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Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion

Charles Rosen
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
    Book Description:

    Beethoven's piano sonatas form one of the most important collections of works in the whole history of music. Spanning several decades of his life as a composer, the sonatas soon came to be seen as the first body of substantial serious works for piano suited to performance in large concert halls seating hundreds of people.In this comprehensive and authoritative guide, Charles Rosen places the works in context and provides an understanding of the formal principles involved in interpreting and performing this unique repertoire, covering such aspects as sonata form, phrasing, and tempo, as well as the use of pedal and trills. In the second part of his book, he looks at the sonatas individually, from the earliest works of the 1790s through the sonatas of Beethoven's youthful popularity of the early 1800s, the subsequent years of mastery, the years of stress (1812-1817), and the last three sonatas of the 1820s.Composed as much for private music-making as public recital, Beethoven's sonatas have long formed a bridge between the worlds of the salon and the concert hall. For today's audience, Rosen has written a guide that brings out the gravity, passion, and humor of these works and will enrich the appreciation of a wide range of readers, whether listeners, amateur musicians, or professional pianists.The book includes a CD of Rosen performing extracts from several of the sonatas, illustrating points made in the text.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19613-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of tracks on accompanying CD
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)

    • Introduction
      (pp. 3-8)

      Proust’s grandmother was a woman of extremely modest, unpretentious demeanour, who never ventured to contradict anyone’s literary judgement:

      But on matters of which the rules and principles had been taught her by her mother, on the way to cook certain dishes, to play the sonatas of Beethoven, and to receive guests graciously, she was certain of having a just idea of perfection and of discerning whether others approached closely or not. For all three things, besides, the perfection was almost the same: it was a sort of simplicity of means, of sobriety and of charm. She reacted with horror at...

    • Formal principles
      (pp. 9-12)

      Almost all the possible readers of this book will think that they know what sonata form is, and they will be right (a minimal education in music or music appreciation will include that information). It is doubtful, however, that Beethoven would have made that claim or even understood it. It was not only that one could write a work called a sonata at that time without a single movement that we would later classify as a sonata form. What Beethoven had was not a definition of a standard form,* generally accepted, but a set of models, which he could follow...

    • Phrasing Curved lines and dots: legato, staccato, and the shape of the phrase
      (pp. 13-42)

      It used to be thought that Beethoven’s indications for phrasing were so erratic that little weight could be attached to them. This was asserted by editors as distinguished as Artur Schnabel and Donald Francis Tovey. We may be thankful that editors have now become more pedantic. However, there is still the belief, tenaciously held, that when Beethoven gave different phrasing for different occurrences of the same theme, the text should be normalized.

      Normalization amounts to a claim that different phrase indications or slurs for successive appearances of the same theme, when they occur, are mistakes made by the composer or...

    • Tempo
      (pp. 43-106)

      It is not illegal to play a piece of music at the wrong tempo: we risk neither a jail sentence nor even a fine. A certain school of aesthetics considers it immoral to contravene the composer’s intentions, but sometimes it may even be a good idea. We have all heard performances at clearly inauthentic and even absurd tempos which turn out to be revealing, instructive, moving or brilliantly effective. The wrong tempo might be still more effective than the right one. This leads some musicians to conclude that there is no correct tempo, and this may be true for certain...

    • Pedal, trills, extending the keyboard
      (pp. 107-120)

      The unacknowledged problem with the pedal in Beethoven’s piano music is not how to use it, but where not to use it. It must certainly be true that Beethoven employed the pedal much more than he indicated in his scores, as Czerny claimed, but that does not mean that he used it as Chopin or Schumann did, or as pianists do today. A glance at either the manuscript or the first edition of the finale of the “Moonlight” Sonata is instructive. At that time the pedal was not simply and discreetly indicated byPorPed. below the bass, and...


    • The Eighteenth-Century Sonatas
      (pp. 123-149)

      The three piano sonatas op. 2 assert the young composer’s individuality and his range. Beethoven does not reserve the work in the minor mode for the last, as he did with the three piano trios op. 1, but opens with it. Each work is strikingly different in character and form. Pathos is succeeded by sociability and brilliance. Formal patterns typical of Mozart are followed by techniques learned from Haydn. The sonority incorporates textures from concerto, symphony and chamber music.

      The Sonata in F minor op. 2 no. 1 is a homage to Mozart, transported into a new and more violent...

    • Youthful Popularity 1800–1802
      (pp. 150-163)

      This was the sonata of Beethoven that Chopin preferred. It is the first of the thirty-two to have no example of what would later be considered a standard sonata form. The third movement, a funeral march “On the Death of a Hero”, might imply a programme, but none, as far as I know, has reasonably been suggested. The four movements, all in A flat, are a set of characteristic pieces, as are the two sonatas that immediately succeed this one; on those, however, he attempted to impose a greater sense of unity. Opus 26 marks a significant progress in Beethoven’s...

    • The Years of Mastery
      (pp. 164-207)

      Publishing important works of music in groups of three or six was a well-established tradition in the eighteenth century. Haydn’s symphonies were commissioned by the half-dozen, as were some of his quartets: most of his later piano trios and the last piano sonatas came as triads. Except for the string quartets op. 18, Beethoven preferred three to six, and the piano sonatas that were grouped together generally appeared in triads: opp. 2, 10 and 31, as well as the quartets op. 59 and the piano trios op. 1. (The last three piano sonatas were clearly conceived as a set, but...

    • The Years of Stress
      (pp. 208-228)

      From 1812 to 1817 were difficult years for Beethoven. It was the time of his lawsuit with his sister-in-law over the custody of his nephew Karl, of the despairing letter to the Immortal Beloved, of his deafness that progressed to the point where he could no longer hear himself play the piano. He wrote only a few large works during this time. There were two relatively short sonatas, op. 90 and op. 101. A long time was spent on completing op. 106.

      The opening movement is lean. The first theme comes to a half close on the dominant after 16...

    • The Last Sonatas
      (pp. 229-250)

      At the end of his life, Beethoven declared that he found composition for the piano too limiting. The last three sonatas are his farewell to the genre.

      The exceptionally long period of gestation of the “Hammerklavier”, far from discouraging Beethoven, released the force of his creativity. He went to work on large projects; theMissa Solemnis, the Ninth Symphony, the Diabelli Variations, the last three sonatas. With the “Hammerklavier”, he had, so to speak, abandoned the experimental forms of the last two cello sonatas and of the Sonata for piano op. 101: op. 106 is closer to the models of...

  7. Endnotes
    (pp. 251-252)
  8. Index
    (pp. 253-256)