The Volume IV of the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas
series by David Ezra Okonsar featuring Sonatas N. 11, 12, 13 and 14
Sonata N.11 in B-flat major op.22
"Grande sonate pour le pianoforte, dediee a M. le Comte de Browne,
brigadier au service de Sa Majeste Imperiale de toute la Russie" is the
complete title for this work composed from 1799 to 1800 and published
in 1802 by Hoffmeister in Leipzig. This is also the publisher of the
Symphony N.1 in C major which is composed around the same dates.
It is probable that Beethoven did not drafted this piano sonata in such
large dimensions, but re-worked and expanded it later before its
publication. It is the largest work of the so-called "first-style" of
Also is interesting to note that this form of a large sonata in four
movements will reappear later in only a few more piano sonatas, among
them the Sonata opus 28 and the "Hammerklavier" Sonata opus 106.
Jorg Demus pointed that "this particular form of Sonata in four
movements which was almost abandoned by Beethoven, will precisely
become the shape of the romantic sonata as it is seen in the late works
by Schubert, all sonatas by Schumann, Chopin and Brahms."
Beethoven appears here in the historical continuity of Haydn and
Mozart, but the extremely epic musical discourse of this opus is on
"Particularly well-done" did say the composer about that sonata. Its
main feature is nevertheless the pianistic "brio" and it may be seen as
a definitive "adieu" to the Haydn-Mozart style.
I. Allegro con brio
The leaping musical "cell", animated with a four-notes long inner
voice, embodies all the dynamic energy of the movement. Immediately
appears right from the beginning of the first movement a rich and
majestic grandeur. We often witness a sound like a piano part over an
orchestral accompaniment. The entire movement has a subjugating and
undefeatable power all through.
In the warm and grandiose tonality of E-flat major, the one of the
Sonata opus 7, a magnificent melody is deployed over soft repeated
strings-section like chords, as if a solo clarinet part, of most
The movement is in a sonata-form of its own. The second theme is with
thirds, fourths and sixths with rich dissonances throughout. At the end
of the exposition of this "mini-sonata-movement" a most intriguing
modulation to G major creates an almost "Wagnerian" chromaticism.
III. Tempo di menuetto
Not really a Menuetto but "in the tempo of a Menuetto", this movement
realizes an interesting amalgam between the Rococo style with the
typical upbeat of three notes and many appoggiaturas, and the majestic
mood of the Court dance.
The "Trio", however is even less conventional. It is taken "forte" in G
minor with running sixteenth notes through two octaves. The repeat, "da
capo", of the Tempo di Menuetto creates then a feeling of a strong
contrast as an "after-effect".
The Finale is an
imposing final Rondo with a sure pianistic effect.
The principal theme, in a fluid legato style, sometimes detache, is
characteristic with its broken octaves at the right hand and parallel
sixths at the left.
The second theme, more restraint, is followed by a third one, extremely
fluid and animated.
A higher level of harmonic complexity is attained in the development,
vast and somewhat contrapuntal in its writing, calling for a high level
of virtuosity. This brings out the full expanded re-exposition of the
second theme, this time fortissimo. The coda reminds the very first
theme in pianissimo, but the Sonata ends fortissimo.
Sonata N.12 in A-flat major op.26
Dedicated to the prince Karl von Lichnowsky, this Sonata was published
in 1802 by Cappi in Vienna. The first drafts were penned in 1800 and
the Sonata was probably finished during 1801.
The title given by Beethoven to the third movement: "Marcia funebre
sulla morte d'un Eroe" was already there in the drafts of 1800.
This shows that the Funeral March has been prepared since the early
conception of the work and was not inserted afterwards as it has been
alleged sometimes. However the (final) Allegro was first put before the
Funeral March and later the composer changed this to be the last
Many noted the analogies between this and the Funeral March of the
Eroica Symphony, started at 1802 but finished two years later and the
very famous one of Chopin, Sonata in B-flat minor.
Chopin, himself played this Beethoven Sonata on some occasions.
In all cases, this Sonata, the Eroica Symphony and the Chopin Sonata,
it is interesting to note that the Scherzo is placed as a second
movement, before the Funeral March and both Chopin and Beethoven
Sonatas end with a fast Allegro (or Presto, in the case of Chopin).
The "Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung", in 1802 wrote: "May be some
passages are over-worked (i.e. too sophisticated). But this is a piece
with a grandiose harmony, dark and beautiful, because there, everything
which is elaboration and art is required for the expression."
I. Andante con Variazioni
Breaking with the traditional "Sonata-Allegro" form, Beethoven opens
the piece with a series of variations. Andre Boucourechliev noted that
in those variations Beethoven breaks with the traditional, classical,
"ornamental" variations where a single melody (theme) is maintained
during the set and embellished throughout. This set, notes
Boucourechliev, is the precursor of these big, magnificent variation
sets which are to come later.
The theme is a calm and deep melody presented with both hands at unison
octaves. Very close to the Impromptu op.142 n.2 by Schubert, this
melody, notes Paul Badura-Skoda, maintains the spirit of a Lied all
through the set.
The first variation is a deployment of the harmonic structure and the
second is a splendid animation on syncopes at both hands. The third
variation in A-Flat minor prefigures the Funeral March by its
lugubrious setting. A kind of Scherzo is the idea of the fourth
variation, presented with subtle rhythmic and metric finesse, almost
pianissimo all through. The last number re-states the theme with
sublime figurations and embellishments at the right hand playing both
the melody and the figurations over fluid left hand arpeggios. The
Coda, calm and serene, closes the first movement "senza sordino" that
is with pedale. All variations are in the 3/8 time signature of the
II. Scherzo, Allegro molto
Brisk and leaping, the Scherzo is built on a simple raising scale
motive. Developed by the use of diatonic thirds, this simple scale
fragment is loaded with awesome energy. The Trio is a kind of
"berceuse" with legato octaves.
III. Marcia funebre (Maestoso)
This Funeral March has been played at the composer's funerals. This is
a sublime Funeral march and its orchestral scoring has been
transcribed, easily, to walking bands and all kinds of orchestral
The lugubrious main melody on A-flat minor articulated on one
single note (E-flat) modulates over a cycle of sometimes very far
fetched keys using enharmonic relations. Therefore we get C-flat major,
B minor and major, D major, E-flat minor and so on.
The central part is even more orchestral in its writing. Military drums
with tremolos, brass instruments sforzato chords depict clearly war
scenes and heroism. The Coda which concludes the movement is harmonized
with an incredible chromaticism and seems to float between minor and
major before settling down in a calm and serene A flat major which
achieves the epic story.
A very elegant theme made of broken chords, somewhat in the style of an
Etude by Cramer brings the listener out of the dark atmosphere of the
Following such an epic, Legend-like, grandiose and sad Marcia Funebre,
this last movement may seem somewhat casual. It sounds to me as if life
is getting back to its "normal" course.
The movement is built without any variations of the theme, as a simple
and straightforward Rondo. Yet the ending still reminds the minor sound
colors of the Funeral March by the apparitions of G-flat and F-flat
notes within the prevailing A-flat major and its conclusion is by a
straight fall into the low keys.
Sonata N.13 in E-flat major op.27 n.1 "Quasi una
Composed in 1801 and 1802, published the same year in Vienna, both
Sonatas opus 27 were dedicated to the Princesse Joséphine von
Liechtenstein and share a common subtitle: "Quasi una fantasia".
The dedication of the second number of the series, the famous
"Moonlight", will be later changed to the Countess Giulietta
Guicciardi, whom the composer loved with great passion.
"Fantasieren" in this context, in German means "as an improvisation".
That was, in the years 1800, quite a shocking statement on the front
page of a published musical work. The word "quasi" (like) signifies
that the performer must make the illusion of an improvisation.
All movements of those sonatas are interconnected and the then common
practice of playing one movement of a Sonata separately is not allowed
clearly by the composer.
A look into the manuscript surprises us by showing each movement ending
with only a double barline instead of a "final" barline.
Furthermore, the time and key signatures of the next movement is shown
as "courtesy" (warning) time and key signatures at the end of the
previous ones. This demonstrates, unequivocally, that the entire work
must flow as one single piece.
Both Sonatas also display so much diversity and variety that they
deserve entirely their appellation "quasi una fantasia".
I. Andante - Allegro
The Sonata begins with a beautifully naive theme, in a dreamy serenity
calling for a soft French-horn sound. A harmonic serenity only
interrupted by a gleaming apparition of C major chords.
There is no proper development, but instead an Allegro section in 6/8
and in C major, the key (color) of the previously mentioned C major
Following this burst of energy the initial theme is re-exposed in a
shorter form and the movement ends "suspended in the air" literally
creating the expectation for the next movement which is to follow
"attacca" (without interruption).
II. Allegro molto vivace
A superb flow of arpeggios in both hands creates one smooth harmonic
progression spread over several octaves in range. It is strongly
contrasted with an intermediary section in staccato, a diabolical trill
in G-flat resolving on G-natural, a very un-orthodox writing, and
followed by a recapitulation with syncopes in both hands.
The brilliant Coda in C major and the last note (C), played by both
hands in unison, connects to the following movement. The tonic note C
is to be used as the third degree on A-flat major and the starting note
of the Adagio, again connected "attacca".
III. Adagio con espressione
The serene A-flat major Adagio is short in length, but powerfully
expressive and deeply evocative.
It features rich strings orchestra sonorities with the melodies on
first and second violins playing at octave. A stormy scale breaks this
round continuity and leads us to a flourishing Cadenza, which will calm
down and connect with the Rondo to follow.
IV. Finale: Allegro vivace
The lengthiest movement of the sonata, it draws with equal freedom from
the Sonata-Allegro and Rondo forms. One may even say that it fulfills
the function of the "missing" (traditional) Sonata first movement. It
assumes the role of the "gravity center" of the entire work.
The exposition of the theme creates the illusion of a two voice
counterpoint. This theme will remain as it is to the end and function
as a Rondo theme, except for its short block-chord type variation.
The intermediate sections will then display glaring, colorful
creativity, involving brilliant virtuosity.
At the point of climax, the theme form the Adagio re-appears, this
"intermezzo" not only strengthens the structural integrity of the
entire work but also adds an amazing dramatic scope to the movement.
Again with a Cadenza, this time shorter, it throws us into the last
Presto, made out of the previous movement's theme, but shortened, to
end the Sonata in a burst of jubilating animation.
Sonata N.14 in C-sharp minor op.27 n.2 "Clair de lune"
Even though the subtitle "Sonata quasi una Fantasia" is by the hand of
Beethoven, the name "Moonlight" was given by the poet Ludwig Rallstab
and definitely remained associated with this work.
Many stories are associated with this popular Sonata. How many and
which one of them are authentic? The Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung
wrote on the June 30th. 1802: "The opus 27 N.2 has nothing missing.
This is a Fantasia of supreme compositional unity. Inspired by a bare,
deep and intimate feeling it is like chiseled from one single marble
The composer, however, was less enthusiastic. To his pupil Czerny he
said once: "people always talk about my Sonata in C-sharp minor. I did
write better ones, for example the one in F-sharp minor, and other
The Sonata is a "quasi Fantasia" not by its structure which is more
conservative than the opus 27 N.1, but rather by the illusion of an
improvisation that the first movement has to create. As André
Boucourechliev said: "the theme floats all over it. Sometimes on top,
sometimes beneath the musical texture."
I. Adagio sostenuto
Always "pianissimo" and throughout with pedal, ("sempre PP and senza
sordini"), "hundreds of triplets which turn incessantly" (Jörg Demus).
The theme has something of a funeral march yet without the pomposity of
the latter. A hypnotic continuity characterizes the movement which
presents, in this seemingly monotonous setting many modulations
including one to quite foreign keys. The melody evolves not like a
chant, but more as a speech, a calm, serene but intimate and powerful
During its course, tragic dissonances sometimes occur and at the
re-exposition of the theme, the initial melody has lost all "melodic"
curves and remains a bare dotted rhythm cell even more like a funeral
The general tone of the C-sharp minor key is lengthly exposed by spread
arpeggios at the end before the linkage "attaca" to the D-flat major of
the next movement. Thus accentuating the switch from minor to major of
the same key. Furthermore, instead of a final barline, only a double
barline is separating the two movements which are to be played without
A gracious, short intermezzo which has nevertheless, a key role in the
overall dramaturgy of the entire work. "A flower germinated between two
abysses" said Franz Liszt. Kind of an amalgam between a Menuet and a
Scherzo, it has characteristics of both.
III. Presto agitato
This is the only movement which may fit into a three themes Sonata
form. The first theme is a feverish run in broken arpeggios towards
lashing sforzato chords. The second one is an affectionate legato over
an accompaniment of Alberti basses and the last one is made of
repeating double sixths and thirds.
A "quasi Fantasia" general atmosphere is always present and even though
the movement, and the entire Sonata and even the entire work of
Beethoven, is composed with extreme structural vigor, this movement
nevertheless, succeeds in creating an improvisational feeing.
A brilliant cadenza-like arpeggios section brings the vehement Coda.