beethoven's Piano Sonatas (2015)

András Schiff's Guardian Lectures on Beethoven's piano sonatas,,1943867,00.html

Per Tengstrand

Bryce Morrison in Gramophone, February 2004

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 3 July 2020 Beethoven

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