On March 9th, Christopher Taylor joined Norman Gilliland and Emily Auerbach for an hour of University of the Air
during which he discussed and played excerpts from the 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven. Find the conversation in the
University of the Air Audio Archives.
This series of recitals represents the culmination of a 30-year-long project. Even before I had studied my first major scale, the desire to play Beethoven’s music fired my ambition and sustained my will to practice. After just a few months of lessons with a neighbor, I was already making feckless extracurricular attempts at the “Moonlight” sonata. My first serious teacher, with whom I began work subsequently, wisely steered me towards Clementi, Czerny, and Haydn for a time, but she could not keep me away from my preferred territory for long; before my ninth birthday she had relented and introduced me to op. 10, no. 1.
|Pianist Christopher Taylor|
In the intervening years, my horizons have expanded to include dozens of other composers, but Beethoven remains the focal point of my musical life, and the goal of mastering all 32 sonatas has provided a steady motivation and an organizing principle for choosing repertoire. Happily, my first opportunity for a sabbatical while teaching at the University of Wisconsin arose during the very year when the last handful of sonatas was
finally entering my fingers. Accordingly, I had no difficulty deciding upon a project to occupy me for the semester, and the idea for this series sprang easily into existence.
While the name Beethoven tends to evoke visions of a wild-haired genius shaking his fist at fate, and certain popular sonatas may conform to this image, the sonata cycle as a whole reveals a composer whose multifaceted personality completely transcends the cartoonish stereotype. Alongside the typical violence of the Appassionata, for instance, a brusque sense of humor can be found throughout, particularly obvious in early sonatas like op. 10, no. 2, where Haydn’s influence remains strong. Elsewhere tender lyricism and faux simplicity foreshadowing Schubert shine forth, as in the finale of op. 2, no. 2, or calm solemnity on the order of the middle movement of op. 31, no. 2. The contrast between, on one side, the gargantuan length and formal astringency of the Hammerklavier (op. 106), and on the other, the enigmatic proto-Schumannesque terseness of the preceding sonata’s opening movement, boggles the mind. Every emotional shade, mournful or festive, despairing or hopeful, earnest or light-hearted, agitated or tranquil, can be found, and every kind of compositional material,
improvisatory or strict, expansive or compressed, chromatically intricate or simple to the brink of banality. The pianist’s technique must encompass everything from the dainty sonatinas of op. 49 to the death-defying leaps, octaves, chords and trills in opp. 53 and 106.
Beethoven exploited all the resources that the pianos of his day could offer, whether the new notes that were being added at the top and bottom of the keyboard, or the two pedals whose use was just starting to blossom, or the wide range of dynamic levels and articulations that instrument builders and performers were now cultivating. While it would be presumptuous to claim that the modern concert grand is the fulfillment of
Beethoven’s dreams, it did develop under pressures that he had helped to create, and needless to say I consider the combination of his music with present-day instruments apt. Historical authenticity is not my central preoccupation, though of course we have much to learn from the scholars and pianists who focus on the recreation of the sounds heard during Beethoven’s lifetime.
In the traditional division of Beethoven’s career into three periods, a relatively high percentage of the piano sonatas fall into the first group, a bias also reflected in the absence of sonatas from the last five years of his life. The genre was one for which Beethoven developed an early affinity, and within it many of his most important compositional experiments and advances came about. Accordingly, several of the sonatas that might chronologically belong to the first period strongly foreshadow the middle period, and likewise the boundary between the middle and late periods seems to come earlier among piano sonatas than it does within other genres. The sonatas through op. 22 show a confident young man, still a performing virtuoso, perfecting his compositional technique, and exploring the formal possibilities inherited from Haydn and Mozart. Already it is clear that the sonata is for Beethoven a more ambitious and weighty form than it ever was for his predecessors, with proportions and material more typical of symphonies (a form that he had as yet barely taken on). Most have four movements, and practically all make severe technical demands that nullify any association that previously
existed between the sonata and musical amateurism.
Beginning with op. 26 in 1801, around the time that personal and hearing difficulties began to weigh on Beethoven, we find a more restive composer who alters the parameters of the form in ways obvious and subtle, rearranging movements, adjusting proportions (often moving the center of gravity away from the beginning of a work and closer to the conclusion), exploring new sonic terrain. By op. 53, the heroic middle-period Beethoven has emerged, having overcome personal crises to become undisputed master of the symphony and the concerto, as well as the sonata. In the most famous works of this period primal musical forces wage titanic battles, typically with triumphant outcomes; remarkably these stirring results can be achieved with the simplest imaginable raw materials — two chords, tonic and dominant, often suffice. Yet while opp. 53, 57, and 81a largely fit this epic model, the smaller middle-period sonatas demonstrate Beethoven’s refusal to sit still and his continuing quest for novel formal possibilities. Once we reach op. 90, it is clear that a more inward-looking Beethoven is emerging, one who through the end of his life would now be pursuing an individual path that would puzzle audiences for decades to come.
As at the beginning of the middle period, the late style emerged during an interval of personal troubles, with attendant writer’s block; and as before, piano sonatas proved harbingers of change. With a seemingly violent effort, Beethoven broke his dry spell in 1818, when the Hammerklavier, op. 106, inaugurated a new era. While earlier sonatas had also been impressively ambitious and had arisen from similarly heroic impulses, this sonata is altogether singular, monumental to the point of bewilderment, bristling with learned devices like fugues and built on a plan so vast and intricate as to challenge the most sophisticated listener. The last three sonatas, while less extreme and forbidding, share many technical features with their predecessor (like the penchant for fugues),
and display the same transcendent individuality that would reach another zenith in the final string quartets. Though completed fully five years before Beethoven’s death, opp. 109, 110, and 111 have an ambience of finality that, I believe, is not simply a product of our retrospective viewpoint. In op. 111 particularly, Beethoven appears aware that his relationship with the piano sonata is coming to a close, and the heavenly farewell he offers seemed the inevitable choice for concluding this series as well.
Op. 2, No. 1
Some of Beethoven’s earliest published works, the opus 2 sonatas helped establish his status as a major figure in Vienna. They were dedicated to Joseph Haydn, his teacher at the time, and certainly their classical proportions of form and melody illustrate his roots in this style of music. The first movement is perhaps one of the easiest in which to identify sonata-allegro form aurally, with its three principal components: the exposition moving from the home key of F minor to the secondary key of A major; the development that quickly becomes unstable and moves through various keys; and the final section
(recapitulation), which begins unambiguously with the opening material in F minor and remains in that key to the end. The Adagio second movement, borrowing a theme from a piano quartet he had written as a teenager in Bonn, is in a modified sonata form that maintains two conflicting keys (the tonic of F major and dominant of C major) but forgoes a development section. Beethoven next inserts an additional movement–a minuet and trio–which was unusual for piano sonatas but not for symphonies and chamber music, a bold move for a young composer. The minuet and trio derives from an aristocratic French dance in triple meter; after a relaxed “trio,” the minuet returns. In subsequent works, Beethoven would transform this movement into a more intense and capricious Scherzo and Trio, as you will hear on tonight’s program. The Prestissimo fourth movement (in sonata-allegro form) gives intimations of his later passionate minor-key works. Note that the second key group is not at all lyrical, thus cautioning the listener not to over-generalize about characteristics of sonata form.
Op. 27, No. 1
The companion to the famous “Moonlight” sonata (op. 27, no. 2), this lesser known of the pair is likewise labeled quasi una fantasia, indicating a certain freedom of form.While technically a four-movement sonata, each movement leads into its successor without pause. The first movement foregoes sonata-allegro form in favor of a free quasi-rondo, with an allegro in the middle. It leads right into the Scherzo/Trio, after which a short, expressive third movement consists basically of two statements of a single theme. The jubilant fourth movement is a sonata-rondo, so defined by the presence of a harmonic struggle between tonic and dominant. Beethoven inserts a brief reminder of the third movement just before the Presto finish, adding coherence to the work as a whole. He will employ the same technique in op. 110.
After a tightly woven, almost peaceful sonata form and a more menacing Scherzo with Trio in the first two movements of this sonata, Beethoven embarks on a journey with indefinite signposts. The difficulty in counting the movements (are there two movements after the Scherzo? three? one?) illustrates one of many ways in which Beethoven has revolutionized the compositional process, as well as the listener’s expectations. Beethoven begins with a six-bar, improvisatory, inquisitive Adagio and Recitative, serving as a quasi-introduction.Without pause, he continues into the plaintive Arioso Dolente in A.minor, accompanied by palpable sobbing. The two sections combined form the sonata’s slow movement. Beethoven next leads from the Arioso directly into a fugue in A. major, which at first appears to be the commencement of a separate Finale (recall the similar transition heard in op. 27, no. 1). But a restatement of the Arioso material midway through the fugue indicates that the two “movements” cannot be so neatly distinguished; they must be heard as a coherent unit. A fugue within a sonata form is not unusual for late Beethoven; he includes one, for example, in the Hammerklavier op. 106 and his famous Grosse Fuge for string quartet. A stand-alone form in Bach’s day, the
fugue is a powerful musical statement with its complex weaving of themes. After the fugue is interrupted by the Arioso (in a new key – G minor), the music practically dissolves; the pieces get picked up by the return of the fugue in inversion. The fugue increases in speed and vigor, leading to a triumphant finish.
This work, uniquely within the cycle of 32, bore the title “Sonatina” in the first edition. Like the two sonatas, op. 49, it is frequently assigned to children, though I confess that I personally did not learn any of the three until recently. But while the op. 49 pair was in fact written much earlier than its opus number implies (opus numbers being assigned based on publication date, rather than date of composition), the number 79 accurately reflects this sonatina’s chronological position. Beethoven composed it, together with the preceding Sonata op. 78 and Fantasy op. 77, in fulfillment of a contract with the composer/publisher Muzio Clementi. The brevity of each work suggests that Beethoven wrote under time pressure; nonetheless all three are fresh and creative, lying outside the mainstream of his middle-period style. The lively Presto alla tedesca (that is to say, in the style of a rustic German dance) adheres to sonata-allegro form closely, with repeat signs for the exposition and also for the combined development and recapitulation — this sonata is the last to adhere to this old-fashioned practice. The jaunty themes are all designed to emphasize the 3/4 meter, relatively rare in first movements. Beethoven specifies the pedaling very precisely in the development to bring out some memorable shifts in color. The Andante second movement suggests a simple boating song in an unusual 9/8 meter. The closing Vivace is a light-footed, fleeting rondo, with a main theme whose descending bass line and airy feel anticipate the great opening of op. 109. But where op. 109 immediately complicates its theme with the intrusion of a neurotic
Adagio, op. 79 preserves an atmosphere of innocence and simple grace right to the end.
Despite its early date, op. 7 is one of Beethoven’s grandest and most expansive sonatas— this evening’s program shows that no simple progression from short and simple to long and complex exists in Beethoven’s output. Written for a talented student, Countess Babette von Keglevics, it creates technical demands as extreme as in the preceding sonata op. 2, no. 3: repeated notes, wide leaps, octaves, broken octaves, tremolos. But while op. 2, no. 3 sometimes veers towards showy excess, op. 7 is fully mature, with pianistic technique always in the service of higher musical ends. The first movement features a quiet but energetic opening. For the first time we witness Beethoven’s use of repeated notes to generate trembling excitement, a device that reaches an apex in the Waldstein and the Appassionata. As in a later E.major masterpiece, the Eroica Symphony, the long exposition includes a wealth of ideas, defying the textbook notion that sonata-allegro form implies two “themes,” one for the tonic and one for the dominant. Beethoven moves to the simple yet somewhat remote key of C major for the Largo. The main theme is a stately chorale, its rhythm interrupted by pauses in a way reminiscent of the first movement’s opening. At the top of the third movement Beethoven writes simply Allegro; apparently he had difficulty deciding whether to classify it as a minuet or a scherzo.While traditionally classical trios formed a haven of reduced tension, in this movement we find an exceptionally dark and troubled section in the uncommon key of E.minor. The Rondo
finale, while less imposing than the first movement, serves its function as denouement magnificently, with a tuneful, serene main theme and a stormy middle section whose angst gets resolved in a sublimely peaceful coda.
Op. 31, No. 3
Another impressive work in E., op. 31, no. 3 reveals Beethoven in the throes of the transition into his middle period. Like several of its immediate predecessors, this sonata experiments with the arrangement of movements, in this case eliminating the traditional Adagio and inserting both a scherzo and a minuet in the middle positions. The first movement dispenses with the stereotypical macho antics, beginning somewhat hesitantly on a highly anomalous chord (for theory buffs: a minor seventh chord in first inversion). Further strange harmonies follow, with a fateful ritardando notated above them; the tension having reached a maximum, Beethoven wittily resolves it with a nonchalant cadence, abruptly back in tempo. The theme’s inherent oddity is matched in its subsequent development, where fragments of it get transposed into different octaves scattered about the keyboard. The second theme moves forward more energetically, with less stopping and starting; still both themes share an insouciant quirkiness that permeates the movement. The form of the Scherzo does not conform to its title, since it is in 2/4, lacks a trio, and indeed follows the sonata-allegro model closely. The title simply reflects the movement’s jocular spirit, characterized like the first movement by comical hesitations, sudden outbursts, and shifts in register. The Menuetto is much more sedate,
and despite matching its title in form, serves (if anything does) as the sonata’s slow movement. In the Presto con fuoco Beethoven provides the unrelenting, impetuous energy that he withheld in the earlier movements; like the Scherzo, the Presto also illustrates the steady encroachment of sonata-allegro form into movements other than the
first. Despite the movement’s drama and vigor, its basic mood is friendly and upbeat, providing a stimulating conclusion to an evening’s music.
Op. 27, No. 2
The poet Ludwig Rellstab apparently coined the designation “Moonlight Sonata” in an 1832 description of this sonata’s first movement. Though not sanctioned by Beethoven (“Pathétique” and “Les Adieux” appear to be the only completely authentic nicknames), and scarcely appropriate to the later movements, the moniker has stuck. The first edition’s title page did in any event provide an interesting description of this work and its sibling, op. 27, no.1, dubbing both Sonata quasi una fantasia, which given the unusual layout of each sonata seems entirely fitting. At the top of the celebrated first movement Beethoven writes “this entire piece must be played very delicately and without dampers,” which is to say, with the right pedal depressed. Some controversy has arisen concerning whether Beethoven intended the pianist to keep the pedal down completely without interruption, or whether his indication allows for discreet foot-lifting when the harmonies change, in accordance with present-day standard practice. Unambiguous examples do exist where Beethoven specifies blurred pedaling through harmonic changes, in a manner that outraged contemporaries and frightens performers even today: op. 31, no. 2, op. 53, op. 57, op. 101, and the third piano concerto all provide notorious illustrations. To resolve the interpretive dilemma, performers certainly need to take into account the greater resonance of today’s instruments; the heavy pedaling that worked well on an 1800 piano produces more dubious results on a modern Steinway. Nonetheless, in this work and elsewhere I believe the performer should not be afraid of the dusky, exotic effects that can be achieved with a judicious adherence to the spirit of Beethoven’s markings. The second movement, a minuet and trio, Liszt famously described as a “flower between two abysses.” It provides some relief from the darkness of the outer movements, while also containing many intriguing details of articulation and dynamics. The finale takes the slow arpeggiated figures of the opening, approximately quadruples their speed and expands them into an explosively memorable theme — as so often in Beethoven, “theme” does not imply here “singable melody.” Unlike the first movement, it has an nambiguous sonata allegro form and clearly contains the sonata’s center of gravity.
The Moonlight Sonata’s immediate successor provides a striking contrast, despite its temporal proximity. The sobriquet “Pastoral” captures its gentle, lilting spirit well. In the first movement a constantly pulsating bass note (usually D) seems to foretell the timpani in the later violin concerto in the same key. In the development the pulsation settles in due course on F#, the arrival of which note brings music of rather violent obsessiveness. Eventually the music collapses, exhausted, back into D major and the recapitulation. An Andante, Scherzo, and Rondo follow next, in traditional sequence. The Andante is a stately and somber D minor, but of restrained emotionalism; the middle episode in the parallel major is relatively perky. The first movement’s pulsing left-hand figures recur here and through the remainder of the work. The “theme” of the scherzo consists simply of a single note placed in four different octaves successively, followed by straightforward arpeggiated figures in trochaic rhythm. The overall effect is lighthearted and somewhat eccentric. In the final movement one finds the same down-to-earth bonhomie as in the first, again grounded by a steadily pulsing D bass; the impression is of a musette, an unpretentious folk dance with bagpipes droning in the background.
Like the sonatas on this evening’s first half, op. 101 belongs to a transitional stage of Beethoven’s career, in this case between his middle and late periods; but the work certainly lacks nothing in assurance and joins comfortably with the four later sonatas to form the pianist’s royal family. The first movement pursues to an extraordinary extreme one of several threads running through Beethoven’s later works, the tendency towards formal compression (the subsequent Hammerklavier sonata takes an opposite tack, of course). Reminiscent of a Schumann character piece, the movement meanders through a sonata-allegro form whose outlines are obscured by an avoidance of conclusive cadences and forceful downbeats until the very end. The following march brings with it a jarring switch of mood: highly rhythmic, with abrupt switches of dynamics and articulation (including a passage of prolonged pedal of the sort mentioned earlier). The trio, much calmer, furnishes the strictest canon found in the entire cycle, indicative of the late Beethoven’s turn towards learned devices of venerable vintage. The gloomy slow movement leads, by way of a quotation from the first movement, into the final Allegro without pause; as in the Waldstein, the distinction between a separate Adagio and an introduction is blurred. Op. 101 displays clearly the growing dramatic significance of Beethoven’s finales. Like a stereotypically robust opener, this last movement employs a sonata-allegro form, atypical only in its use of a ferocious fugue in the parallel minor for a development. Far removed from a delicate early-classical rondo, this mighty conclusion joyfully reaffirms Beethoven’s compositional prowess while tormenting the performer with its convoluted fingerwork.
Op. 14, No. 2
Published in the same month as the renowned Pathétique Sonata, the two sonatas in op. 14 are much less ambitious technically, but nevertheless possess exemplary charm and poise. The second member of the pair is characterized by deliberately disorienting rhythmic trickery. Thus the first downbeat of the first movement falls on the melody’s fourth note, not on the sixth, as a careless performer or inattentive listener might imagine. Through much of the opening movement the left hand avoids playing on downbeats, contrary to everyday pianistic practice and contributing to the off-kilter feel. Similarly bewildering is the theme in the last movement with its hemiola, a rhythmic device beloved of Brahms but rare in Beethoven. Its occurrence leaves the listener uncertain whether to arrange beats in groups of three or two (three being correct, ultimately).
Between the outer movements one finds a theme and variations— the first occurrence of this form in any Beethoven sonata— which prefigures the Appassionata’s middle movement in many particulars: a theme consisting of simple middle-register chords, varied in a straightforward, progressively accelerating style. In this case the mood is considerably lighter, with a hilarious (as opposed to terrifying) ending.
This substantial work is the last of the traditionally configured four-movement sonatas of Beethoven’s early style. While filled with memorable gestures, the first movement contains hardly any theme qualifying as a singable melody; a listener can imagine strings, woodwinds, and horns in abundance, but vocalists are in effect banished to the second movement. The technically difficult opening lick, built from a rising and falling third, clearly prefigures on a reduced scale the Hammerklavier, Beethoven’s other B. sonata. The exposition’s closing theme, nothing more than a rising and falling scale in octaves, forms the principal building material for the development, where its constant recurrence creates an especially suspenseful retransition (the section leading back to the recapitulation and emphasizing dominant harmonies). Melodic writing abounds in the Adagio, one of Beethoven’s most operatic, Italianate movements. Surprisingly tragic and chromatic harmonies in the development also distinguish it from its aggressively triadbased predecessor. The Minuetto splits the difference, beginning tunefully, but introducing a variety of forceful Beethovenian flourishes as the movement unfolds. The relatively impassioned trio in G minor inspired a similar passage in Schumann’s Humoreske. Finally, the Rondo follows in the footsteps of op. 2, no. 2 and op. 7: spacious, gentle, with a minor-mode outburst in the middle section counterbalanced by a wonderfully tender closing gesture.
Op. 14, No. 1
While still exuding an unpretentious,18th-century aura, this sonata hints at future experiments with its abandonment of a slow movement. The musical texture is quite transparent throughout, and indeed Beethoven was later able to rearrange the work for string quartet with minimal effort— an unimaginable undertaking for a great majority of the sonata cycle. The first movement establishes a quartet-like feel from the outset, with a pulsing viola and cello supporting the first theme and a gracefully articulated violin solo in the second. Only in the development do we find explicitly pianistic writing. The second movement has the form and feel of a scherzo and features some brooding E-minor harmonies, but the easy-going Allegretto marking suggests that the performer should keep histrionic urges in check. The final Rondo is perhaps the least complex example of the form within the entire cycle, even the crisis in the middle section proving of quite modest proportions. Towards the end, however, hints of chromaticism and an excursion into F major point us gently in the direction of the evening’s final offering.
At the summit of Beethoven’s middle-period output, the so-called Appassionata maintains, despite much overuse and abuse, its ability to terrify and edify. Though of course distinctive in its emotional content, this sonata resembles the Waldstein, the Emperor Concerto, and the Fifth Symphony, in that it achieves its power by building massive edifices out of the most elementary materials. An arpeggio, a trill, and a dot-dot-dot-dash figure underlie the entire first movement, and similarly abbreviated lists can be drawn up for the remainder. The opening 13 bars are all pianissimo, with many silences, and a majority of the work as a whole occurs at dynamic 13 levels of piano or lower; but the unrelenting rhythmic energy (sometimes explicitly signaled with repeated notes) and carefully apportioned fortissimo paroxysms imbue the soft sections with steely strength. As frequently happens, counting themes in the exposition is a largely arbitrary exercise, but I might propose five basic subsections: the opening theme in F minor, presenting the three main motives mentioned above; a transition in A.minor, recognizable by the persistently repeating E.in the left hand; an all-too-brief, lyrical A.major theme, a modified inversion of the opening; a relatively prolonged outburst back in A.minor, with swirling sixteenth-note arpeggios and tremolos; and a codetta lasting just five bars in which the preceding material subsides. The development proceeds along somewhat parallel lines, but with an almost continual crescendo that explodes cataclysmically before reaching the fourth subsection. A recapitulation follows that, compared with the exposition, suggests a landscape greatly altered by a recent conflagration. Although relative normalcy eventually returns, the coda brings a re-enactment of the development’s calamitous buildup (briefly interrupted). Ultimately the movement collapses in exhaustion. The Andante’s dignified variations provide, in their simplicity, some relief from the wild mood swings that preceded. The course of action echoes op. 14, no. 2’s gentle Andante right up until the last chord, when we are abruptly and horrifyingly hurled forward into the finale. No light rondo this, but a madly motoric perpetual motion machine whose sixteenth notes pause only during the retransition. Very unusually, Beethoven explicitly requests that the development plus recapitulation be repeated while the exposition remains unrepeated—accordingly the listener must endure the most emotionally violent fluctuations twice. In the coda, the rage and despair of everything hitherto heard comes crashing in around us; while many middle-period works come to
uplifting conclusions, Beethoven shows that his potent methods can be applied in the opposite direction, with the most devastating results.
Op. 2, No. 2
Tonight’s program begins with two relatively light and witty sonatas. Like its two companions in Beethoven’s debut set, op. 2, no. 2 is dedicated to Joseph Haydn, and this sonata shows the older master’s influence most clearly. We hear this right from the start, where a waggish dialog occurs between brief motives, separated by silences. Rhythmically and texturally the greatest variety exists, with deliberately placed staccato quarter notes yielding successively to brief thirty-second note bursts, silkily legato eighth notes, and upward-rushing sixteenth-note triplets. In the development, a long fortissimo passage and some contrapuntal writing produce a certain drama, but the basic spirit of drollery persists. The good humor should, one hopes, conceal the many severe challenges that the performer is sweating through. The Largo contains many imaginative textures, influenced by string-quartet writing. A basic chorale, enhanced by cello-like pizzicatos, alternates with various smooth and tender episodes. The last two movements anticipate Schubert’s music remarkably, despite predating his birth by two years; the resemblance of op. 2, no. 2’s Scherzo to the corresponding movement in Schubert’s great A-major sonata suggests a direct influence. The Rondo’s expansively lyrical theme calls the finale of the same Schubert work to mind as well, although of course many uniquely Beethovenian touches occur: the gigantic downward leap at said theme’s outset, the A-minor flare-up later on, and the rather extravagant developments that the opening gestures undergo as the movement progresses.
Op. 31, No. 1
Although the transition to Beethoven’s middle period was well underway when op. 31, no. 1 was written, this sonata is formally relatively conservative, and its lightheartedness belies the emotional turmoil that increasing deafness wrought. Legend has it that the first movement was inspired by a student who could never play with her hands together; whether true or not, the effect of the right hand’s stubborn anticipation of the left by one sixteenth note is utterly comical, as are the many rests, shifts of dynamic, and sudden eruptions of passagework. Two harmonic features of the movement look ahead to the Waldstein: a sudden lurch downward by a major second after the opening phrase, and an upward move through the exposition as a whole by a third, instead of by the traditional fifth. The persistent vacillation between B major and B minor in the latter half of the exposition and a clash between D and E.right before the recapitulation also contribute to the general harmonic topsy-turvydom. The middle movement pays tribute, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, to Italian opera and a decorated style of singing that by 1802 was already becoming dated. The combination of a lyrical right hand with pizzicatos in the left makes challenging finger and pedal work for the pianist. The genial rondo that follows mostly eschews the absurdities of the first movement, though echoes of its chronic indecision between major and minor exist. Charles Rosen has found in this movement the formal model for the same Schubert A-major rondo mentioned in connection with op. 2, no. 2; particularly notable are the parallel endings, where in both cases numerous hesitations and shifts between Adagio and Allegretto precede a final Presto flurry.
The opening bars of this sonata, apparently derived from op. 79’s cheerful finale, may at first seem to continue the light mood of this concert’s previous constituents, but within 10 bars any misconceptions about the work’s character are dispelled by the arrival of a pathos-infused Adagio espressivo. The extreme contrast between this movement’s two principal themes is unprecedented, particularly given how the sonata-allegro form’s compression brings them into such close proximity. Thanks to its slower tempo and its gradual disintegration into unmetered scales, the Adagio lasts longer, but soon enough it leads right back to the first theme, out of which the entire gradually crescendoing development is built. The alternations continue through the recapitulation and into the coda, where a simple chorale suddenly emerges and helps to reconcile the movement’s disparate ingredients. Without any intervening silence, the Prestissimo now bursts upon us. The movement’s position, tempo, and 6/8 meter suggest a scherzo heritage, but the actual form is more of a sonata-allegro with an abbreviated development. The recapitulation arrives in a way no less startling than the exposition did the first
time around. Having detonated his fireworks, Beethoven now closes the sonata with the most heavenly imaginable variation set— most heavenly, that is, until we encounter the set written just two years later for the conclusion of op. 111. The harmonies and rhythms of the theme along with correspondences between certain variations suggest that Bach’s Goldberg Variations must have been on Beethoven’s mind as he wrote. Unlike any of the
instances of the form found in earlier sonatas (opp. 14, no. 2, 26, and 57), these variations disassemble and reassemble the theme in profound and diverse ways; ultimately they seem to extract the theme’s very essence. Particularly noteworthy is the sixth and final variation: though its opening can easily be mistaken for the theme’s return, we gradually become aware of unanticipated pulsing B.’s, which accelerate steadily even as fragments of the main melody continue on an imperturbable course. Ultimately the B’s evolve into trills that permeate the rest of the variation; other voices meanwhile trace out the movement’s main harmonic ideas. Having become fairly agitated, the music gradually subsides, leading us into the theme’s true return: a final retrospective moment of
awe-inspiring tranquility, wistfulness, and sagacity.
Op. 10, No. 1
In the early Classical period it was common practice for composers to publish sonatas or string quartets in groups, often in threes or sixes. The early Beethoven adhered to the same tradition, so that no fewer than 15 of the 32 piano sonatas belong to such collections. As I was arranging the concerts for this series, the desire for varied programs necessitated breaking most of the groupings up, but it seemed a shame not to include at least one of them intact. Given its diversity, coherence, and power, the opus 10 set proved a natural choice. The three sonatas were among several works dedicated to Countess Anna Margarete von Browne, whose Irish husband was one of Beethoven’s major patrons. As recompense for these compositions Browne had presented the composer with a fine horse, but Beethoven, typically absent-minded, promptly forgot about the horse’s existence, thereby allowing his servant to make off with the animal. As in the case of op. 2, Beethoven incorporated into op. 10 three works with highly individual profiles, the first being impassioned, the second comical, and the third imposingly monumental. The first two pull back from the extreme elongation of their predecessors in opp. 7 and 2, being the first that Beethoven wrote with the traditional three movements. The
third sonata, however, fits into his usual symphonic mold. Op. 10, no. 1 is, among the sonatas, the first exemplar of Beethoven’s C minor mood, and while it lacks the maturity of opp. 13 and 111, it shares their vigorous, abrupt type of passion. In the first movement an angular main theme eventually yields to more lyrical thoughts in the relative major — but only temporarily. The rests that in other works have a comic effect are used here for ominous and suspenseful purposes. The Adagio is a simple tune with, by Beethoven’s standards, florid decorations. By contrast the closing Prestissimo is exceptionally tense and compressed. Its ending has great harmonic significance: the fact that the final chord is major rather than minor would seem to align it with the time-honored tradition of the “Picardy third,” but since Beethoven clearly felt uncomfortable with the facile resolution of tension implied by this custom, he surrounded the closing C major chords with minor chords based on F. A poignant tonal and emotional ambiguity results. Similar tricks are found closing out the first movement of op. 111 (bars which Chopin in turn purloined for his Revolutionary Etude), and in the finale of the string quartet op. 131.
Op. 10, No. 2
The hesitation between minor and major at the close of op. 10, no. 1 leads nicely into the jocose opening of its successor. This first movement treads in the footsteps of op. 2, no. 2, with its tiny thematic cells separated by Haydnesque silences, its variety of rhythms and articulations, and its brusque shifts of dynamic level. A particularly elaborate joke occurs at the recapitulation, where Beethoven gets “stuck” in the wrong key, and seems to realize the mistake only belatedly, halfway through the main theme. After a puzzled silence, the composer makes a few hasty harmonic adjustments to lurch himself back into the desired F major. The middle Allegretto, like the later Allegretto from op. 14, no. 1, seems a hybrid between a slow movement and a scherzo. The mood contrasts sharply with the outer movements: somber, verging occasionally on anguished. The boisterous fugal finale recalls Haydn’s jesting string quartets; the skillful counterpoint and formidable demands on the performer, while certainly present, get forgotten amid the general hilarity.
Op. 10,No. 3
This sonata combines the drama of op. 10, no. 1 with the wit of no. 2 to create an imposing masterpiece, considered by many to represent Beethoven’s coming of age. The headlong first movement’s energy derives not only from the quick tempo and driving rhythmic motion, but also from its obsessive use of a few basic motives. In particular the descending figure of four notes heard at the outset can be spotted in every nook. The staggering pathos of the ensuing Largo appears in startling contrast. While Beethoven employed chromaticism to no greater extent than his predecessors, his circumspect use of it at the most emotionally charged moments creates heartrending effects. To lead us away from this tragic scene, Beethoven provides a perfectly suited, gently consoling minuet that in due course becomes more boisterous; by the time we reach the trio the music’s vigor is completely restored. There follows a light-hearted and yet at the same time substantial Rondo; it shares with op. 10, no. 2 a mastery of brusque comic effects, but the sophistication and sturdiness of its construction foreshadows the mighty finales that became standard in Beethoven’s later output.
Op. 31, No. 2
Charles Rosen observes that if, as legend has it, Beethoven pointed to Shakespeare’s Tempest as the inspiration for this sonata, then he cannot have read anything beyond that play’s title. At any rate, the first movement’s tempestuousness warrants the nickname. The total absence of material in the major mode contributes to the movement’s storminess (the initial A major chord serves only a very temporary dominant function); the shifts between foreboding Largo and turbulent Allegro in the main theme also play a part. This latter device, foreshadowing in a way the schizoid tempos of op. 109, also builds on the process found in the Pathétique where introductory material gets integrated into the sonata-allegro structure. In the recapitulation the Largo is memorably expanded into an eerie recitative, where the long pedal creates a sepulchral atmosphere. Like the first movement, the second begins with an arpeggiated major chord, but this time it heralds a soothingly restful B.major tonality that holds sway for nearly the entire movement. At significant junctures one hears low drum rolls that suggest a solemn, distant military parade. The perpetual-motion finale has a texture that is quite uniform and almost wispy; but as in the first movement the unrelieved minor harmonies (including quite alien tonalities like B.minor) create a very troubled mood. At the end the music disperses, will-o’-the-wisp-like, with its psychological issues vexingly unresolved.
An experimental, almost anomalous work with uncertain origins and no dedicatee, op. 54 lies in relative obscurity between two massive siblings, the Waldstein and the Appassionata; nonetheless, it is a work of considerable importance, loved by many connoisseurs. The opening minuet (!) seems considerably removed from its 18th-century ancestors, preserving the meter but little of the original dancing quality. The main theme is built from extremely spare ingredients whose interest, as in op. 31, no. 3, derives largely from their juxtaposition in widely separated registers. The contrasting “trio,” with which the opening material alternates repeatedly, is an initially rather bumptious passage in octaves, which by the close becomes reconciled with the main theme in a beautiful way. The Allegretto finale is one of several in perpetual motion (consider the op. 31, no. 2 sonata just heard and the Appassionata that follows chronologically). This example sports a number of unique quirks: recurring accents in offbeat places, ensuring that no listener is lulled to sleep by the ceaseless thrumming of sixteenths; a greatly extended development section exploring all manner of distant keys; and a memorable coda that preserves the sixteenth motion but hurtles forward, Più Allegro, to an exciting conclusion.
Fittingly, the creation of this magnum opus required a lengthy period of Herculean struggle. But its publication in 1819 broke a compositional logjam, bringing with it a burst of creativity that filled the remaining decade of Beethoven’s life. In accordance with a passing preference, Beethoven used German rather than Italian or French vocabulary on the title page, writing Grosse Sonate für das Hammerklavier: large
sonata for the piano (or hammer-keyboard, if we translate the atypical term literally). Particularly given that the same designation appeared at the top of op. 101, the application of the last word of this inscription to op. 106 seems quite arbitrary; nonetheless, a work of this significance obviously required an impressivesounding nickname, and Hammerklavier fit the bill. The structure of this self-consciously heroic work refers back, with its four full-scale movements, to the early sonatas, although Beethoven rather atypically places the scherzo ahead of the Adagio. The first movement proclaims its own importance immediately with a titanic fanfare, launched by a fearsome leap in the left hand. The tempo is lively: indeed, Beethoven’s metronome indications throughout the sonata are so fast that performers and scholars have long debated whether Beethoven could possibly have meant them seriously. The unresolvable nature of the dispute shows how misguided the hopes were that the invention of the metronome would resolve the uncertainty surrounding tempos; perhaps it is fortunate that Beethoven did not bother with these numbers in any other sonata. In any event, the Hammerklavier’s first movement is constructed, like many of his grandest creations, from a few basic ideas: the falling third of the opening motto determines the movement’s inexorable downward progression of keys; the motto’s other interval, the minor second, also surfaces in countless guises, including a long-term conflict between B.and B.. The inescapable sense of uncompromising monumentality has many causes: the relentless rhythmic energy, the numerous fortissimos and sforzandos, the massive chordal writing covering the breadth of the keyboard, the abrupt shifts of key, and the dense counterpoint, particularly in the development’s fugue. The scherzo obsessively employs a motive palpably derived from the first movement’s motto, in a rhythmic pattern identical to op. 54’s minuet. The trio, far removed from the genial prototype, is shadowy and sinister, with a violent dissolution before the scherzo’s return. The movement’s close displays in particularly brutal form
the battle between B.and B. inherited from the first movement. The immense Adagio unfolds in the unexpected, mournful key of F. minor. The structure is actually a sonata-allegro, a form obscured however by the great length of time expended in the exposition, the brevity of the development, and the layers of thirty-second notes enshrouding the recapitulation’s arrival. In many places, Beethoven specifies careful use of the una corda pedal, which in his day was able to shift the hammers over to a point where they struck just one string instead of three (hence the name). The modern left pedal is actually less versatile than Beethoven’s, since it can only reduce the number of struck strings to two. This issue is just one of many where adjustments and compromises must be made to accommodate present-day instruments. A perplexing transition follows the vast, timeless conclusion of the Adagio. Almost devoid of bar-lines, it stumbles from chord to chord, and twice bursts forth with what sound like rediscovered sketches for preludes by J. S. Bach. The staggering chords eventually pick up speed and propel us into the infamous fugal finale, the most imposing of the many fugues found in late Beethoven. Though raised on the Well-Tempered Clavier, Beethoven was not entirely comfortable writing fugues early in his career, and even his later instances of the genre have a
certain angularity. But they serve their dramatic purposes well, displaying an abundance of sheer energy and will. This movement serves as an encyclopedia of Beethoven’s contrapuntal techniques, employing all manner of clever devices to vary the impetuous, winding subject (at one point he even has the pianist play it backwards). Despite one gentle interlude, the energy level remains high throughout, and it is safe to assume that by the end of this tour de force the performer and audience will be as exhausted as Beethoven himself must have been after composing it.
Op. 49, No. 1
The two sonatas op. 49 were published under the title “Deux Sonates Faciles” in 1805, some ten years after their completion — thus their opus numbers do not reflect accurately their early position in the canon. It appears that Beethoven had dismissed them as juvenalia unworthy of publication, but that his brother sent the manuscripts to the publisher behind his back. The sonatas are at any rate now admirable staples of the children’s repertoire. Op. 49, no. 1 in particular is a sophisticated work, beginning with a sweet-tempered Andante in sonata-allegro form that requires considerable tonal and articulatory control from the performer. The melody’s elegance and its frequent accompaniment by rolling left hand patterns à la Alberti suggest Mozart’s influence perhaps more than in any other early sonata. A sprightly Rondo follows, with a great variety of touches and, in spite of the bouncing, considerable lyricism.
Op. 49, No. 2
This straightforward work has something of the flavor of a composition exercise; Beethoven did not trouble, for instance, to add dynamic or other expressive marks. The arrangement of the movements is actually less unusual than we might imagine, having precedents in Haydn. The Allegro proceeds vivaciously, touching all the bases of
sonata-allegro form with dispatch. In the gracious Tempo di Menuetto the composer evidently saw enough merit that he re-used the theme for his Septet, op. 20. This sort of self-plagiarism was rare for Beethoven, except when he was salvaging from youthful works that he had no intention of publishing.
More than four years separated this sonata from the preceding op. 81a, and by this time it was apparently clear to Beethoven that his middle-period methods could no longer be successfully sustained. Op. 90 is an experimental work, with its two movements in a fast-slow configuration seen previously only in the juvenile op. 49, no. 2. This experiment would of course prove fruitful, having op. 111 and (less obviously) op. 109 among its progeny. The first movement’s main theme has a rhythm and descending bass line suggesting a noble chaconne of Baroque provenance. Beethoven’s own personality naturally remains much in evidence, particularly when subito forte chords and descending scales interrupt the theme’s orderly progress. A yearning second theme eventually emerges over one of Beethoven’s hellishly difficult stretched-out variants on the old-fashioned Alberti bass. An inconclusive, forlorn conclusion to the first movement leads into the endearingly meandering finale, its predecessor’s opposite in mode (major instead of minor), melodic shape (based mostly on upward-pointing gestures instead of downward), and mood (even-tempered instead of volatile). Arthur Rubinstein dismissed the movement as sprawling and repetitious, but in its artless spaciousness it looks forward to the Romantic era as much as anything heard in this cycle.
Count Ferdinand von Waldstein was one of Beethoven’s longest-standing friends, a patron since his teenage years in Bonn who had eventually followed him to Vienna. Though their relationship had cooled by 1803, considerable affection apparently remained, so that Waldstein found himself the recipient of one of music history’s greatest gifts: the sonata op. 53, dedicated to him and thereafter known by his name. In the Waldstein’s opening Allegro, the repeated notes that had appeared in accompanying roles to great effect in op. 7 and op. 28 have been transformed into a potent foundational principle — a “theme” of an incredibly primitive yet effective kind. Many concepts explored in the op. 31 set now come to fruition: the harmonic plan of the clownish op. 31, no. 1, the driving stretches of uninterrupted eighths or sixteenths from op. 31, no. 2, and the registral shifts of op. 31, no. 3. The first group of themes, starting in C major, is of such intensity that a radical contrast is required in the second group, in E: a pared-down chorale, legato and in long note-values, serves this function. Soon enough the frenzied motion resumes, however, with triplet and then sixteenth-note material harmonically so simple as to verge on triviality. The same manic momentum, with only occasional letups, carries us right through the development, recapitulation, and coda, leaving the listener by the end breathless, astonished by the potency of such seemingly rudimentary ideas. For the Waldstein’s second movement Beethoven originally composed a pastoral Andante, longish and a bit fuddy-duddy. Fortunately friends were able to persuade Beethoven that this proposed movement was out of place, inspiring him to replace it with a new Adagio, only 28 bars long and marked as an introduction to the rondo finale. (The Andante eventually got published separately under the title Andante favori.) With its somber
and foreboding chromaticism, the Adagio provides the precisely suitable, subdued level of tension, tension that bridges the gap between the outer movements and that the glorious rondo can resolve with cathartic effect. The Rondo, like the opening Allegro, is built in the most basic of keys (C major) from the most basic of materials. The celestial opening 24 bars are constructed with just three chords: C major, G7, and C minor. Undoubtedly the pedal effects specified by Beethoven add to the magic of these measures; as frequently occurs, he demands that the foot remain down through various harmonic changes in a way that all our piano teachers have explicitly forbidden. The rondo proceeds in the usual way, with two important crises to overcome, a shorter
A-minor one and a much more protracted one in C minor. At various exuberant moments the theme reappears accompanied by a trill in the alto voice; this ebullient but (for the performer’s fingers) frightening device will recur in the last sonatas as well. One of these moments leads into a frenzy of passagework, a temporary subsidence of activity, and the sudden onset of the coda. Marked Prestissimo, it transforms the theme into an exultant whirl of activity. Halfway through it, we find a passage notorious among pianists: a set of glissandos to be played in octaves, first by the right hand, then by the left in turn. These were easier to play on the shallower, narrower keys of Beethoven’s day, and if necessary a modern pianist can cheat, rearranging the fingerings to avoid them. But if the hand is large enough, the performer can achieve a marvelously scintillating effect with Beethoven’s original configuration. After the glissandi, more trills follow which in due course build up to the theme’s final triumph and to a long string of C major chords that round the work out. Beethoven thus transcends human neuroses and reaffirms the redemptive power of music’s most fundamental forces.
The most famous of Beethoven’s early piano works, the three-movement Pathétique sonata reveals an originality and aesthetic power unequaled by any other composer of his day. The degree of pathos infusing the sonata serves to link the three movements together: the outer movements being grave and turbulent, the middle movement
comforting, with a beautiful, almost Romantic, lyricism. The first movement begins with an introduction that recurs throughout the sonata-allegro. The second and third movements are both rondos; the middle section of the second is more troubled, while the middle section of the third becomes more relaxed. Beethoven reserved the key of C minor for some of his most intense or agitated works, inspiring others to reflect on his “C minor mood” (consider the fifth symphony or op. 111). Given this, one cannot help but
speculate that when he wrote the Pathétique, he felt the earliest signs he was losing his hearing. He first spoke of his condition discreetly to a friend two years after the sonata was completed, but there is some indication he was aware of the problem since at least 1796.We can only imagine the devastating realization, particularly since he was poised for a meteoric career. Faced with deafness, did he wonder if he would have to give up being a musician? “I must confess that I am living a miserable life. For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. If I had any other profession it would be easier, but in my profession it is a terrible handicap. As for my enemies, of whom I have a fair number, what would they say?” (Beethoven, in a letter to FranzWegeler, 1801)
During the years 1800-02, a burst of piano sonatas appeared in which Beethoven experimented further with the conventions of sonata form. In some, the movements run together; in others, the weight of the first movement shifts to the last.With each piano sonata, his imposing originality becomes increasingly clear. It cannot be altogether surprising, then, that Beethoven wrote a few sonatas that lack a sonata-allegro in any movement, as is the case with op. 26. After an initial, serene theme with variations (a formal process that achieved profound importance in Beethoven’s last piano works), a carefree Scherzo leads, quite unexpectedly, to a funeral march and trio. Perhaps this movement provided Beethoven a model for the more famous funeral march in his Eroica Symphony (1803). The combination of this movement with the following motoric finale surely was in the back of Chopin’s consciousness when he composed his B.minor Sonata.
After Napoleon besieged Vienna in May of 1809, the ruling nobility fled, in spite of the city mounting a lengthy defense. Beethoven stayed in the city, but the booming cannons caused his sensitive eardrums a great deal of pain. Among those who fled was one of Beethoven’s great patrons, his friend and student the Archduke Rudolph, who would only return to the city after a nine-month exile. During this time, while anticipating a joyous homecoming and the political stability it represented, Beethoven wrote his Les Adieux sonata, the only one with explicitly programmatic elements. Each movement has a title: Das Lebewohl (The Goodbye), Abwesenheit (The Absence), and DasWiedersehen (The Reunion). A short adagio introduces the first movement, with an opening horn-like motive of three notes identified as the “Le-be-wohl.” Beethoven uses this motive as the primary building block for the movement, deriving every theme from it. The sonata-allegro in this movement would be as close to textbook form as Beethoven gets, were
it not for a coda that is longer than the exposition and development combined. In the second movement, Beethoven expresses his loneliness with a free, meandering mixture of two musical ideas. The first of these jars the listener with liberal use of anguished diminished seventh chords. The second one, though restful and lyrical, is only fleeting. The middle movement leads without pause to the jubilant Wiedersehen. The energetic rush of notes in the introduction establishes a celebratory mood that continues all the way to the end of the piece.
In the wake of familiar masterpieces like the Waldstein and Appassionata, as well as many of his symphonies, Beethoven composed this condensed, almost modest work, dedicated to his pupil Therese von Brunswick. The sonata’s brevity and gentleness might suggest that he intended it for the amateur pianist—but don’t be fooled. The unusual, bright key of F# major produces many awkward configurations, and the patterns involving alternating hands certainly lay beyond the reach of early nineteenth-century pianists of average ability. A short introduction leads into the sonata-allegro form, where both first and second key areas have lyrical themes. For almost the last time in his career, Beethoven indicates a repeat of the second section (the development and recapitulation combined), a standard practice in Mozart’s time that was expiring under the pressure of ever longer and more dramatic developments and codas. In the lively second movement we see characteristics of a rondo where the primary theme recurs in varied keys, although, as usual, labels like these belie the movement’s ingenuity and variety.
Op. 2, No. 3
Even in this early work, Beethoven’s treatment of sonata form defies easy categorization. As expected, the exposition begins in C major and ends in G major, but along the way we find a surprisingly long transitional excursion into G minor, and at one point after G major’s arrival material from the C major section threatens to reverse the normal progression of keys. Shortly into the development section, a false recapitulation arrives in D (not C) major, which quickly results in further, tumultuous instability. The relief experienced when the correct key returns in the true recapitulation proves short-lived, for just as Beethoven appears ready to wrap things up, he jolts us with a harmonically unexpected A.major chord. The prolonged coda that follows, complete with cadenza, hints at the proportions found in many later works, such as op. 81a. Needless to say, the tonic key ultimately triumphs, and the movement closes in C major. The second movement is a modified rondo in the remote key of E major; Beethoven shows particular
fondness for the poignant second theme in E minor, giving it at least twice as much time as the opening idea and developing it more thoroughly. The playful third-movement Scherzo alternates between C major and C minor before moving into an agitated trio, a far cry from the typical, modest galant dances one might expect pre-Beethoven. The fourth movement resolves most of the preceding tensions, with a jovial, brilliant, and showy Rondo.
“Transcendent” is a word often used to describe Beethoven’s last piano sonata, composed just five years before his death at the age of 56. His publishers and assistants asked whether he intended a third movement, but sketches of the sonata indicate clearly that such a plan was never in consideration. Besides, as Thomas Mann’s teacher in Doctor Faustus aptly observes, how could any music possibly follow the premonitions of greatness and death that infuse the second movement? The startling introduction, with its diminished seventh chords and French-overture rhythms, does not clearly establish Beethoven’s favorite turbulent key of C minor until the rumblings of a dominant chord lead into the exposition. The predominant motive recurs throughout the exposition, even after the second key area (a somewhat unexpected A.major) is established. During the brief development, the music evolves into a fughetta using a rhythmically augmented version of the opening theme. The recapitulation arrives in a furious C minor, with double octaves; the second theme group, slightly longer than in the exposition, hesitates between C major and C minor, an ambiguity that continues into the brief, enigmatic Coda. The final Adagio is an Arietta and six variations, a genre Beethoven favored somewhat in his later years (op. 109 and the monumental Diabelli variations date from this period). The theme’s stately, gentle rhythms based on triplets speed up progressively in subsequent variations, resulting in a swinging, accented pattern in the third one that is strikingly similar to future boogie-woogie. Calm returns in variation four though, somewhat paradoxically, the accelerated motion continues in the background, eventually culminating in trills. From this point to the end of the movement, the music exudes a degree of peaceful serenity as to suggest that Beethoven has transcended his many physical woes and entered a world of the mind and spirit alone. This is some of the most sublime music ever written, and provides the most fitting possible close to this exploration of Beethoven’s many-faceted, ever fresh, challenging, and fulfilling piano sonatas.