Articles, program notes, and liner notes written by Paavali
During Beethoven’s lifetime, piano sonatas were thought of as music for the home, public concert life was a realm reserved for symphonies and concertos. The second half of the 18th century saw a significant flourishing of keyboard sonatas in Europe. Solo and chamber compositions, which had a distinct audience, were typically performed in the households of the composers’ patrons. Gatherings for such performances usually consisted of members of the gentry who were generally educated in the arts. Their sophisticated tastes allowed the composers to indulge in more subtlety and compositional intricacy than in their orchestral compositions, which, after all, needed to be graspable by the masses. In this respect, Beethoven was no exception.
While Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas have come to represent an encyclopedia of the Viennese Classical experience to the modern listener, in fact, for him these pieces were a compositional laboratory in which he could elaborate his ideas endlessly. Many keyboard sonata sub-genres (pathetique, pastorale, comical, virtuosic, etc.) are featured in the sonatas. Furthermore, the sonatas disclose an abundance of themes, motives, rhythmical ideas, and key-relationships. It is fair to say that before introducing any compositional idea in one of his larger public works, Beethoven had researched and proven it thoroughly in the privacy of his piano sonatas.
Beethoven composed the Sonatas Op. 2 soon after finishing his studies with Joseph Haydn. He gave the first performance of the sonatas in the house of Prince Lichnowksy in late 1795. Present at the occasion was the sonatas’ dedicatee, Haydn, who at the time was possibly the most famous composer in Europe. Haydn probably liked what he heard. Even though Beethoven began sketching the sonatas before his time with Haydn and included ideas from his Piano Quartets (WoO 36) composed earlier in Bonn, the imprint of his studies with the master are evident in these sonatas. In fact, nearly all of Beethoven’s compositions from those years exhibit some compositional devices derived from the older master’s toolkit, albeit personalized by the young prodigy. The clearest Haydn-to-Beethoven schemes feature tonal relationships of the third as well as certain systematic ways of developing motives and themes.
The fervency of the Sonata in F Minor launches the opus 2 group. F was the lowest note on the fortepiano keyboard of the late 19th century, which probably explains why F Minor was the most popular key for minor mode sonatas. Still typical of 1790s structure, all movements are in F; the second being Major and the others in Minor. Common practice at the time saw major and minor modes coexisting within one movement, but, especially in minor-key sonatas, Beethoven preferred to remain in a single mode. However, the lighthearted middle section (in A-flat Major) of the finale feels like a needed response to the relentlessness of the movement’s first part, which remains strictly within minor mode. Both parts of the outer movements are repeated, allowing performers to apply ornamentation in the repeats if following period performance practices.
The Sonata in A Major begins with a display of Haydnesque wit, though it soon darkens toward a theme in minor. The ascending bass-line, like the one of this minor theme, became a hallmark of Beethoven’s. Both parts of the opening movement are to be repeated. Over time, Beethoven refrained from applying the second repeats, and even among his early sonatas he indicates them only when there are no substantial codas to “have the last word,” so to speak. The nature of the repeats also changed. Early on their purpose was more rhetorical; they opened the floor for the performer’s creativity through improvised ornamentation. As his style matured, the repeats had more to do with the structural design of the music: certain ideas were reemphasized by the repetition so that the listener would remember and recognize them in development and variation.
Not just a gifted composer, Beethoven was a keyboard virtuoso who impressed the Viennese with the energy and brilliance of his playing. The exuberant Sonata in C Major must have dazzled in the hands of the young maverick. The composer-pianist was said to have mastered the three-voice trill, which, in fact, he often featured in his concerto cadenzas. In this sonata, the trick is featured in the last climax of the finale. Another connection to concerto style is the impressive cadenza shortly before the end of the opening movement. The second movement is in E Major, a major third above the sonata’s main key. That tonal relationship is a prime example of Haydn’s influence. Following the straightforward drive of C Major, E Major seems to be reaching towards a more ethereal state and it serves as the harmonic domain to one of early Beethoven’s most transcendent movements. As a detail pointing to the C-to-E key-relationship, the sonata begins with the same interval in the right hand.
Vienna became the center of international attention in 1814-15 when representatives of European nations assembled in the city to negotiate a treaty to point the way out of the disarray resulting from the Napoleonic wars. Beethoven’s Symphony for Wellington’s Victory Op. 91 was performed a number of times during the “Dancing Congress,” bringing to Beethoven the biggest fame of his career. This success was followed by several years when he finished few compositions. In some of them, he used German instead of the customary Italian for tempo-indications. German-speaking intellectuals had united in their opposition of Napoleon and all the horrors the French General/Consul/Emperor had caused. Beethoven, his finger always on the pulse of current affairs, conformed.
The Sonata Op. 101 may be deemed the first full-blown work of Beethoven’s late period. The composer suggested that the publisher print “Beethoven’s difficult sonata in A Major” on the title page, possibly as a joking reference to a recent review of his 7th Symphony titled “Beethoven’s difficult symphony in A Major.” The opening movement isn’t organized by different themes in the strictest classical sense. Rather, the musical fabric flows as a process of continuous transformation. The movement begins with a tune whose key remains ambiguous. A Major is confirmed as the fundamental key only at end of the movement. The enigmatic opening idea reappears between the dolorous Adagio and the joyous finale, at that moment seeming to articulate a question of utmost relevance, but one whose specificity remains concealed.
Nature represented for Beethoven a way toward inner balance. In 1820, he wrote in his Conversation Book, “the moral law in us, and the starry sky above us – Kant!!!” In 1810, he related in a letter to a friend: ”Forests, trees, rocks, they produce the echoes which man desires to hear.” The Sonata in A Major is one of Beethoven’s many works in Pastoral genre. Certain defining signifiers reveal the backdrop (pedal-points, ländlers, birdsong and horn motives, etc.) but its ethical dimensions are equally important. Central to pastoral works is the idea of reaching a wholesome state after destabilizing events (often represented by a storm-scene). Much like the finale of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony Op. 68, the finale of the Sonata in A Major comes across as a testimony of an imagined community’s strength being reinforced by having successfully overcome a challenge.
Beethoven worked on the grandest of his sonatas, the Hammerklavier, for nearly two years. When the sonata was finally finished in 1818, it was as if it announced that his most impressive creative period was underway. Three other major works were on his table at the same time (the Diabelli Variations, Ninth Symphony, and Missa Solemnis) and, in fact, all the compositions of this period share a great deal. The structural design of the Hammerklavier is to some degree similar to that of the Ninth Symphony, and the vast Adagio, the point of gravity in the sonata, is related to the Agnus Dei, the final movement of Missa Solemnis.
That the composer was aware of the challenges the sonata would pose to performers and audiences alike can be read in a letter to a London publisher in which he suggests that a number of adjustments could be made to it: if necessary, the Largo-introduction of the finale could be dropped altogether, the order of the Scherzo and Adagio could be reversed, and the whole finale could be dropped. He added: “I’ve composed the sonata under oppressive circumstances. It is difficult to compose just to get bread, but things have now come to that.” The publisher finally released the first three movements under the title Grand Sonata, and the finale as Introduction and Fugue.
Throughout his career, Beethoven’s relationship with the Viennese Classical style was marked by a certain ambivalence; he was constantly either embracing or distancing himself from the current stylistic trends. During the 1790s, his compositions became systematically more classical, but soon after the turn of the century, he lit out in a more personal direction as demonstrated by the Fantasy Sonatas Op. 27. Following the classical monuments of the middle period, the Sonata Op. 101 is like an invocation of romantic imagery, but soon after, the Hammerklavier Sonata returns to the classical ideals of dramatic oppositions at a newly massive scale. The first two movements, the orchestral sonorities of the Allegro, and the rustic play of the Scherzo serve as a large-scale introduction to the drama of the Adagio. The colossal Adagio seems to be dealing with questions of deep human suffering and, in relief, heavenly grace. Beethoven must have intended the frenzied fugue-finale to invoke awe. However, in the end the finale is just that, a finale, its details seemingly chaotic, but, as a whole, supplying a clear and radiantly happy last act.
In 1792, a patron of Beethoven’s early career, Count Waldstein, wrote a prophetic line in the composer’s diary: “You shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands”. The journey from the Haydn-Sonatas Op. 2 to Hammerklavier Sonata Op. 106 affirms Waldstein’s prediction.
The Early Years – From Wonder-Child to Master of the Gallant Style
The primary task of music in the 18th century wasn’t complete originality or seeking new means of expression. During the era of the Gallant Style, the composer thought to be the most excellent was the one who most successfully cultivated the existing musical material into spirited and balanced compositions. During his time, Wolfgang Mozart was undoubtedly that composer.
Mozart’s reputation as the greatest of all musical prodigies is well known. The Royal Society in London tested the learning skills of the 9-year old Mozart and reported that he possessed “extraordinary, almost supernatural abilities.” Mozart toured Europe extensively with his father Leopold. Before the age of ten, the Salzburg child had conquered most of Europe’s esteemed musical circles, from the courts of Central Europe to the Vatican. The improvisations of the young Mozart were met with astonishment and admiration everywhere. The boy was able to instantly create music from any given theme. His improvisations were not only technically brilliant but also thoughtful and tasteful. He seemed to have at his fingertips the entirety of musical culture and was completely at ease imitating celebrated composers of the time.
During his European journeys, Mozart was brought under the influence of many musical styles flourishing in different parts of the continent. He heard the best composers of Paris, Hague and London. At a young age, Mozart had the opportunity to study with Padre Martini, the master of polyphony in Bologna. Leopold Mozart, who was a capable composer in his own right, made sure that Wolfgangerl (“Little-Wolfgang,” as he was called within the family) got a thorough education in piano, violin and improvisation. Leopold also wrote down many of Wolfgang’s early compositions, since the boy had apparently learned to “speak in music” before he could “write in music.”
Under the stiff control of his father and under a wealth of musical influence, by the age of ten Mozart had reportedly become fluent in composing in the Gallant Style. Significantly, his abilities extended to the “learned” techniques of the baroque era, but his ideals resonated with the ideals of the Enlightenment. As such, he composed music which was uncomplicated and intended, above all, to please. Much like Joseph Haydn, Mozart represented a musical style which allowed simple beauty and complexity to co-exist; polyphony and chromaticism often found their place in the developments and transitions of his compositions, while the thematic material remained charming and amiable.
Haydn, who later criticized Beethoven for upsetting the Apollonian balance in Viennese music, openly admired Mozart. In 1785, having heard a set of string quartets dedicated to him by his younger colleague, Haydn told Leopold Mozart:
“Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name: He has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of in the art of composition.”
The early Sonatas
Mozart spent part of 1775 in Munich, during which time he composed the six sonatas, K. 279-284. They represent the first works he composed specifically for the fortepiano, the predecessor of the modern piano. Compositions written before these sonatas could be performed on the clavichord, harpsichord or fortepiano, whichever was available to a performer. The numerous dynamic markings in these sonatas reveal Mozart’s intention to use the fortepiano’s wide dynamic range and, especially, the rich sonority of its bass register.
These sonatas are vehicles of a dynamic musicianship; their “clavieristic” figurations displace sensitivity and sparkle. Fit for the expectations of the time, the sonatas provide the listener with a well-balanced mix of delight and surprise. Each work has its own unique character and seems to be speaking (if not in its own musical language) in its own dialect. Each sonata forms its own musical milieu, in which the wealth of ideas creates continuity and logical narrative. There are many short quotations and references between the movements – motives and thematic ideas are highlighted by the interplay of the different movements. Mozart was pleased with the sonatas and performed them often. These sonatas almost certainly give us a glimpse into Mozart’s improvisations.
The Sonata in C-major K. 279 is a merry and virtuosic work. The seemingly superficial figurations of the first movement are actually well thought out, as many of the movement’s themes bear similarities in their interval-structure. The opening theme contains a pronounced motion from C to F. This motto-like gesture contains references toward the other movements. To wit, the second movement is in the key of F and the opening theme of the third movement begins with the same pronounced motion from C to F. The fleeting texture of the first movement doesn’t leave much room for the performer to engage in the expected apropos ornamentation. The harmonic route of the development section negotiates through minor key areas while the figurations remain similar to the exposition.
The character of the second movement is warm and tranquil and the ornamentation of the opening bears resemblance to the figurations of first movement. At first an idyllic scene of happiness is created, as is often the case in Mozart’s slow movements. Later, conflict appears, as though distress or despair penetrated the once-contented heart. The illusion of perfect happiness is irrevocably crushed, so much so that the repetition of the main theme carries a faint remembrance of the dissonance. The change is slight, but the contrast to the opening could not be stronger. Mozart was a master of articulating the nuances of happiness and unhappiness. Here he seems to portray the fine line between the two.
A vivacious finale concludes the sonata. The beginning of the sonata and this last movement contain an upward leap of four notes. In the last movement, the leaps are transformed into a theme of four descending notes, which is heard in several permutations at the end of the exposition. In the middle of the movement there enters a charming staccato-theme, which bears clear resemblance to the Papageno-theme from the Magic Flute-opera.
The Sonata in F-major K. 280 begins with a majestic proclamation. The first movement proceeds in triple meter and contains many triplet figures. The combination creates a somewhat serious and profound atmosphere. Uncomplicated themes and complicated transitions alternate throughout the exposition. The opening theme is followed by a transition, which consists of chromatically descending sigh-gestures of the bass line and triplets in the soprano. This transitional theme is followed by a comical dialog between robust bass octaves and their twittering replies. This seems to poke fun at the serious nature of the passage, which preceded it. Following the dialog, another complex transition appears, this time the bass octaves chromatically ascend – an element that would be used frequently by Beethoven in the coming years.
Of the early sonatas, the second movement of this sonata is the only one in a minor key. The affectionate siciliano is created by the contrast of a mournful first theme and a tenderly smiling second theme. The dolefulness of the development section places the listener in the midst of a great personal pain. The slow movement ends in tears and the mischievous opening of the finale seems like a playful wink of the eye. The transition from sorrow to frolic brings to mind Mozart’s personality; wit and jest were never far from his thoughts, even in times of difficulty. Soon after the opening of the finale, rapid figures flowing like little creeks and life-filled rhythmic puns take over. The development section hints at the agony of the slow movement, but the jolly opening theme casually slips back in. The finale is like a brief moment of life at its happiest and the awareness of its transience makes the moment all the more dear.
Compared to the preceding sonata, the many inter-movemental references fortify the dramaturgy of this sonata. The serioso motive of the opening of the second movement is transformed into a gently rocking figure in the middle of the finale. The motive, which is in the key of C, pointing toward the main key of the sonata, begins in a single voice soon joined by a second voice. Elegantly, the mode changes to minor and points to the second movement of the sonata. Here Mozart achieves an early success in architectural integrity that would later become a pivotal feature of Beethoven.
The Sonata in B-flat major K. 281 seems as though it were brought into being out of the stirring trill that initiates the work. The opening statement is immediately repeated an octave lower, after which a flow of airy scales and their energized accompaniment carry us to the naïve and charming second theme. Mozart’s use of B-flat major fills the listener with optimism and perfectly sets the scene for the love-duet of the second movement. The famous andante amoroso implements many traits that Mozart had already associated with love in his early operas. Often in Mozart’s music, parallel thirds and sixths create the context for a dialog of lovers. The two delicately repeated chords which conclude the introduction and postlude of each reprise might be the composer’s depiction of uncertain lovers reassuring one another by quietly whispering: “Here I am, right beside you.”
The climax of this work is the first rondo Mozart writes within his cycle of sonatas. The cheerful opening theme and the frisky game that follows are like the joyous outcome of the timid entreatments of the second movement. The more dire sounding middle section of the movement ends on a fermata, giving the performer an opportunity for a brief – but apropos – cadenza. Mozart often saved the entry of the most charming theme late in his rondo movements. This moment, coined “the purple moment” by musicologist D. F. Tovey, is evoked by a heartfelt theme in E-flat major in this movement. Before the conclusion of the sonata, the opening theme is heard once more, this time accompanied by exuberant trills – the very substance which birthed the sonata.
The Sonata in E-flat major K. 282 opens with a graceful adagio, its purity seeming to celebrate all that is virtuous. The structure of the movement is exceptionally well balanced. The development section begins with the material of the opening theme and the recapitulation proceeds directly into the second theme – omitting the first theme until the concluding coda. In so doing, a frame is formed in which the first theme is heard in the beginning, middle and at the end of the movement. The symmetry of the form seems the echo the harmony of the musical content.
The second movement is a combination of two minuets, which almost function as two contrasting themes. Menuet I is witty and rhythmic while Menuet II is more lyrical. The somewhat reserved nature of the first two movements is completely washed away when the animated finale is set in motion. Most of the themes in the finale begin with a rhythmically sprite motto followed by bubbling runs. The end of the development moves to darker tones before the opening theme slips back with a charming modulation, like a surprising but welcome houseguest.
The most formidable of the early sonatas is the Sonata in D-major K. 284. Mozart dedicated the work to the amateur musician Baron von Dürnitz, who also commissioned it. The grandiose tone of the first movement exposition is well in line with the dimensions of the sonata. The symphonic tremolos and buoyant, straightforward energy clearly bring the orchestra to mind. The orchestral music in Munich, surely more impressive than in Salzburg, may have inspired Mozart here. The polyphonic texture of the development section is inventively realized by hand-crossings and implied voices in the tremolos. The second movement is a polonaise, an originally Polish dance, stylized during the 18th century. The theme containing dialogical contrasts is varied and treated with instrumental buildup during the course of the movement.
The final act of this grand sonata is the vast theme and 12 variations. The second reprise of the gently promenading theme is interrupted by a notably long pause. The listener rightly expects many amusing moments to follow through these recurring pauses; Mozart actually creates a bit of a musical flirting game with them. At first the variations progress from slower to faster and then grow distant from the theme, basing each variation on small details within the theme – typical of Beethoven later on. Many of the variations bear a resemblance to the preceding movements. Variation V is closely related to the transition theme of the first movement and variations VI and X quote the tremolos and hand-crossings of the first movement. Variation VII (in the minor mode) contains references to the exposition of the first movement and the theme of the polonaise. The theme of the polonaise is also referenced in variations II and XI. The serenity and bliss of variation XI marks the true slow movement of the sonata and variation XII, the final variation, a spirited allegro, concludes the sonata in joy.
The slow variation of this finale seems to portray perfect happiness, which is not – as in the Sonata in E-flat major – idealized, but, instead, simple and human. The preceding variations give away to exuberance and inspiration. Two years after the composition of these early sonatas was Mozart’s famous love affair with his cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart. Letters exchanged between the two lovers leave us with a record of the Bäsle-romance (“little cousin”). They reveal a complete openness in both expressing and in living true sentiments of love. Mozart was an uninhibited lover. Besides expressions of love, he filled the world of his beloved with endless puns, riddles and open expressions of sexuality. Perhaps Mozart allowed his personality to be the prime inspiration of these variations and, in so doing, drew from the wealth of feelings he experienced himself.
Years 1777-81 – The difficult break-away
Mozart’s life, spanning little over thirty years, can be roughly divided into periods of ten years: the1760s was a decade marked by numerous tours around Europe, the 1770s was a decade spent in Salzburg and the 1780s was spent in Vienna.
Woven into the circumstances surrounding the move from Salzburg to Vienna was the difficult process of breaking away from Leopold Mozart’s control. The Mozart “family business” was both economically and psychologically founded on Wolfgang, and Leopold simply couldn’t afford to let his talented son lead his own life. To keep supporting the status quo Wolfgang was to find a well-paid position in a European court.
In order to find that position Mozart made a journey to Munich, Augsburg, Mannheim and Paris in 1777-78. Mozart’s mother Anna Maria accompanied him on the journey. Frau Mozart’s role was not only to help Wolfgang in the everyday practicalities, but also to serve as Leopold’s agent in controlling his “grossly irresponsible” son. Leopold’s fear was that Wolfgang would eventually find love and abandon his immediate family in favor of beginning his own. Wolfgang’s keen interest in the fairer sex was well known to his father and now constituted a real threat.
In his letters Mozart pledged allegiance to Leopold (“next to God comes Papa”) but also gave himself to love during the journey, and did little to hide his feelings from his parents. Leopold’s determination to control his son culminated in early 1778 when Mozart wanted to send his mother, who had fallen ill, back to Salzburg and continue on his own to Paris. Leopold pressured the two to continue together. Weakened by the journey Anna Maria Mozart’s state worsened and she died in Paris in the summer of 1778. Leopold now openly blamed Wolfgang for the death of her mother: she had “joined the trip for Wolfgang’s sake.” Leopold pleaded for his son’s faithfulness to his now sole remaining parent in order for him “not soon to have the lives of both his parents on his conscience.”
Mozart returned to Salzburg for another two outwardly calm years, during which the now motherless family seemed to stick together. However, provincial Salzburg and the position in Archbishop Colloredo’s service didn’t satisfy Mozart’s ambitions. The following years were filled with attempts to find fortune elsewhere and Mozart, perhaps partly encouraged by the success of the opera Idomeneo in Munich, traveled to Vienna in the spring 1781. He would make the imperial city his home for the rest of his life. In Vienna Mozart also married Constanze Weber, and with that Leopold saw his fears come true.
Mozart wasn’t successful in finding the position he hoped for during his journey in 1777-78. In many ways, though, the journey led to Mozart’s independence from his father’s rule. In Mannheim Mozart made the acquaintance of the Weber family and enjoyed a brief romance with Constanze’s sister Aloisia. Also, the bitterness caused by the aftermath of Anna Maria Mozart’s death no doubt wounded the Mozart family idyll beyond repair.
Mozart spent the spring and summer 1778 in Paris. Especially the summer came to be dolorous. The composer’s mother had fallen ill during the winter and died in early July. Mozart had done his utmost to help his mother, but finally the burdens of the journey were too much for Anna Maria Mozart. At midsummer, the desperate Wolfgang was forced to inform Nannerl and Leopold, who had remained home in Salzburg, of the fateful news.
Mozart composed the tragic Sonata in A-minor K. 310 during that mournful summer of 1778. Much has been written about the connection between the sonata and the mother’s death, but without any documents supporting the connection it is impossible to determine how directly the event motivated Mozart musically. Indisputably, however, the sonata is the very first unreservedly tragic work by Mozart.
The first movement opens with a fateful theme accompanied by a dramatically driven chord texture. Sharp dynamic contrasts of fortissimo and pianissimo make up much of the development. Throughout the movement, figurations like freezing winds sweep and the music barely takes a moment to pause. The second movement is a serenade, which remembers happier times. The devastating drama of the first movement returns in the middle of the second movement in a section where the persistently pounding right hand texture pulls the music through desolate minor key areas. The sonata concludes with presto finale filled with quiet anguish and fear. Mozart provides a tender major section in the middle of the movement, which again recalls foregone happy times. Much like Mozart’s use of third-textures in many of his operatic love duets, the thirds of this section could symbolize two persons’ state of being together. After this respite the minor mode returns and the sonata concludes with tragically desperate forte chords.
Many of Mozart’s minor key compositions served as examples for Beethoven. His famous remark of Mozart’s C-minor Piano Concerto K. 491, “we shall never be able to do anything like that,” is telling. One of Beethoven’s trademarks was the substitution of the parallel major with the dominant minor as the secondary key area in his minor key compositions. Traits of the same maneuver can already be seen in the finale of Mozart’s A-minor sonata where, following the brief appearance of the parallel C-major, the music leads towards the more desolate E-minor.
The overall character of minor keys as used by Beethoven and as used by Mozart do differ, however. For instance, as used by Mozart in his C-minor and D-minor concertos, A-minor and C-minor sonatas, G-minor symphony, and Don Giovanni opera, the minor is more frigid and hopeless. This is in contrast to Beethoven’s use in works such as his “Moonlight” and “Appassionata” sonatas, 5th and 9th symphonies, and C-minor concerto. In these works of Beethoven, the minor is used to evoke a sense of struggle. It is as if Beethoven’s minor presents a challenge to be met, but in Mozart’s minors all hope is already lost.
The genesis of the Sonata in C-Major K. 309 is peculiar. Mozart improvised the sonata when he was performing in Augsburg in September 1777 and wrote it down, with a newly composed slow movement, later in the fall while in Mannheim. He dedicated the sonata to his Mannheim pupil Rosa Cannabich. While Mozart managed to impress the circles of the musical centre of the time, he didn’t conquer an appointment in the court. The disappointment touches the history of the sonata, since as reported, Mozart and his close Mannheim friends, the Cannabichs, wept together over the matter while Rosa played the C-major sonata during a lesson.
Perhaps the sonata’s origin as an improvisation sheds light on the straightforward qualities of its outer movements. The first movement opens with a motto in an orchestral manner (Mozart later recycles this motto, with slight variations, in the Menuetto of the Sonata in A-Major K 331). The lyrical reply and the later G-major theme bear similarities on the surface. With both being based on rhetorical repetition they provide excellent content for embellishments by the performer. Surely, Mozart must have varied the themes a great deal in his own performances.
In the second movement the repeats of the themes are written out and, thus, Mozart’s planned embellishments are known. Mozart may have realized the ornamentation for Rosa’s sake; in a letter to Leopold he tells how he had emphasized to Rosa that the “rhythms and dynamics of the movement must be strictly carried out according to the notation.” He also tells his father that Rosa is “pretty, charming, intelligent, and amiable – just like the Andante…”
The sonata concludes with a charmingly melodic rondo, which sounds much like a concerto movement arranged for a solo instrument. The “orchestra” provides the scenes with pomp and brilliance while the “soloist” entertains with flirtingly tender themes and occasional, fleeting virtuosity. The movement is strikingly similar to the finale of the great C-Major Piano Concerto K. 503 composed nearly ten years later.
By the time of composing the Sonata in B-flat Major K. 570 Mozart had already reached the peak of his compositional powers. The elevated simplicity and refined culture of his music had been demonstrated in a vast number of masterworks in numerous genres. Mozart gained his most revered victories in his operas, but a great many chamber works and symphonies of the highest quality had been wrought of his pen as well.
As a portrait of musical purity, the Sonata in B-flat Major expresses all the virtues of Mozart’s mature style. In his mature style, Mozart’s works unfold a unified narrative while the characters of the different movements remain clearly defined. The music could be defined as a kind of unobstructed imitation of reality. During his Vienna decade Mozart had diligently studied the works of J. S. Bach, which bears fruit in his consummate control of polyphony and textural balance. Alfred Einstein, an accomplished Mozart scholar, thought the Sonata in B-flat Major to be Mozart’s finest, the ideal of his sonata style.
The opening movement’s lean cantabile and economic polyphony invite the listener to pay attention to the subtleties of the music. Melodies of timid joy transform into open elation, motives filled with encouraged invite lead to illuminated frolic. The seamless musical narrative convoys the listener with sensitivity and tact. The delicate themes of the movement bend into expressing a great variety of feelings, as if giving a voice to the richness of the inner human experience.
The second movement opens with a horn call heard in the context of an adagio filled with forgiveness. The cleanness of the opening section is followed with a section in the minor filled with worry and concern. The dotted rhythm of the minor theme recalls the opening theme of the first movement. The finale of the sonata is a playful allegretto and whose themes are like characters from comic opera. In the middle of the movement a theme in E-flat major (with more than a hint of things to come in the Magic Flute) brings yet another comical aspect into the play.
The catchy melodies and clavieristic textures of the Sonata in G-Major K. 283 have made it the most popular of the Munich sonatas. To many listeners the opening movement, with its barcarole-like flavor, is Mozart’s piano writing at its most typical. The opening, a good-natured divertimento is followed by a rhythmically energized modulation to the dominant (G-major). The development section begins with a new theme, a maneuver often employed by Mozart. The recapitulation contains a slight touch of the minor (in the second movement Mozart gives the minor mode a more prominent role).
The development of the second movement is filled with aching expressed through chromaticism, which Mozart frames with bright harmonies in the outer sections of the movement. After the development, the major returns quite unexpected giving the feeling that the minor has not been “dealt with” properly. The listener might be left wondering, what is the true character of this movement? Is the purity of the outer sections – so clearly avoiding the minor – genuine, making the anxiety of the development false? Might there something more to Mozart’s harmonic scheme?
The finale grows into a thrilling conclusion of an almost orchestral scale. Much like in the second movement, the minor mode is almost completely isolated to the development section. In fact, each of the sonata’s three movements contains a middle section, which interrupts the freely gliding character of the outer sections. Is the sole purpose of this simply to provide contrast, or is it possible that the structure refers to an underlying meaning of some sort? One of music’s essential qualities is the ability to be very specific about a psychological situation or a feeling, without being the least bit forthcoming in revealing what might have caused it. With Mozart’s sensitive musical poetry the listener is often directed to ponder this fundamental question.
In his clavier compositions Mozart often exploited the instrument’s capacity for orchestral textures. It is not, therefore, surprising that qualities of both symphony and concerto dominate in his only sonata for two pianos. Mozart dedicated the Sonata in D-Major for Two Pianos K. 448 to his pupil Josepha Auernhammer, who also joined the composer for the first performance of the work. The sonata was also to Nannerl’s great liking and she eagerly summoned her little brother to play the duo – an activity they often engaged in during their childhood.
Mozart clearly takes pleasure in the abundance of textural possibilities provided by the media of two keyboards while also providing duo-expression through the use of customized phrasing. The opening movement is mostly laid out in paired phrases, throughout which the two performers take turns in presenting the same material. In so doing Mozart allows the differences of the performers’ musical personalities to be portrayed. The opening movement is filled with enthusiastic, virtuosic exchanges. The second theme of the movement is a charming, simple dialogue where one player weaves a tender phrase while the other interrupts with single-note comments, decorating them with grace notes and little ornaments. In the recapitulation the order of dialogue is reversed and the presenter of the original theme is now in the position of the commentator.
The spacious melody opening the second movement is reminiscent of many of the serenades Mozart wrote while in Salzburg. Dream-like tones alternate with more weighty nuances throughout the movement where often one of the players serves an accompanying role. The lengthy melodies are, from time to time interrupted by dialogues where the two pianists discuss through delicate apropos-ornaments.
The opening of the finale applies an obvious concerto-like dynamic: the soloist opens with a witty theme and the orchestra happily joins in, full steam. One of the more potent minor sections of sonata appears in the third theme of the finale, heard quite unexpectedly in the dominant A-minor. The movement is but one in a series of many works, written around the same time, with a “Turkish” flavor. In 1781 Mozart was working on his opera <em>Die Entführung aus dem Serail, </em>which is set in Turkey, and the influence of this work penetrated many of his compositions. This influence is most notably seen in the finale of the <em>Gran Partita</em> K. 361 and some two years later the Turkish March of the Piano Sonata K. 331.
1780s – The Viennese decade
Having gained his full independence from his Salzburg family by the early 1780s, Mozart engaged in an active – almost hectic – life in Vienna. His vast compositional output from the decade includes a large number of operas, chamber music, and especially piano concertos. With the clavier concertos of both J. S. and C. P. E. Bach as early models (of a sort), Mozart lifted the genre to a whole new level of expression and depth. His own performances of the works also helped them earn great popularity among the Viennese.
During the first years of the decade, the composer’s day typically began at around six o’clock. Mozart was at his desk by seven and continued composing until around ten. Then he took off on his rounds to meet his pupils of composition and clavier playing. In the early afternoon he ate lunch, often as a visitor at one of his numerous friends’ houses. He continued writing at around six or seven, unless he headed to a concert or theater. In the evening, Mozart would enjoy a soiree or party, but returned back to still compose for another hour or two. He usually retired for the day by one o’clock, only to wake up in five hours to repeat his routine.
Mozart sometimes spent a long time crafting his works but, when needed, was also able to compose at an astonishing speed. The violin part for the Sonata in G-Major K. 379 was realized in but one hour during the night before the performance. The “Haffner” Symphony was composed in two weeks and the Linz Symphony in just five days. Copying the parts of the finale of the Piano Concerto in d-minor K. 466 was left so much to the last minute, that there was no time to even play though the movement before the performance, and musicians heard the work for the first time themselves as they were giving the fabled work its first performance.
Mozart’s life was not completely filled with industrious compositional activities; he made sure to have time for an abundance of private entertainment and pleasure. Mozart truly knew how to enjoy life. He was an eager gambler and always ready for game of billiards or whist, and spent his money on beautiful clothing and exquisite foods. He was always in the mood for a pun, riddle or witticism. At one point Mozart had as a pet a “talented” starling, to whom he wanted to teach the theme from the finale of his Piano Concerto on G-Major K. 453. The bird managed to learn the melody but replaced a G in the middle with a G-sharp, which lead to a rather amusing variant of the theme. Mozart wrote down the bird’s version of the melody in his diary, along with his own comment: “Das war schön!”
Mozart composed the gently mischievous Sonata in C-Major K. 330 in 1783 while in Vienna. The opening flourishes with sensitive expectation and soon reveals the work’s dulcet character. The opening movement unfolds almost like an even-tempered coloratura aria, where the smooth left hand textures politely provide a stage for the soloist to indulge upon.
The second movement continues in the tranquil manner of the opening movement. The sorrowful middle section originally consisted of only two phrases, but while preparing the first edition of the work, Mozart added another, quietly lamenting phrase in the end of the section. Following a repetition of the choral-like opening, the lament-motive is heard once more at the end, but this time metamorphosed into a gesture of acceptance.
The finale opens by politely announcing the start of “activities of delight” which will take place throughout the movement. The events of the finale play out more cheerfully than those of the first movement and serve to culminate the splendidly designed sonata in a masterful manner.
Also dating from 1783 in Vienna, the Sonata in F-Major K. 332 differs from the C-Major Sonata in its compositional dramaturgy. While essential to the C-Major Sonata is coherence of tone and atmosphere between the different themes and sections, the musical architecture of the F-Major Sonata is largely based on opposition of characters. The opening movement begins with two gently rocking themes, followed by a more turbulent section in the minor mode. The playfulness and brightness of the major mode return again only to be cut away by yet another theme in minor, this one dominated by a breathlessly syncopated texture.
Opening with a bright and airy melody, the second movement continues the idea of contrasting major and minor modes. The opening melody is soon heard transformed into minor, leading the music down the path of heartfelt longing towards the second main-key area of the movement. The movement is in sonata form without development a section, meaning that the same themes are heard twice with some alteration of the harmonic progression. Mozart’s own ornamentation of the second half can be found in the first edition of the sonata.
The finale of the sonata is joyfully virtuosic. The idea of oppositions is played out by differences of textural sparseness and textural wealth as throughout the movement simple tunes appear time and again in the midst of the outflow of passagework. The development opens with a driven minor section, followed with the charm and smile of B-Flat Major as a theme reminiscent of the second movement slips in.
Most likely composed while in Mannheim in 1777, the Sonata in D-Major K. 311 opens with a delightful allegro. Right away the opening theme portrays wit but especially the gentle motive in the end of the exposition (containing more than a hint of a string quartet sound) reveals itself as wonderfully canny and clever. The gesture both closes the exposition with a charming manner and leads towards the deepening and far-reaching tones of the development section. The main character of the movement, most definitively jocular, soon casually slides back in.
The second movement seems to continue in the manner of a small string ensemble, so “chamber musical” is its sonority. The transition from the choral-like opening to an aria-theme is announced by three repeated chords, heard first in forte and then in piano.
Much like the finale of the other Mannheim Sonata (C-Major K. 310), the concluding movement of this sonata could have originated from a piano concerto. The interplay between the would-be soloist and the orchestra is clearly articulated and towards the end of the movement a soloist’s cadenza appears. Moreover, the cadenza is prepared in the manner typical of concertos of the time.
Mozart’s most substantial solo piano work consists of the Fantasy in c-minor K. 475 and the Sonata in c-minor K 457, both which were composed in Vienna in 1784 and 1785. The Sonata was the first of the two to be completed but the works were published together and it is likely that in Mozart’s mind the two belonged together.
As in many of Mozart’s compositions from the Viennese decade, the influence of J. S. Bach is evident in the Fantasy and the Sonata. The sections in minor mode especially make use of Bach-like polyphony. Mozart had masterfully customized Bach’s polyphony to be in unity with his own musical language. The Fantasy is also greatly indebted to C. P. E. Bach who was not only the father of the genre but also a great explorer of the harmony – and a courageous explorer at that. This attitude is clearly applied by Mozart in his own Fantasy.
The Fantasy traverses minor sections filled with drama and major sections reaching for happiness. The numerous themes and abundance of ideas create (well suited for its name) a fantasy-like musical journey. This journey takes the listener through lands defined by the differences of character in the key-areas planted on the route. Right from the outset a destiny-filled theme (in the minor mode) exchanges emphatic forte declarations with opposing piano sighs. This exchange leads the music towards ever darkening layers until the solemn opening section finally becomes frail and gives away to the first major section. The emergence of this theme out of the frailty which precedes it is like a consoling dream after the doomed reality of the opening allowing a moments rest for the listener.
The following frantic minor section leads through a descending chromatic bass line to a fermata, which, impressively, prepares the arrival of an Andantino section. The Andantino is the main section in the major mode and, in a way, the center of gravity in the Fantasy; its world isn’t penetrated by the shades of minor. The following, sweepingly virtuosic, section in g-minor, in its polyphonic voice leading, is nearly the most Bach-like music ever written by Mozart (excluding his arrangements of Bach’s works and parts of the Requiem K. 626). The forte-piano exchange of the opening returns and the Fantasy concludes with a terrific ascending c-minor scale, which provides impressive momentum for the energetic opening of the Sonata.
The Sonata and the Fantasy share many themes and moods; however, the anarchy of the Fantasy is replaced with the firmness of frame of the Sonata. Much like the Fantasy, the Sonata opens with interplay of forte declarations and piano reactions. This exchange is followed by a theme that continues to use of the forte-piano idea but adds a chromatically descending motive that was heard before in the Andantino section of the Fantasy. A theme in the major mode enters and this time the melody is related to the rhythmic shape of the opening of the Fantasy. The swift tempo and agitated mood of the first movement create the feeling of inescapable tragedy. The coda of the movement continues to build in excitement. Mozart achieves this by stating the opening theme in imitation followed by the terror of a diminished chord. Finally, a cleverly pianistic triplet unison passage quiets – but doesn’t eliminate – the menace of the music.
The profound second movement begins with a decorative aria. In the middle of the movement, ceremonial sections in A-Flat and G-Flat major bring to mind the more epic tones of the Fantasy. Not too long ago a copy of the manuscript was found. This particular manuscript was prepared by Mozart and dedicated to his pupil Maria von Trattner. This so-called “Dedication copy” differs from the first edition in regards to the ornamentation of the second movement. It is very likely that Mozart would have ornamented the movement in a different manner every time he played it.
Mozart added the word “agitato” in “Dedication copy” at the beginning of the finale this well describes the threat of the movement. The opening melody is like a worrisome flight of thought accompanied by pale thirds. The quietness is, from time to time, interrupted by terrorizing forte statements, which, combined with the tense silences following them, resemble the opening of the Fantasy. Like the first movement, the finale also meets its conclusion without loosing one bit of its hurried energy.
The primary task of music in the 18th century wasn’t complete originality or seeking new means of expression. During the era of the Gallant Style, the composer thought to be the most excellent was the one who most successfully cultivated the existing musical material into spirited and balanced compositions. During his time, Wolfgang Mozart was undoubtedly that composer.
Significantly, Mozart’s abilities extended to the “learned” techniques of the baroque era, but his ideals resonated with the ideals of the Enlightenment. As such, he composed music which was uncomplicated and intended, above all, to please. Much like Joseph Haydn, Mozart represented a musical style which allowed simple beauty and complexity to co-exist; polyphony and chromaticism often found their place in the developments and transitions of his compositions, while the thematic material remained charming and amiable.
Mozart’s sonatas are vehicles of a dynamic musicianship; their “clavieristic” figurations displace sensitivity and sparkle. Fit for the expectations of the time, the sonatas provide the listener with a well-balanced mix of delight and surprise. Each work has its own unique character and seems to be speaking (if not in its own musical language) in its own dialect. Each sonata forms its own musical milieu, in which the wealth of ideas creates continuity and logical narrative. There are many short quotations and references between the movements – motives and thematic ideas are highlighted by the interplay of the different movements.
Sonata in F-Major K. 533/494
The Sonata in F-Major results from a happy marriage of two separately composed components: an “Allegro and Andante,” from 1788, and a “little Rondo,” from 1786, according to Mozart’s own catalog of his works. The sonata was published as a single work, but its curious origin is revealed to us by the two different Köchel Verzeichnis numbers it carries (the K. numbers that are associated with Mozart’s composition titles.)
The musical language of the F-Major Sonata differs from most of Mozart’s earlier piano sonatas in its “learned” style and conscious architecture. While employing a vocabulary of delight and entertainment – the musical language of the day – the ultimate goals of the sonata appear to lean towards the more profound. Arguably the Sonata in F-Major is (excluding perhaps the sonatas in minor keys) Mozart’s least Gallant and most Classical. As with many works from the 1780s, Mozart’s keen interest in polyphony is exhibited in the sonata. So paramount, in fact, is Mozart’s concern with polyphony that it is possible to hear a foreshadowing of Beethoven’s late style – some thirty years before Beethoven would actualize it.
The first movement is comprised two contrasting ideas. The first, while witty, is less of a “catchy tune”; instead, Mozart writes a melody full of symphonic possibilities and potential for polyphonic development. The opportunity to make use of these possibilities is soon seized by Mozart as the left hand takes over the theme leading to the second key-area. This process of modulation happens in an unusually organic way for Mozart. Now in the dominant, the second idea is presented in a texture that employs brilliant triplet passagework. To balance the preceding polyphony (which can feel musically “weighty”), Mozart allows the contrasting triplet texture to be expansive and eventful.
Though Mozart often introduces new themes in the development sections of his works, in this sonata he limits himself to material already present in the exposition. The development is, in fact, a “true” development, as the two ideas of the exposition are molded and juxtaposed. The minor mode dominates the development as another means of finding balance within the first movement of the sonata.
The second movement shares some fundamental qualities and applies similar compositional processes as the first movement. The growth of the exposition resembles that of the first movement: a calm and meaningful opening, already somewhat developmental in nature, followed by more decorative figurations and a more decisive character. Likewise, the development section once again molds and juxtaposes the ideas of the movement. The climax of the development is an exchange of thirds that is (surprisingly) not far from material heard in the development section of the Hammerklavier Sonata by Beethoven!
The concluding movement is a genteel Allegretto. While preparing for the publication of this sonata, Mozart revised portions of the Rondo to make it more suitable as the last movement of the “assembled” sonata. Towards the end he added a section, which recalls the two main ideas of the opening movement: the polyphony and the virtuosity. This section also functions as a cadenza of sorts – adding yet another component of brilliance into the Sonata.
Sonata in B-flat Major K. 333
Mozart’s compositions in B-flat Major (the key of his opera The Magic Flute) often exhibit a tone of melodious grandeur and celebration. Such is the case with this sonata. Each one of the work’s substantial three movements begins with an invitation to evolve and deepen the spirit of their openings, and indeed each movement sees the fulfillment of that expectation. Mozart composed this sonata while on a brief excursion to Linz, in 1783, and its symphonic aura is, perhaps, indebted to the “Linz” Symphony K. 425, completed on the same journey.
The first movement begins almost like a duet, the lower voice providing the upper voice with contemplative counterpoint and often providing the decisive pull to establish a cadence. Towards the end of the exposition, the string-like texture gradually becomes more “clavieristic,” as if the eloquence of the opening, in celebration of its positive outlook, eventually grew into virtuosic joy. The development section explores the minor mode, which is almost completely absent from the outer sections. The underlying feeling of mature happiness, though, is not jeopardized.
The second movement explores and reflects on some of the components set out in the first movement, but in more studious a manner. It might not be an exaggeration to speak of melodic ecstasy here; such a wealth of sonorous heights and expressive leaps make the emotion of the movement almost unmistakable. As in the first movement, it is the development section, which guards the darkness and distress.
The finale employs many qualities of the concerto genre. The interplay between the solos and tuttis is clear and towards the end of the movement a sizable cadenza appears – following the usual orchestral preparation. The movement’s evolution resembles that of the opening movement; however, while the first movement grows from the eager exchange of a duet into the proudly presented excellence and bravura of a virtuoso soloist, the finale starts with the wit of an allegretto and ends with the imperial brilliance of a concerto finale.
Sonata in A-Major K. 331
Mozart kept a catalogue of his compositions and in it would often include mere plans and unfinished works. This often makes it difficult to determine where and why a work (particularly smaller works) was conceived. Mozart frequently visited his father and sister in Salzburg and during his visits he would spend time composing. It has been suggested that Mozart might have occasionally composed “musical parcels” for his sister Nannerl, and this sonata, composed in 1783 while in Salzburg, might in fact be one of those parcels.
The musical milieu of the sonata in A-Major is characterized by highlighting themes and ideas in the different contexts of the work’s three movements. Supporting this exegesis is the fact that the sonata begins with a variation-movement. The theme of the variations is a brightly sonorous sicilano, which subjected to a sequence of variations in quickening meter (a trait typical of the variation-form of the day). Mozart achieves unity among the three movements of the sonata by referring to the other movements within certain variations. Variation III foreshadows the finale of the sonata, both of which are in a-minor. Variation IV shares a “philharmonic” texture with the trio-section of the second movement. Variation VI is a lively and virtuosic conclusion, which gives a preview of the finale of the sonata. In lieu of a slow movement, Mozart gives a substantial slow variation (Variation V) in much the same way he had in the variation-finale of the sonata in D-Major K 284.
The second movement is a minuet whose opening theme is the same as the sonata in C-Major K. 309 (which originated as an improvisation by Mozart). With a siciliano first movement and a minuet second movement, the sonata is beginning to play out as a dance suite of a sort and in fact each one of the three movements originated as dance genre: the siciliano, minuet and march.
The fabled finale Alla Turca allows us to visit a fashion trend in Viennese music during the 1780s. The finale is but one in a series of many works by Mozart, written around the same time, with a “Turkish” flavor. The most substantial of which is his opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail, completed in 1781. The modern grand piano is perhaps not the ideal instrument to bring out what is “Turkish” in Alla Turca. The bass register of the fortepiano surely provided a more robust and uneven tone, reminiscent of the drums and cymbals it is supposed to mimic.
Sonata in C-Major K. 545
Mozart composed the “little piano sonata for beginners,” as he listed the work in his catalogue of works, in 1788 while in Vienna and with it he blessed the dedicatee (the beginner) with one of his most refined and balanced works. While, due to its relatively modest technical demands, the sonata is highly approachable to an amateur it is, moreover, a masterpiece in its profound naiveté; possessing an honest, pure, childlike tone.
The opening movement offers some gallant features in their simplest and most effective forms: an opening period phrase with an Albert bass accompaniment followed by a set of uncomplicated yet virtuosic scales that straightforwardly modulate to the dominant where a lively tremolando figure accompanies a cheerfully chirping tune. Then a sequence of wonderfully melodious passages lead the music towards the concluding theme and the exposition comes to an end. In the recapitulation Mozart maneuvers – surprisingly – to the subdominant F-Major instead of the expected C-Major. This twist in the harmonic structure creates symmetry between the exposition and recapitulation, to wit, the second theme appears a fourth below the first theme. It is a perfect introduction to the world of the sonata fit for any beginner!
The second movement is a harmonious aria where the scarcely pausing left hand figurations imbue the right hand melody with a pristine glow that persists throughout the movement. Woven into the fabric of the movement is a conflict between the safety and comfort of the opening G-Major section and the uneasy concern of the middle section in G-Minor (the same key relation is heard in the development of the first movement also beginning in G-Minor). Mozart fully includes the listener in this traversal with sensitivity, tact and (importantly) some principal credibility. This allows the listener to understand the meaning of the narrative without of knowing, necessarily, its cause. As G-Major seals the movement, Mozart, as he often does, prepares for the following movement and offers a concluding theme which faintly hints towards the coming (in this case) play of the finale.
As yet another knot to the dedicatee of the sonata, the childlike wit of the finale emerges from the playgrounds of its composer genius. Mozart surely found amusement in musical quarters where simple contrasts of staccato and legato, imitation, quickly repeated notes, and energetic and “groovy” gestures are ever-present. The concluding fanfare of the finale is reminiscent of the closing theme the second movement and sends the listener on his way with more than a handful of musical gems.
Sonata in D-Major K. 576
Even though the origin of the sonata in D-Major is unknown, it is appropriate that it be listed as the last of the genre Mozart created in that each of the sonata’s three movements portrays a central quality in Mozart’s instrumental output and as a whole the work stands among many of the highest achievements by Mozart within a three-movement form.
The opening movement is a prime example of Mozart’s ability to create harmonic richness within a lean texture. Mozart eagerly pursued both implied and real polyphony in the 1780s, but by the end of the decade (which is probably when this sonata was composed) Mozart’s polyphonic voice no longer possessed a baroque flavor. The synthesis of emphatic statements, imitation, soothing melodies and functional, virtuosic writing make the first movement a unique opening movement among the Mozart’s cycle of sonatas.
Like many other slow movements by Mozart, the slow movement of this sonata combines elements from both aria and choral. The movement is marked by a strong contrast between the angelic opening and the poignant middle section (in the distant key of F-sharp minor). Once it seems certain that the angelic music of the opening will eclipse that of the middle, the heavenly aura relaxes and the music eases ever so slightly towards the joy of the finale.
Polyphony was woven into almost every one of the first movement’s themes, but in the finale, intended primarily to be a festive blast, polyphony is allowed to sneak in at certain times (for example, the second theme in the dominant and the appropriate place in the development-section). Mozart uses polyphony as a vehicle for creating excitement before a virtuosic texture of arpeggios, or before exhilarating passagework reaps the musical buildup. Much like in the second movement, a coda departing from the main musical atmosphere of the movement brings yet another level of brilliance and brings this ingenious sonata to its sparkling end.
Johannes Brahms (1833-97): Viulusonaatti G-duuri op. 78, ”Regenlied-Sonate“
Vuosina 1878-79 sävelletty Brahmsin ensimmäinen viulusonaatti tunnetaan myös nimellä Regenlied eli sadelaulu. Sonaatin materiaali on läheistä sukua säveltäjän samannimiselle laululle. Laulun ensimmäisessä säkeistössä sade herättää toiveen paluusta lapsuuden unelmiin.
Brahms, Regenlied 1. Säkeistö
Walle, Regen, walle nieder,
Wecke mir die Träume wieder,
Die ich in der Kindheit träumte
Wenn das Naß im Sande schäumte!
Tulvi, sade, tulvi,
Tuo takaisin unelmat,
Joita lapsena uneksin,
Sateen vaahdotessa hiekassa!
(suom. Paavali Jumppanen)
Viulusonaatti on oma irrallinen teoksensa ja puolen tunnin mitassaan toki laulua huomattavasti laajempi rakennelma, mutta sen intiimi yhteys Regenliediin antaa mahdollisuuden tulkita musiikkia tekstin näkökulmasta. Sonaatin kolmeen osaan kätkeytyy monisyinen ja runsaasti osien välisiä viittauksia sisältävä musiikillinen tarina. On kuin teoksen rakenne itsessään ilmentäisi unenomaista todellisuutta, jossa muistot ja nykyisyys, haaveet ja uhat sekoittuvat toisiinsa.
Regenliedin melodia on pohjana sonaatin ääriosien teemoille, finaalin alku on miltei suora laina laulusta. Laulun avaava lempeän surumielinen melodia rohkaistuu tekstin siirtyessä kertomaan sateen herättämistä onnellisista lapsuusmuistoista ”…Die ich in der Kindheit träumte”, ja samalla laulun taustalla soinut molli väistyy, kuin antaen duurille roolin lapsuuden unelmissa ja jättäen mollin vallitsemaan aikuisuuden – sateen – maailmassa. Sonaatti puolestaan alkaa spontaanisti duurista, miltei kansanlaulun tapaan. Yksinkertaisesti hymyilevä pianon ”helppojen” sointujen säestämä viulun avausmelodia soi kuin laulussa kaivattu lapsuuden unelma onnellisimmillaan.
Toinen osa alkaa ylevästi ja puhtaasti soivalla pianon soololla. Kuviot viulun sisääntulossa muistuttavat barokkimusiikin kärsimyseleitä. Pian kuultava surumarssiaihe tuo alun hartauteen hengellisen vivahteen. Surumarssi voisi olla viittaus kuoleman tietoisuuteen lapsuuden kaipuun aiheuttajana. Toisen ja kolmannen osan tunnelmat limittyvät jännittävällä tavalla. Toisen osan harras avausmelodia palaa vapautuneempana kahdesti finaalissa, kerran vielä aivan lopussa, hetkeä ennekuin regenlied-teema päättää sonaatin lyyrisen täyttymyksen tunnelmiin. Sonaatin lopun voi kuulla metaforana ylösnousemuksesta. Se saattaisi myös ilmentää jäähyväisiä laulussa kaivatuille lapsuuden unelmille ja näin viitata aikuistumiseen.
Brahms itse puhui nostalgian tärkeydestä musiikissaan. Regenliedin ja viulusonaatin teemana nostalgia on puhtaimmillaan: lapsuuden kaipuuna. Tunne ei luonnollisestikaan ole lapsenomainen, päinvastoin, se on kypsä ja jo saanut kosketuksen elämän varjopuoliin. Brahms oli säveltäjänä vahvasti traditioihin ankkuroitunut, hän muun muassa editoi runsaasti 1700-luvun musiikkia. Toisaalta hän etsi usein varsin monimutkaisiinkin rakennelmiin taipuvassa musiikissaan uusia ilmaisukeinoja ja oli myöhemmin Anton Webernin kaltaisten mullistajien suuri esikuva. Hän siis tunsi eurooppalaisen musiikin ”lapsuuden” ja saattoi myös nähdä sen ”aikuisuuden”. Ei siis ihme että Brahms, ei pelkästään pitänyt nostalgiaa itselleen tärkeänä psykologisena ilmiönä, vaan myös kykeni musiikissaan ilmaisemaan sitä rikkaasti.
Béla Bartók (1881-1945): Viulusonaatti nro. 1
Puhuttaessa modernismista 1900-luvun musiikissa on tullut tavaksi pitää jonkinlaisina päälinjoina toisaalta Schönbergin siirtymistä myöhäisromantiikan värikkäästä harmoniamaailmasta ensin vieläkin runsaammin soivaan vapaaseen atonaalisuuteen ja sitten askeettisempaan kaksitoistasäveljärjestelmään ja toisaalta Stravinskin itsessään varsin eri suuntiin katsovia irtiottoja ensin tyyliteltyyn venäläiseen folkloreen ja myöhemmin renessanssin ja klassismin ideaaleista suodatettuun uusklassismiin. Näiden päälinjojen rinnalla vaikutti suuri määrä eri tavoin musiikista ajatelleita säveltäjiä, joista eräs jännittävimmistä oli unkarilainen Béla Bartók. Myös Bartók eli Schönbergiin ja Stravinskiin vaikuttaneiden muutosprosessien vaikutuspiirissä; myös hän kuuli Brahmsinsa, Straussinsa ja Debussynsä näiden ollessa vielä uusinta uutta.
Bartók oli monipuolinen musiikkipersoona: hän toimi aktiivisesti säveltäjänä, pianistina ja musiikkitieteilijänä. Saksalainen musiikki dominoi vuosisadan vaihteen eurooppalaisessa musiikkitieteessä, ja Bartók näki kovasti vaivaa vahvistaakseen suomalais-ugrilaisen musiikkitieteen identiteettiä – hän jopa suunnitteli kansanmusiikin keräysmatkaa Suomeen. Matka jäi suunnittelun asteelle mutta Unkarin alueen kansanmusiikkia Bartók keräsi ja luetteloi runsaasti. Bartók myös ammensi musiikkiinsa vaikutteita kohtaamastaan magyar-musiikista. Kansanmusiikkivaikutteet eivät sinänsä olleet uutta, musiikillinen folklore oli ollut – useimmiten tosin tyyliteltynä – jo pitkään eurooppalaisille säveltäjille tärkeää: esimerkkeinä vaikkapa Mozartin monet turkkilaisuudella leikittelevät teokset, Brahmsin g-mollikvarteton zigeuner-finaali, Lisztin unkarilaisia rapsodiat, puhumattakaan eksotismista vaikkapa Rameaun teoksissa L’Egyptienne ja Les Sauvages – mutta vasta Bartók toi todellisen kansanmusiikin elementit osaksi sävelkielensä sanastoa.
Mikäli musiikin historia nähdään johonkin suuntaan kulkevana kehitystarinana, voidaan sanoa Bartókin musiikin olleen 1920-luvulla modernistisimmillaan. Tuolloin hän sävelsi muun muassa avantgardistisen baletin Ihmeellinen Mandariini sekä kaksi viulusonaattia.
Järkälemäisen ensimmäisen viulusonaatin mosaiikkimaisessa sointikuvassa kuuluvat moninaiset vaikutteet, kuitenkin niin että lopputulosta hallitsee vahva sisäinen logiikka. Taidemusiikin perinne kuuluu musiikin fraasirakenteissa ja vaikkapa pianon säestäessä ensiosan avausteemaa seuraavan intensiivistä viulumelodiaa brahmsmaisilla soinnuilla; impressionistien suosiossa ollutta kokosävelasteikkoa on käytetty ensimmäisen osan hitaassa välitaitteessa; Schönbergin ryhmän vapaan atonaalisuuden ”luvallisiksi” tekemät sointuihin kuulumattomat sävelet värittävät harmoniaa monissa teoksen kulminaatioissa; sonaatin finaali puolestaan on varattu laajan Unkarin alueen kansanmusiikkivaikutteiden temmellyskentäksi. On kuin Bartók halunnut näyttää lukuisille zigeuner-finaaleita säveltäneille kollegoilleen (esim. Haydn, Brahms, Liszt) mihin todellinen magyar-finaali kykeni. Briljantti, hurja, jopa makaaberi meininki huipentaa sonaatin.
Bartókin musiikin monityylisyys on tarjonnut mahdollisuuden tulkita hänet kansallissäveltäjäksi, traditionalistiksi tai uudistajaksi, kulloisestakin näkökulmasta riippuen. Monien Bartókin modernistisuutta korostaneiden (erityisesti Schönberg-ryhmän edustajien) suosikkiteos, avoimen seksuaalisuutensa myötä provokatiivinen ja useaan otteeseen sensuurin alle joutunut baletti Ihmeellinen Mandariini alkaa orkesterijohdannolla, joka on selvästi sukua sonaatin avaavalle musiikille. Samankaltaisuutta kestää vain hetken ajan, baletissa kaaosta kuvaavaa johdantoa seuraa sarja prostituoitujen tansseja, missä kohdin sonaatti suuntautuu muunlaisiin tunnelmiin. Yhtä kaikki, viulusonaattien kanssa samoihin aikoihin sävelletty baletti antaa johtolangan niiden rajumpien jaksojen tulkintaan.
Säveltäjäbiografioilla on perinteisesti ollut musiikin tutkimuksessa merkittävä asema. Miksi näin, eikö kysymys pitäisi olla säveltaideteoksista eikä niitä luoneiden taiteilijoiden palvonnasta? Aina viime vuosisadan alkupuolelle saakka säveltäjät olivat usein myös aktiivisia esittäviä muusikoita – Beethoven aikansa merkittävin pianisti, Liszt kapellimestaritaiteen pioneereja ja Brahms sekä pianisti että kuoronjohtaja – ja heidän henkilöhistoriansa tarkastelu avaa sitä kautta väylän itse musiikin tarkasteluun tavalla, jollaista ei kenties ole tarpeen ajatella vaikkapa kuvataiteen tai kirjallisuuden puolella.
Henkilöhistorian keskeisyydellä on kuitenkin varjopuolensa. Tapana on nimittäin ollut muokata säveltäjämestareista kuvaa pikemminkin nykyajan kuin historian lähtökohdista. 1800-luvun musiikin ”hyvät” ja ”pahat” ovat tästä oiva esimerkki. Saksalaisen romantiikan suuret nimet Richard Wagner ja Johannes Brahms ovat, osin johtuen omista agendoistaan, mutta erityisesti natsi-Saksan myötä groteskin lopun saaneen saksalaisen nationalismin jälkimainingeissa tulleet käsitellyiksi kovin erilaisin kriteerein. Todellisia eroja toki olikin: Brahms ei Wagnerin tapaan tehnyt julkisesti politiikkaa, eikä häntä voi Wagnerin lailla myöskään liittää antisemitismiin. Brahms toimi Wienissä, jossa taitelijayhteisö ajatteli pohjoisemman Saksan ryhmiä liberaalimmin eikä oikeistoin radikaali ja usein antisemitistinen retoriikka heihin juuri tehonnut. Toisaalta myös Brahms oli Bismarckin ajatusten saksankielisten alueiden yhdistämisestä kannalla ja monen muun kulttuurieliitin edustajan tapaan tuki taiteellaan tuota ideologiaa. Kunnollisena saksalaisena patrioottina Brahms haki musiikkiinsa ideoita uskonnollisesta hegemoniasta sekä idealisoidusta kansanmusiikkiperinteestä.
Brahmsin musiikillisen identiteetin ytimessä oli hänen läheinen suhteensa hengelliseen musiikkiin ja sen kautta saksalaiseen hengellis-filosofiseen ajatusmaailmaan. Hyviä esimerkkejä tästä olivat Brahmsin aikanaan suosituimmat teokset Triumphlied ja Saksalainen sielunmessu. Ranskan–Preussin sodan aikaan sävelletty Triumphlied ylisti Ilmestyskirjan tekstillä ”uuden kuningaskunnan syntymistä”. Jo ensimmäisen mutta viimeistään toisen maailmansodan jälkeen kyseinen teos ymmärrettävästi menetti suosionsa. Martti Lutherin teksteihin sävelletty Saksalainen sielunmessu puolestaan oli eräänlainen vastaveto katoliselle sielunmessuperinteelle. Brahms vierasti katolisuutta ja pitäytyi uskonnollisessa musiikissaan protestanttisiin teksteihin, mikä juuri oli tyypillistä saksalaisille nationalisteille, jotka näkivät katolisen, universaalin eurooppalaisuuden seisovan Saksan valtion tiellä.
Brahms myös sovitti yli sata kansanlaulua aikana, jolloin Volk (kansa) nähtiin saksalaisen kulttuurin keskeisimpänä elementtinä. Vuonna 1933 Brahmsin syntymän 100-vuotisjuhlallisuuksien yhteydessä pitämässään esitelmässä kapellimestari Wilhelm Furtwängler korosti Brahmsin musiikin sidettä kansanlauluihin sanoen Brahmsilla olleen ”poikkeuksellinen kyky eläytyä Volkin tuntemuksiin”. Lisäksi Furtwängler analysoi Brahmsin melodista tyyliä ja kertoi tämän omanneen ”kyvyn säveltää melodioita, jotka viimeistä yksityiskohtaa myöten olivat Brahmsia, mutta jotka samaan aikaan kuulostivat kansanlauluilta. Brahms oli Volk, Brahms oli Volklied”, Furtwängler lisäsi.
Toisen maailmansodan jälkeen käsitys Brahmsista suuntautui kuitenkin hieman eri poluille, yhtäältä koska uhkana oli hänen liittäminen Wagnerin lailla sovinistiseen nationalismiin, toisaalta koska Brahmsin monipuolinen taide antoi siihen mahdollisuuden. Pohjan uudelle näkemykselle tarjosi natseja Yhdysvaltoihin paennut Arnold Schönberg, jonka essee ”Brahms the progressive” vuodelta 1947 korosti Brahmsin musiikin autonomiaa sitä ympäröineestä kulttuurista. Schönberg myös alleviivasi Brahmsin musiikin harmoniamaailman rajoja rikkovaa monipuolisuutta sekä fraasirakenteen joustavuutta, jotka molemmat piirteet tarjosivat 1900-luvun musiikin uudistajille jopa romantiikan ajan arkkimodernistina pidettyä Wagneriakin paremmat lähtökohdat. Schönbergin sanoille on toki annettava täysi paino, mutta niiden lisäksi myös Furtwänglerin näkemys Brahmsista kertoo paljon säveltäjän musiikista, niin historian väärälle puolelle kuin se aikanaan joutuikin.
Sonaatti A-duuri op. 100
Eurooppalaisen musiikin kentällä 1800-luvulla ennen muuta kaksi sävellysmuotoa olivat leimallisesti saksalaisia: sinfonia ja kamarimusiikki. Brahmsin oppi-isä Schumann oli puhunut Beethovenin sinfonioista saksalaisena kansallisaarteena ja hän itse sekä Felix Mendelssohn sävelsivät ”saksalaiset” sinfoniat – Schumann Reiniläisen ja Mendelssohnin Uskonpuhdistuksen. Myös Brahms kunnostautui sekä sinfonikkona että kamarimusiikin säveltäjänä. Brahmsin laaja kamarimusiikkituotanto edustaa rikkaasti hänen kiinnostustaan sekä uskonnollista musiikkia että kansanlaulua kohtaan. Vuonna 1886 sävelletyn toisen pianoviulusonaatin ensiosa alkaa pianon soittamalla koraalimaisella teemalla ja osan toinen teema lienee mukaelma Walterin Preisliedistä Wagnerin oopperasta Mestarilaulajat. Sonaatin toisen osan Vivace-taite puolestaan leikittelee teemalla, johon sopisi Furtwänglerin määritelmä melodiasta, joka samanaikaisesti on täyttä Brahmsia mutta joka voisi sellaisenaan olla kansanlaulu.
Sonaatin ensiosassa Allegro amabile muokataan ensiteeman sekä kehittelyjakson materiaalia mutta Preislied-teema kuullaan kahdesti muuttumattomana kuin yllättäen keskelle sonaatin osaa ilmestynyt laulu. Toisessa osassa vuorottelevat hidas koraalimainen Andante tranquillo ja nopea pelimannihenkinen Vivace. Osassa eräällä tavalla limittyvät neliosaisen sonaattirakenteen kaksi keskimmäistä osaa. Ääriosien lyyrillinen tasapaino saa keskiosasta kumppanikseen levottoman ilmapuntarin lailla värähtelevän pariosan. Lempeän ylevä finaali Allegretto grazioso avaa hymnimäisen ensiteeman esittelyssä viululle solistisen estradin; sama rooli oli sonaatin avausosassa duosonaatille poikkeukselliseen tapaan varattu pianolle.
Sonaatti D-molli op. 108
Brahmsin vuosina 1886-88 säveltämä kolmas viulusonaatti on yksi säveltäjänsä tummimmista teoksista. Sonaatissa matkataan ensiosan jännittyneisyydestä finaalin tuhovoimaiseen uhmaan. Sonaatin avaavan Allegro-osan koko kehittelyjakson pohjalla soi dominantti-urkupiste (A-sävel). Urkupisteellä on keskeinen rooli koko teoksen dramaturgiassa, on kuin sen synnyttämä jännite lopullisesti purkautuisi vasta finaalin koodan kiirastulimaisessa katastrofissa. Urkupiste palaa kuitenkin jo ensiosan osan koodassa, tällä kertaa D-pohjasävelellä. Urkupisteen painostava jatkuvuus liitettynä vanhanaikaisesta tyylistä lainattuun pikardilaiseen duuriterssiin saa ensiosan lopun harmonisen tilanteen kuulostamaan epästabiililta ja rauha laskeutuukin osan lopussa vain tilapäisesti, kuin esirippu draaman ensimmäisen näytöksen jälkeen. Brahms selvästi rakasti pitkiä urkupistejaksoja ja kiinnostavaa kyllä näyttää käyttäneen niitä erityisen paljon D-sävellajeissa – tämän sonaatin lisäksi muun muassa ensimmäisen pianokonserton op. 15 finaalin koodassa sekä Saksalaisen sielunmessun kuuluisassa urkupiste-fuugassa.
Sonaatin kaksi keskimmäistä osaa ovat tunnelmiltaan kylläisiä, niistä ensimmäisestä myös puuttuu tämänkaltaisille osille tyypillinen kontrastoiva välijakso. Kyseinen osa Adagio jälleen kerran pohjautuu koraalille, joka kuullaan osan alussa intiiminä ja myöhemmin pianon orkestraalisen tekstuurin yllä. Kolmas osa Un poco presto e con sentimento on nimensä mukaisesti surumielisen tunteikas ja soinniltaan läpikuultava osa, jonka pinnan alla vallitseva levoton tunnelma suistuu välittömästi osan tauottua Presto agitato finaalin aggressiiviseen vääjäämättömyyteen.
D-mollisonaatin kerronnalle on ominaista eri teemojen erilainen evoluutio. Eräät teemat, kuten ensiosan alkua seuraava kiihkeä forteteema, palaavat myöhemmin miltei muuntumattomana. Toiset, kuten ensiosan avaava teema, saavat joka kerralla erilaisen ilmiasun: ensiteeman kohdalla aluksi hauraan ja häilyvän, keskellä osaa lempeän lyyrillisen, ja lopulta koodassa dramaattisen voitokkaan. Tämänkaltaisen teemojen muuttumisen voi kuulla musiikin kuvitteellisten toimijoiden ja niiden kohtaamien muuttumattomien olosuhteiden välisenä jännitteenä.
Ei kenenkään Bartók
Toisen maailmansodan tauottua Eurooppa jaettiin sodan voittajavaltioiden kesken ja Unkari jäi osaksi kommunistista blokkia. Kansallissosialismia halveksinut Bartók oli paennut Unkarista jo vuonna 1940 todennäköiseltä näyttäneen Saksan voittokulun alta Yhdysvaltoihin. Yhdysvalloissa Bartók vietti elämänsä viisi vaikeaa viimeistä vuotta, joiden aikana hän toki sävelsi Sergei Koussevitzkyn tilauksesta Boston Symphony Orchestralle Konserton orkesterille mutta vietti muuten kurjaa elämää ja kuoli lopulta vuonna 1945 New Yorkissa rahattomana ja miltei unohdettuna.
Kylmän sodan ensimmäisinä vuosina Bartók joutui postuumisti keskelle idän ja lännen propagandasotaa. Kommunistit olivat mitätöineet Bartókin maineen formalistisena säveltäjänä vuoden 1948 suuren neuvostoliittolaisen musiikkijulistuksen seurauksena. Bartókin musiikin saavutettua yllättäen pian säveltäjän kuoltua suuren suosion Yhdysvaltojen unkarilaisväestön keskuudessa ja länsipropagandaa Euroopassa lähettäneen Voice Of America -radioaseman tiedotettua ilmiöstä itä-Eurooppaan piti Unkarin kommunistien jollain tavalla iskeä takaisin. Vuonna 1950 säveltäjän 5-vuotiskuolinpäivän yhteydessä Unkarissa järjestettiin useita Bartók-juhlallisuuksia. Hänen maineensa palautettiin unkarilaisena kansallissankarina, joka oli kerännyt kansanmusiikkia koko laajalta Balkanin alueelta ja oli näin ollut taiteilijana pienen ihmisen asialla. Koska Bartók oli ollut poliittisesti epäaktiivinen, julistivat kommunistit hänen ”varmasti olleen maailmankatsomukseltaan kommunisti, sillä olihan hän taiteilijana ollut internationalisti”.
Suhtautuminen Bartókiin oli monimutkaista. Unkarin musiikkiväki oli ollut alun perin hapan säveltäjän musiikin sensuurista. Nyt kun kommunistit halusivat yhtäkkiä palauttaa Bartókin maineen, tulivat vain tietyt teokset sallituiksi. Bartókin unkarilainen musiikki kävi, kunhan liiaksi kansallismieliset teokset kuten sinfoninen runoelma Kossuth eivät tulisi esille. Viides jousikvartetto ja sonaatti kahdelle pianolle ja lyömäsoittimille olivat sopivia, mutta kapitalistisissa maissa suositut Kontrastit tai Orkesterikonsertto eivät tulleet kysymykseen. Edelleen formalismisyytösten keskiössä olleet modernistiset kaksi viulusonaattia sekä baletti Ihmeellinen Mandariini pysyivät pannassa. Panna ei koskaan ollut täysin selvä tai virallinen tila. Kommunistien tarkoitusperiin sopi pitää muusikot varpaillaan vähän kuin arvailemassa mikä milloinkin oli sallittua. Toisinaan Bartókin kansanmusiikkivaikutteet olivat arvo, toisinaan kirous. Pianosarja Im Freien esimerkiksi sisältää viittauksia folkloreen vain niukalti eikä teosta voi pitää edes kovin modernistisena, joten sen joutuminen pannaan johtunee yksinkertaisesti teoksen musiikillisten tunnelmien ahdistuneisuudesta, joiden katsottiin edustavan taiteen rappiota.
Bartók oli siis tarpeellinen hahmo monille osapuolille mutta musiikkiyleisöä lukuun ottamatta kukaan ei tuntunut kelpuuttavan säveltäjää kokonaisuudessaan. Tuntui kuin Bartókin hyväksyminen olisi ollut pikemminkin välttämätön pakko: kommunistit tarvitsivat häntä, koska eivät halunneet toimia täysin vastoin kansalaismielipidettä; eurooppalaiset modernistit kuten kuuluisa ranskalainen teoreetikko René Leibowitz nostivat Bartókista esille vain omaan taidekäsitykseensä sopineet piirteet; ja lopulta amerikkalaiset, joille Bartók oli Eurooppaa paennut ja Benny Goodmanille säveltämään päätynyt palkinto, käyttivät häntä aseena taistelussa kommunismia vastaan.
Béla Bartók (1881-1945): Sonaatti viululle ja pianolle nro. 2
Vuonna 1922 sävelletty toinen viulusonaatti kuuluu ensimmäisen viulusonaatin lailla Bartókin radikaaleimpiin teoksiin. Kaksiosaisen teoksen osien sisäinen rakenne sekä niiden muodostama kokonaiskaari venyttävät jopa itse sonaatin käsitettä. Musiikillisen materiaalin runsaus ja teoksen improvisaation omainen kerronta luovat pikemminkin mielikuvan vapaasti kehittyvästä fantasiasta. Teos alkaa askeesista ja monien vaiheiden jälkeen myös päättyy siihen. Ensimmäiset tahdit, joissa kumpikin soitin pitäytyy yhdessä äänessä, voi kuulla äärimmäisen keskittyneenä materiaalin esittelynä, jota seuraava lyhyen tauon jälkeen esille purkautuva musiikki tuntuu syntyvän vapaan assosiaation kautta. Osan kulminaatiot soivat dissonanssisten harmonioiden kautta, pohdiskelevat jaksot puolestaan pelkistetyn konsonanttisissa soinneissa.
Ensiosa liikkuu pääosin hitaissa, usein surrealistisissa yömusiikin tunnelmissa, toinen osa puolestaan pelaa mekaanisesti liikkuvalla moto-perpetuo-perusidealla, kuitenkin jatkuvasti tempoa muunnellen. On kuin läpi koko osan etsittäisiin tasaisesti etenevää liikettä. Missä ensimmäisen viulusonaatin aggressiivinen zigeuner-finaali pyrki romanttisen sankarisonaatin tyyliin huipentamaan teoksen, ovat tarkoitusperät toisessa sonaatissa arvoituksellisempia. Teos koettelee väliin virtuoosistakin soittoilottelua, mutta perusvire on kaukana näyttävyydestä. Toisen osan voi jopa kuulla perinteisen virtuoosi-finaalin rappiotilana.
Muusikon haasteet nuottitekstin äärellä ovat moninaisia. Kuinka välittää kuulijoille säveltäjän ajatukset, säveltäjän ääni? Kuinka tuoda esiin teoksen idea, sen ydin? Ja kuinka ymmärtää itse esittämänsä?
Musiikin esittäjä on kuin yksityisetsivä, joka pyrkii selvittämään käsillä olevan tapauksen ja kertomaan sen kulun sitten kuulijoilleen omin sanoin. Tapaus eli esitettävä teos puolestaan on kuin jokin vieras- tai salakielinen näytelmä, jonka käänteet esittäjän tulee monipuolisesti mutta myös henkilökohtaisella tavalla avata yleisölleen. Teoksen ollessa komedia, vaikkapa galantin sonaatin kujeileva finaali, auttaa jos esittäjä tietää, mitä kuulijakunta piti hauskana 1780-luvun Wienissä. Mikäli esittäjä päätyy Goethe-aikakauden draamojen pariin, vaikkapa suuren romanttisen virtuoosisankarin itselleen säveltämän sonaatin, on hänellä syytä olla edes jonkinlainen aavistus siitä, miltä tuntui kylpeä suurten ideoiden hegemoniassa 1840-luvun Saksan monimutkaisessa kulttuuri-ilmapiirissä.
Tutkiessaan tapausta esittäjä saattaa päätyä musiikin sisältöä käsitteleviin pohdintoihin, jolloin uhkaa joutuminen aikamoiseen hetteikköön. Otetaan esimerkiksi musiikin merkitykset klassismin ja romantiikan aikakausilla. Pohjimmiltaan musiikissa ollaan aina samojen kysymysten äärellä. Tuska, rakkaus, kaiho, uhka, lohtu, lempeys, veikeys, viihdyttävyys, viha ja muut ihmiseloa elähdyttävät perimmäiset tuntemukset kuuluvat tavalla tai toisella likipitäen kaikkeen musiikkiin. Erot eri aikakausien välillä ovat esillepanossa. Klassismissa musiikin käsitteiksi ja merkityksiksi muovautuneet sävellykselliset ideat kehystetään, kun puolestaan romantiikassa niihin sukelletaan. Siinä missä klassismi esittää asiansa kontrastein, ikään kuin valaisee ”käsillä olevaa ongelmaa” eri puolilta, luottaa romantiikka yksin käsittelemänsä argumentin voimaan välittämättä liikoja muodon protokollasta. Yksinkertaistaen voidaan sanoa klassismissa vallitsevan kaksi karakteeria, romantiikassa yksi. Mutta miten soveltaa sinänsä selkeää loppupäätelmää esityksessä?
Niin esitykseen, tuohon mystiseen samanaikaisten syntymisien ja kuolemisien hetkeenhän koko musiikin olemassaolo tähtää. Musiikin esittäminen on mitä monimutkaisin psykologinen tapahtuma, jossa perinpohjin sekoittuvat muusikon tiedot ja taidot sekä niin teoksesta kuin itse esittämistapahtumasta kumpuavat hetken aistinnan tuotokset synnyttäen, mainiota sanaseppoa Karlheinz Stockhausenia lainatakseni ”teoksen erään mahdollisen realisaation”. Nuo selittämättömät hetken aistinnan tuotokset, kutsukaamme niitä intuitioksi, muodostavat systemaattisen ja tietopohjaisen tulkinnan taustatyön lisäksi tärkeimmän esittäjää ohjaavan voiman. Eh bien! Harmaat aivosolut ovat tietenkin menestyvän yksityisetsivän korvaamattomia apureita, mutta idea ja intuitio, ne vasta takaavat jutun selvittämisen – ja tekevät esityksestä todellisen performanssin.
Siirrytään Beethoveniin. Claudio Arraun ohje Beethoven-tulkitsijoille on vaativa: ”Voidakseen välittää olennaisen Beethovenista tulee esittäjän estoitta antautua omille intuitiivisille voimilleen, niin tiedostamattomille kuin tiedostetuillekin. Esittäjän on hävitettävä itsestään emotionaalisen avautumisen pelko, sillä vain tuolloin on mahdollista kokea se tuska, joka Beethovenissa on.” Arraun Beethoven-käsitys on toki oman aikakautensa ja haltijansa lapsi, mutta se antaa hyvän käsityksen esittäjää kohtaavien henkisten haasteiden mittasuhteista.
Oletetaan selvitettävän tapauksen olevan Beethovenin Kuutamosonaatin ensimmäinen osa. Tuo kuuluisaakin kuuluisampi osahan on varsinainen julkinen salaisuus. Kaikki vähääkään musiikkia tuntevat ovat periaatteessa selvillä kappaleen luonteesta ja ideasta, vaikka loppujen lopuksi ei oikein tiedetä, mistä jutussa on pohjimmiltaan kysymys. Miten siis lähestyä osaa? Primavistattuaan osan ja tutustuttuaan muutaman keskeisen editorin metronomimerkintöihin alkavat esittäjän harmaat aivosolut ratkoa mysteeriä. Ensin on aina hyvä hieman tarkastella musiikillista materiaalia. Selvästikin keinovalikoima osassa on hyvin rajattu: bassolinja liikkuu harvakseltaan oktaaveissa, keskellä rytmisesti muuttumaton triolikuviointi punoo harmonista kudosta, ja yläpuolella koruton melodia laulaa yksinäistä lauluaan. Tekstuuri säilyy miltei koko osan läpi muuttumattomana, kunnes aivan osan lopussa melodian avausaihe siirtyy bassoon ja kuin mystisenä kaikuna osan alusta saattelee musiikin lopun raskasmielisiin sointuihin.
Dynamiikka- ja artikulaatiomerkinnät on pian katsottu, samoin alun tempomerkinnät: Adagio sostenuto eli hitaasti ja viipyillen, jota tarkentamaan on lisätty vuodatus Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino, joka suomennettuna tarkoittaa: kappale tulee soittaa kauttaaltaan herkästi ja pedaalia käyttäen. Hetkinen, pedaalia käyttäen? Eikös pedaalia ole tapana käyttää joka tapauksessa? Eräs tulkinta wieniläisklassikoiden notaatiosta on, että nuottiin kirjoitettiin vain sellaisia ohjeita, jotka eivät olisi ajan valistuneelle esittäjälle olleet muutenkin itsestään selviä. Mitä ilmeisimmin Beethoven on siis halunnut osassa pedaalia käytettävän tavanomaista runsaammin.
Kaikki edeltänyt on vielä varsin käytännöllistä ja miltei mekaanista muusikon perusanalyysiä, joka toki ohjaa tulkintaa karkeasti kohti säveltäjän haluamia uomia. Emme kuitenkaan voi ainoastaan tyytyä toteamaan, mitä osassa mekaanisella tasolla tapahtuu, myös syvemmät motivaatiot tulee ymmärtää. Tulee pyrkiä vastaamaan kysymyksiin kuka ja miksi. Miten siis päästä eteenpäin salaisuuden selvittämisessä, mistä löytää kaivattu johtolanka? Muistetaan Arraun ohje ja luotetaan intuitioomme. Yksi hyvä konsti on koettaa personoida materiaalin eri osasia. Ensin bassolinja, joka vakavana ja rauhallisena luo ylemmille tapahtumille turvallisuutta huokuvan pohjan. Voisiko se edustaa jotain ikuista tai vaikka kaiken alkua, kenties kaikkivaltiasta…? Beethoven oli vahvasti ja syvästi uskova henkilö, joten miksi ei? Sitten keskellä liikkuva triolitekstuuri. Se toistaa samaa kuviota ja eri harmonioissakin pitää hahmonsa samanlaisena, vaikka äänenkuljetuksen kiehtovan logiikan johdosta kuvion sisäiset jännitteet muuntuvat hienovaraisesti tahti tahdilta. Voisiko se kuvata jotain luonnon ilmiötä, jotka niin ikään esiintyvät samankaltaisina mutta yhtä kaikki aina erilaisina? Tuuli, vesi, laineet, luonnonvalo, pimeys – vaikuttaa hyvältä. Entä sitten lyhyen johdantofraasin jälkeen estradille astuva oikean käden melodia? Alun pisteellinen rytmi tuo kohtalonomaisuudessaan mieleen surumarssin. Rytmiele kuullaan fraasien aluissa aina kahdesti, on kuin eleen toisto olisi sitä seuraavan ilmaisuvoimaisen melodian laukaiseva signaali. Selvä juttu, viittaus inhimilliseen kärsimykseen ja sitä tarkastelevaa pohdintaa. Yhdistämällä nämä kolme spekulatiivista löydöstä syntyy tilanne, jossa läsnä ovat Jumala, luonto ja ihminen. Eräänä innoituksen hetkenä Beethoven kirjoitti luonnoslehtiölleen: “Kaikkivaltias metsässä! Olen iloinen ja täynnä onnea ollessani metsässä, jossa jokainen puu puhuu kauttasi”. Siinä se on, ”the smoking gun”! Kuutamosonaatin tapauksesta on onni kaukana mutta tekijät ovat samat. Viitekehys vaikuttaa uskottavalta, olemme onnistuneen hiukkasen avaamaan salaisuutta.
Siirrytään eteenpäin. Olivier Messiaen on sanonut Beethovenin olleen ”ainoa todella tonaalinen säveltäjä”, joten voimme odottaa löytävämme osan harmoniarakenteesta jotain mielenkiintoista. Sävellaji on cis-molli, ja ajan tavan mukaan valistunut kuulija saattoi miltei takuuvarmasti odottaa musiikin jossain vaiheessa siirtyvän rinnakkaissävellajiin E-duuriin. Konventio toteutuukin jo melodian ensimmäisessä fraasissa. Kuulija voi taas tyytyväisin mielin nauttia lempeän surumielisestä musiikista. Vai voiko sittenkään? Yllättäen E-duuri saa soida ainoastaan tahdin ajan, jonka jälkeen se hienostuneella mutta päättäväisellä eleellä peruuttamattomasti luhistuu molliksi. Kuulijan turvallisuudentunne on viety, sillä tämä ei voi selvästikään luottaa musiikin etenevän odotetulla tavalla. Molli ei saakaan klassismille tyypilliseen tapaan vastapoolikseen vahvaa, tasapainottavaa duuria. Sen sijaan duuri jää osassa edustamaan menetettyjä toiveita tai murskattuja haaveita. Kertausjaksossa E-duuri saa uuden tilaisuuden mutta kestää tälläkin kertaa ainoastaan hetken ajan. Kun vielä osan lopussa melodian siirryttyä bassoon surumarssiaihe toistuu kahden kerran sijaan neljästi eikä saakaan jatkokseen aikaisemmin duuriin johtanutta melodiaa, voi toivon pysyvästi todeta lasketun mollin syvään hautaan.
Saatavilla olevat dokumentit eli nuottimateriaali aiheuttavat esittäjälle tosinaan päänvaivaa. Editorit kautta aikojen ovat varmasti tehneet parhaansa, mutta rikkinäinen puhelin on ajan kuluessa tartuttanut matkaan myös virheitä. Kuutamosonaatin ensiosaan on päätynyt eräs tällainen tapaus. Hiljattain julkaistusta teoksen melko suttuisesta käsikirjoituksesta näkyy selvästi, miten osassa usein toistuvien yhden tahdin mittaisten crescendo-diminuendojen huiput kohdistuvat tahtien loppuun. Ensipainokseen käsin kaiverretuissa eleissä on – epäilemättä ladonnan tilanpuutteen vuoksi – selvää epätarkkuutta, ja huiput kohdistuvat toisinaan tahtien keskelle. Virhe on aikojen saatossa siirtynyt eteenpäin, ja useimmissa nykyaikaisissa editioissa osa eleistä on ristiriidassa Beethovenin alkuperäisen ajatuksen kanssa. Virheellisen version mukainen toteutus synnyttää tasajakoisen rytmiikan hallitsemassa musiikissa eräällä tavalla vakauttavan ja kuulijaa tuudittavan vaikutelman. Toteutettuina Beethovenin haluamalla tavalla eleet päinvastoin häiritsevät musiikin tasaista etenemistä ja ikään kuin pistävät hanttiin vallitsevalle tilanteelle. Eleet voisivat ilmentää osassa duurin kovan kohtalon kieltämistä, kertoa henkisestä taistelusta sitä vastaan.
Musiikki ei ole ”Idän pikajunan arvoitus” tai ”Aakkosmurha”. Vaikka salaisuutta voi pyrkiä raottamaan, ei sen lopullinen selvittäminen ole mahdollista eikä edes toivottavaa. Esittäjän tehtävä on kuitenkin esittää kysymyksiä: ”Miksi sonaatti alkaa hitaalla osalla? Mistä kumpuaa teoksen mystinen rakenne? Mikä selittää toisen osan varjojen reunustaman rikkumattoman onnen? Mikä lopulta motivoi finaalin viileän raivon?”, sillä tutkittuna ja analysoituna teos on mahdollista elää ja kokea syvemmin ja monipuolisemmin.
Poirotin tehtävä on tehty mutta miksi Victor Hugo? Koska hän osui asiassa oikeaan: ”Musiikki ilmaisee sitä mitä ei voi sanoilla kuvata ja sitä mikä ei voi jäädä ääneti.”
Numerous people have asked me what the point of writing yet another book about Beethoven is–surely at the beginning of our third century with the composer we ought to know everything there is to know about the man and his music. We have been convincingly told that, from a musical perspective, he learned most from Haydn. We know about his heroic struggles against deafness and that he was destined to live his life alone. That he sympathized with the hardships of the common man and shared many of our contemporary ideas about democracy, of this we are aware. We have also been informed that Beethoven would have opposed the 20th century’s dictators, both fascist and communist. Performances of Fidelio since the Second World War have cemented this particular piece of “Beethoveniana” by responding to that context.
If Beethoven really would have been that sensitive with respect to 20th-century society, we might turn to him for perspectives on recent issues, such as whether or not a bailout of the European banks in the midst of the current financial crisis is a good idea. And what about Turkey, what would Beethoven think of the descendents of the Ottoman Empire joining the EU? I admit that such an exercise is laden with malice, and, since Beethoven deserves respect above all, I will drop it. And furthermore, we’ve also been taught that Beethoven’s music is abstract; its autonomy can only be denied in the moment of potential agency in elevated issues like democracy or, as suggested by A. B. Marx, human spirit’s quest for freedom, we really should leave it at that and be satisfied with the Beethoven that has always stood on the right side of history. End of story.
Yet, when plunging into Beethoven’s music in the context of its contemporary society, taking the facts we have come to let represent Beethoven at face value quickly becomes problematic. Scholarship has recognized the importance of both Haydn and Mozart to Beethoven–the former through his tutorial advice during the 1790s and the latter as his compositional idol. Similar concepts at work in compositions of the three artists testify to influences. Occasional references to a handful of other immortalized geniuses in scholarship–typically Gluck, Handel, and Bach–demonstrate that our academic radar has been tuned to the frequency of the divine. How, then, are we to deal with the large number of keyboard sonatas by composers virtually unknown today, such as Leopold Koželuch or Anton Eberl, who also apply strikingly similar compositional strategies to those of our geniuses, but who were active before, between, or after the alleged model by Mozart and the synthesizing effort by Beethoven? Don’t such examples erode the claim that the masters exchanged ideas in an exclusive network?
Studying Viennese and German repertoire from the period of Beethoven’s youth we learn that the structural design of his last piano sonata, Op. 111 from 1822, two movements with the first opening with a slow introduction, was actually very popular during the 1780s and 1790s. How might we relate this discovery with the perception of the deaf composer-genius guided solely by his own imagination during this last decade, the artist who composed advanced and resolute music that often left his contemporaries baffled and that only the future generations would be fully able to appreciate?
And what are we to make of the story of Haydn the teacher and Beethoven the student? Pick up an early biography of Beethoven and read that the author emphasizes how “Beethoven didn’t learn much from Haydn.” On the flip side of the coin, an early biography of Haydn claims that “Beethoven was a difficult student and jealous of Haydn’s accomplishment, but nonetheless picked up a great deal of his musical style from older master.” A recent biography of Haydn states that “Beethoven conducted a successful campaign to undermine Haydn.” And, finally, a recent biography of Beethoven pledges that “Beethoven learned most everything from Haydn”, whom, by the way, “he respected more than any other living composer”? Where does this story begin, when does it end? At which moment do we arrive at the point in history where we are able to declare the case closed? I’m confident that a historiographical approach can help us find answers to these questions.
But there is also another, perhaps even tougher hurdle to overcome: the abstraction of music, a paramount trend in the 19th and especially 20th century responses to Beethoven. Performers sensing the music’s dramatic power through both the sheer physicality of playing and the cultural semantics of sound have been let down by the dogma of autonomous music. Musicians learning Beethoven’s music have been forced to engage in a kind of a “glass-bead game” of performative mannerisms lacking tools to translate the musical grammar into a comprehensible system of meanings. What’s with the mysticism? Why must we hide behind numb concepts like “style” or “classical”? And why are they allowed to claim that Beethoven’s music celebrates brotherhood and equality but we’re not allowed to believe that we might better understand the musical meaning of the Tempest Sonata by pursuing what in Shakespeare might have intrigued Beethoven?
For every story told about Beethoven there are numerous others that haven’t been voiced. History is in constant movement, and Beethoven’s music traverses amidst the storm. As has been demonstrated over and over during the time since this music’s composition, since it has been a part of human culture, Beethoven’s works have the capacity to always effect new meanings. The hermeneutic quest for them must be conducted responsibly, since the conflation of agencies can be hazardous. Among the manifold viewpoints on Beethoven, the idea that Beethoven was his own contemporary has received too little attention. He drew from and played into the cultural context of his time.
The many complications of Beethoven’s paramount position in the Western classical music canon cannot be denied. In order to deal with them and vitalize our connection with the wonders of his music we must keep updating our understanding of Beethoven. The picture needs more color, and that is precisely why we are still writing about Beethoven.
Beethoven and the Violin-Piano Duo
Beethoven’s work with the piano-violin duo has been a source for some rather tragicomic historical anecdotes. The composer’s close friend Ferdinand Ries reported that Beethoven had taken violin lessons with the renowned Viennese violinist Wenzel Krumpholz. The composer had later joined Ries (who was Beethoven’s own piano student) in playing his duo-sonatas, with Ries on the piano and Beethoven on the violin. This, as Ries recalled, had led to “truly dreadful music-making, because in the throes of his enthusiasm he [Beethoven] did not hear when he attacked a passage with the wrong fingering.” The tragedy within the comedy is, of course, that Beethoven’s declining hearing was partly to blame.
Another somewhat surprising story is the review of the Sonatas Op. 12 in Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, the most important music magazine at the time. Even withstanding the polemical tone of the day, the review remains one of the nastiest on Beethoven’s music during his lifetime. The undoubtedly grumpy critic described the sonatas as being “like a man who expected to take a stroll through an inviting wood with a congenial friend, but who found instead only hostile entanglements, and finally emerged from the thicket exhausted and disheartened.” He continued: “Undeniably Herr van Beethoven is going his own way, but what an eccentric, tortuous way it is!”
With today’s knowledge of how far “his own way” eventually took Beethoven, it is easy to discard the review as merely delicious historiographical entertainment. On a more serious note, the review testifies as to the tension between the character of the young Beethoven’s music and what was thought to be of good taste during the early years of his residence in Vienna. The AMZ review was also critical about the difficulties the music imposed on its alleged performers, reminding us that the line between amateur and professional was not where it is today, but instead simply between the musicians who composed their own music and those who didn’t.
The review may also send the contemporary listener off to wonder about the stylistic backdrop of Viennese chamber music in the 1790s, and to perhaps speculate what the atmosphere of the stage, the musical salon of the gentry, was like. While on the one hand, a central purpose of chamber music was to provide their listeners with a mix of surprise and delight, on the other hand, the energies evoked by such works were expected to remain gallant and contained. Even Mozart’s compositions in minor had been criticized for being too demonic, and famously Haydn had pointed similar criticism towards some of Beethoven’s more emotionally charged works.
Sonatas Op. 12 (1797/98)
Beethoven dedicated the Sonatas Op. 12 to Antonio Salieri. Speculations regarding his motives range from pure career opportunism (Salieri held the important post of imperial Kapellmeister and director of opera) to genuine gratitude towards the Italian master, with whom Beethoven studied vocal composition at the time. The only teacher besides Salieri to receive such a gesture from Beethoven was Haydn, who had been the dedicatee of Beethoven’s Op. 2 Piano Sonatas. Beethoven’s compositional development during the 1790s can be seen as a journey towards a clearer take on the Viennese style, as had been defined by composers such as Leopold Koželuch, Mozart, Haydn, and, indeed Salieri. In this light it seems plausible to think that Beethoven was paying his respects to the older master.
The AMZ critic also complained about strange modulations, but was perhaps not adequately well-informed to do so, for they would not reach beyond those regularly found in Haydn’s compositions. Haydn was at the height of his fame and was arguably regarded as the greatest living composer in Europe. In fact, a certain Haydenesque flavor is almost omnipresent in the Sonatas Op. 12. An example is Beethoven’s handling of the moment typically reserved for harmonic innovation in sonata movements: the beginning of the second part (development section). During the years following his studies with Haydn, most of Beethoven’s sonata movement’s second parts began with one schema or another favored by his fabled teacher, often a sudden shift a third higher or lower from the preceding key.
The first of the set, the Sonata in D major is a robust and bold introduction to the cycle. Where the piano-violin sonata genre had previously portrayed the piano as the active instrument and violin as the accompanying one, from the outset of this sonata the instruments clearly were equal. The second movement’s variations even feature both instruments in their own solo-variation, while the other instrument is left to modestly comment from the background. As a quintessential Beethovenian maneuver, the feisty finale concludes in a playful exchange of a rhythmic gesture extracted from the movement’s opening theme.
The Sonata in A major is more lighthearted and gallant. Unlike the rhythmic richness of opening movement of the Sonata in D major, this one applies sparse textures, as if to offer the listener some relief after the intensity of the first sonata. The mischievous opening movement is followed by a ballade-like andante, interestingly the only movement in minor in the whole opus. The amiable Rondo finale begins with a harmonic pun, where the piano introduces a theme in A major, but the violin entry suggests D major instead. For a little while the two instruments exchange the theme, finally seeming to agree on A major before a new theme of fanfare-like triplets takes over. The Rondo format reiterates the opening theme with its harmonic negotiation a number of times. Suddenly in the coda the piano tries out the theme in D major. This time the two instruments find a route back to A major together and the sonata concludes with the fanfare-idea.
The Sonata in E-flat major serves as a grand finale to the whole opus. Beethoven would occasionally apply a distant key for slow movements and this sonata is one of the early examples of this maneuver. Stepping distinctly outside the realm of E-flat major, the C major of the second movement creates a sense of some far-away, idyllic place where the music’s apollonian grace carries within itself a specific but concealed meaning as a contrast to the forward driving and enthusiastic virtuosity of the outer movements.
Sonata Op. 23 (1800/01)
The Sonata in A minor Op. 23 originates from a slightly later period, which, following the so-called Heiligenstadt crisis caused by Beethoven’s shocking realization of the severe nature of his mounting hearing problems, saw the birth of such unique masterpieces as the Funeral March Sonata Op. 26, Moonlight Sonata Op. 27 no. 2, and Pastoral Sonata Op. 28. Beethoven’s proactive handling of genre, a certain fantasy-like atmosphere, saturation of musical character, and, above all, increased originality were characteristic features to all the above, as well as indeed to the Sonata Op. 23. Its outer movements’ relentless emphasis on the minor mode can be heard as foreshadowing such epic works as Appassionata Sonata Op. 57 and Coriolan Overture Op. 62. The drama of the opening movement is swiped away by the jovial middle movement. When working with the more public genres (symphonies or concertos), Beethoven would never actually end a composition in minor, but the driven finale of this sonata
Sonata Op. 24 (1801) “Spring”
Often we read how Beethoven’s harmonic language was regarded as adventurous, even strange, by the listeners of his time. Utterly familiar today, his compositions seem anything but strange, and it is difficult to pin down those harmonic innovations that so challenged the musical taste of his contemporaries, One example is to be found in the first movement of the Spring Sonata.
The first part of the movement presents musical material in accordance with the elegance of the Viennese style. The flow of themes, transitions, and modulations keeps the listener content with a balanced mix of custom and invention. As typical of sonatas in major keys, the second part of the movement turns towards the minor mode. Shortly before the recapitulation of the opening theme, a buildup on the dominant harmony of the main key would almost automatically occur. The dominant harmony would signal the ensuing double return: the main key and, carried by it, the opening theme. In this movement Beethoven decided to do something else.
Following the fierce minor section, the music does lead to a prolonged dominant, but, instead of the return of the main key (F Major), that of D Major appears (the moment is noticeable from tremolos played by both instruments). Upon the tremolos dying down, at the moment when it comes to fulfilling the expectation of D Major, suddenly as if nothing had happened, both the opening theme and F Major harmlessly slip back in. The double return does take place but without a proper harmonic preparation – a maneuver that was by no means Beethoven’s invention, but one which almost certainly would have been regarded as unusual at the time.
What follows is an exemplar of Beethoven’s diligence in incorporating such local details into the larger framework. At first, the music continues seemingly unaffected by the surprise caused by the harmonically unfounded recapitulation, but its consequences soon start to appear. When the violin takes over the theme, the piano part pulls the music into more foreign harmonies, as if the presiding F Major suddenly lost its self-confidence.
Dissatisfaction caused by the lack of the dominant buildup in the middle of the movement seems to call for a correction, which the coda eventually remedies. Followed by a chromatically laden search, preparations of the true dominant of F Major take place seemingly accidentally, as if in secrecy, but the dominant itself breaks off from the mood with an unmistakable fortissimo arpeggio in the violin and an equally energetic double-trill in the piano. All’s well that ends well; the celebratory-like dominant declaration is followed by a mixture of materials from both the opening theme and the movement’s middle section.
Interestingly, the finale recalls the “nay-dominant, yay-dominant”-game of the first movement. In the middle of the movement another preparatory trill appears to suggest D Major, but unlike in the first movement, where the D Major was denied, it is now allowed to host the finale’s opening theme, which in the realm of D Major takes on an almost otherworldly character.
Overall, the Spring Sonata projects a benevolent mood and a wealth of cantabile melodies. The trill-motive amounts to quite the leitmotif, as it is noticeably present in all movements except the Scherzo. The Scherzo itself departs from the melodic flow of the other movements with its simple and ingenious rhythmic play between the piano part’s initiative and the violin part’s casually delayed entries. It is tempting to think of the composer suggesting a subtle pun based on some violinists’ tendency to allow themselves a greater amount of rhythmic liberties than a more pedantic reading of the score would imply.
Sonatas Op. 30 (1802)
Beethoven dedicated the Sonatas Op. 30 to Czar Alexander I of Russia, who had gained power the previous year, and who, importantly, was also to become the ruler of Finland some years later. The Czar had begun his tenure by introducing a set of social reforms, which may have prompted Beethoven’s dedication. Beethoven would typically dedicate his works to people in his more immediate circles, either friends or patrons. Such public expressions of honor were rare. Still, the time was nearing when he would famously work his admiration of Napoleon into his Third Symphony, and perhaps the 1802 dedication to the Russian monarch, too, was a token of his widely ranging political interests.
The Sonata in A Major is above all a subtly calm composition in which expressions of classical virtuosity are few. From the outset the sonata unfolds as an introverted study of tranquil and balanced moods. The elegiac second movement opens with a phrase where the melody of the first two measures is immediately repeated a third below in minor, the two units together compounding a yin and yang-like idea. The middle part of the movement recalls the mood of the fabled Moonlight Sonata from the previous year. A rare variation-finale concludes the sonata. Frequently used by many of his contemporaries, Beethoven wasn’t yet fond of the variation finale. In addition to this sonata, he would compose variation-finales only for two of his late piano sonatas some two decades later, and of course for the Third Symphony. Beethoven had in fact originally intended another finale for the sonata but had apparently come to the conclusion that it was too monumental for this work. Eventually this finale came to serve as the climactic movement in the high-voltage drama of the Kreuzer Sonata.
The Sonata in C Minor is a work of grand scale. It comes with an aura of tragedy caused by some concealed yet clearly present source of a doomed fate. In the years to come, Beethoven truly made C Minor his “own” key: in addition to this sonata, his Third Piano Concerto, Fifth Symphony, as well as the Coriolan Overture all applied the same key for music of great passion and drama.
Three of the four movements conclude with sizable codas, which in their own right mark of a work of great proportions. It is as if the musical material will not be confined within the frames of the movement proper; there is so much vigor in what must be said that all possible space needs to be seized for the purpose.
According to his friend and secretary, Anton Schindler, in 1823 Beethoven was considering removing the third movement from the by then twenty-year-old sonata, a plan that in the end never took place. Schindler recorded that Beethoven thought the Scherzo departed too much from the mood of the rest of the work. Despite Beethoven reception virtually brimming with dubious anecdotes, and this may well be one of them, it is interesting to think for a moment, how the sonata would come across without its penultimate movement.
Beethoven favored the four-movement layout in his early period and sometimes during his late period, but virtually never during his middle, often referred to as his “heroic” period. The three-movement design seemed to enable the compositions to do their work more effectively (just think about the piano sonatas Appassionata and Waldstein), whereas the four-movement works tended to be more complicated, their overall expression being, so to speak, more classical.
In 1802 Beethoven’s “heroic” decade was about to commence. He was busy searching for a suitable libretto for his opera, the great Symphony Bonaparte was just around the corner; all in all, his aim was to find ways for his musical inspiration to flourish and for his compositional voice to be heard loud and clear. If the 1790s had been a decade for Beethoven to come to terms with the Viennese style, the first decade of the new century was the time for him to leave his mark. Looking at his compositions from the two decades, it is clear that one of the issues he managed to resolve along the way was the tension between form and content.
The Sonatas Op. 30 originate from a time when Beethoven was just about to make the discoveries that eventually immortalized his work. They also come from a time when the attributes of neither the early period nor the middle period can fully describe them. The works stand somewhere in the middle of a transition between two eras, and it is plausible to think that in 1823 Beethoven could well have retroactively thought the C Minor Sonata’s ideas were best expressed by removing the Scherzo. As a result, the sonata would have worked through a more straight-forward design, one that Beethoven adopted shortly thereafter anyway, and with it a simpler musical synopsis than he had in mind when composing the sonata in 1802.
Sonata in G Major Op. 30 no. 3 (1802)
Beethoven dedicated the Sonatas Op. 30 to Czar Alexander I of Russia, who had gained power the previous year, and who, importantly, also became the ruler of Finland some years later. The Czar began his tenure by introducing a set of societal reforms which may have prompted Beethoven’s dedication. Beethoven would typically dedicate his works to members of his closer circles, either friends or patrons; his dedications were more often personal inscriptions than public bestowals. Still, the time was nearing when he would famously work his admiration of Napoleon into his Third Symphony, and perhaps also the 1802 dedication to the Russian monarch was a sign of his widely ranging political interests at the time.
The Sonatas Op. 30 stand between two eras in Beethoven’s oeuvre; they are no longer part of his early output, but are not yet full-grown middle period works. (It has become customary to divide Beethoven’s creative phases into at least three periods: early, middle (sometimes referred to as his “heroic” period), and late.) To be sure, such rough divisions can impoverish our views, since, rather than being representatives of a time period, each composition speaks its own dialect and negotiates its own relationship to stylistic trends of the day. That said, it is fascinating to follow the evolution of Beethoven’s compositional style through time. In the case of the Op. 30 Sonatas, one can recognize an outgrowth from Beethoven’s first Viennese decade, the 1790s, as well as sprouts reaching beyond the year of their composition in 1802.
Cohesion was an aspect of composition that seems to have fascinated Beethoven throughout his career; in other words, creating a kind of inner logic within multi-movement works. He employed numerous means to institute unity, many of them hidden within the fabric of the works.
One idea that connects the three movements of the Sonata in G Major is a rhythmic emphasis on a weak beat, creating a kind of “out-of-sync” motive. In the opening movement, the idea is heard at the end of the first section after the other thematic material has been presented. Upon first hearing, the motive sounds like an invite for the opening to re-enter but by the second time (in the repeat) it comes across as an impatient suggestion to move on. The idea cannot be missed in the second movement’s middle part where the charming violin melody is harassed by the vulgar punches of the piano’s left hand. There the gesture sounds almost self-ironic, as the composer whose trademark was the emphatic sforzato toys around with sounds of a total collapse of good taste. The finale appears to be free from the idea, until the weak-beat-accent appears in the piano accompaniment in the coda. The highly repetitive finale has the flavor of a contra-dance, as the refrain frames passages featuring the two instruments’ dialogue suggesting the back-and-forth of the social banter.
The Sonata in A Minor, Op. 47 “Kreutzer” (1803)
The Sonata Op. 47 has an intricate genesis. Beethoven’s pupil, Ferdinand Ries, conveyed in his biography of Beethoven that the English violinist George Bridgetower had a performance lined up where he expected to play a sonata from Beethoven. Beethoven had been working on the piece for some time, but he now needed to speed up the effort. He summoned Ries to help copy the violin part on the morning of the performance day; Beethoven himself was to join Bridgetower for the performance that afternoon. Ries copied the first movement, but due to the tight schedule, there was not time to copy the part for the second movement, and Bridgetower had to perform it from the manuscript by looking over Beethoven’s shoulder. As the finale had originally been intended for an earlier sonata (Op. 30 no. 1), the parts were already beautifully copied, as Ries put it. While this anecdote is exciting, and sheds light on Beethoven’s (at times) disorderly working habits, it also provokes some questions.
If the finale had really been completed earlier, as Ries claimed, that would mean Beethoven must have used ideas derived from it when composing the first two movements. Indeed, there are certain structural features shared by the finale and the first movement. The middle part of the finale applies harmonic routes similar to the middle part of the first movement, a hallmark, in fact, for Beethoven’s chamber sonatas, and particularly those from the early period. But perhaps the most obvious similarity is the melodic motto E-F, so prominent in the first movement (the transition from the slow introduction to the Presto highlights the motive clearly), which becomes prevalent again in the middle part of the finale. (Listen for the section where the relentless moto perpetuo calms down in preparation for the reentry of the finale’s opening theme, noting the piano’s bass line). The other plausible option, of course, is that Beethoven in fact customized the finale to make it work after the first two movements.
The Kreutzer Sonata, as the piece became known after Beethoven rededicated the work to the fabled French master of the violin, Rodolphe Kreutzer, is an unusually elaborate work among Beethoven’s middle period sonatas. Others sonatas of a similar scale, namely the Waldstein Op. 53 and Appassionata Op. 57, tell a more concise story. In their finales, they both reestablish a mood that is similar, or closely related, to that of the opening movement. Furthermore, in both piano sonatas, the middle movement stands as an intermediary between the outer movements. In Kreutzer, by contrast, each movement is a vast, stand-alone adventure seeming to have little to do with the others (save certain harmonic similarities and the E-F-motive). However, uniting the three movements is a certain dramatic stamina and a bravura style, which almost makes the Kreutzer sound more like a concerto for two solo instruments than a chamber sonata. The three movements of the Kreutzer are something like The Brothers Karamazov; a group whose individual members don’t seem to need one another, but who still manage to form a cohesive whole.
In a strange twist, resonating with the three brothers–three movements idea, the sonata actually had three dedicatees throughout its history. The finale was originally planned as a dedication to Czar Alexander I of Russia (as part of the Op. 30 Sonatas); the “real” dedicatee George Bridgetower, who was there when the sonata came about; and, finally, Rodolphe Kreutzer, whose name the sonata came to immortalize after a quarrel with Bridgetower prompted Beethoven to pay his respects to the Frenchman instead.
In that legendary first performance of the work, Bridgetower surprised his pianist, Beethoven, by playing an apropos cadenza at the beginning of the first movement’s repeat of the Presto section, no doubt inspired by a similar cadenza which Beethoven had given himself during the first round of the Presto. Beethoven, apparently pleased by the stunt, jumped up, embraced the violinist, and asked him to repeat his creation. Generations of musicians have been trained to believe that Beethoven’s text should be treated with an almost religious respect. The story of George Bridgetower relates that at least on one occasion, the composer himself enthusiastically subscribed to the innovative spirit shown by a trusted performer at one of his compositions.
Sonata in G Major, Op. 96 (1812)
The Sonata in G Major is one of many works dedicated by Beethoven to Archduke Rudolph, a student and dear friend of the composer. Rudolph gave the work’s first performance together with French violin virtuoso Pierre Rode. Although separated by nearly a decade, the sonata constitutes a pair with the Kreutzer Sonata. Much like the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, or Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos, the last two violin sonatas make up a couple whose individual characters are like day and night. The contemplative later sonata is saturated by mature serenity, while the earlier Op. 47 is filled with anxiousness and complex.
Apart from the home key of G Major, also E-flat Major has an important role in the sonata, functioning as almost another main key. Two of the movements are in E-flat (Adagio espressivo and the Trio section of the Scherzo) while the other movements also reserve at least an important section for the key. The Sonata can be read as a pastoral, a popular genre in instrumental music of the day. The uncomplicated and cloudless key of G Major hosts idyllic features such as birdcalls (the sonata begins with one), drones, and the bucolic festivities of the finale. The more profound sounding E-flat Major can be heard as the human dimension of the story; the violin’s entrance in the Adagio begins with the farewell-motive (Le-be-wohl), an imitation of a horn call used by many composers to signify leave-taking. In fact, the motive may have been meant as a private message for Rudolph, his departure from Vienna in 1809 having provided inspiration for Beethoven’s Lebewohl Piano Sonata, a work that also began with the farewell motive.
While the Adagio takes place in the context of E-flat Major, G Major also has its own slow movement in the sonata: the slow variation in the finale, that one too titled Adagio espressivo. In the preceding sequence, each of the fast variations applies some syncopated twist of the theme. The pacific spaciousness of the Adagio variation puts an end to the tongue-in-cheek and leads the music into deeper waters. Towards the end of the Adagio section, a route to E-flat Major opens, and following the tender moment of E-flat discovery, the two keys finally locate one another as the theme of the variations (originally in G Major) gently flows out in E-flat Major. Following the reunion, a real Allegro, as an expected departure from the Poco Allegretto pace of the finale, gets underway as the journey concludes in vivaciously high spirits.
The Op. 10 Sonatas expose the young Beethoven’s musical impulses in conflict with the Viennese classical style. The sonatas written between 1804–06 (Opp. 53, 54, and 57) present a more mature Beethoven who could now incorporate his own personal voice into a stylistic milieu which he had made his own.
Arriving in Vienna in 1792, Beethoven could hardly have guessed that an excursion intended as a brief interlude from the service of Maximilian Franz, the Elector of Cologne, for the purpose of furthering the young court organist’s compositional studies would extend and he would live in Vienna for the rest of his life. Beethoven took in much that the city, a major musical hub, had to offer. His exuberant pianism as well as the originality of his compositions quickly helped him triumph in the Viennese salons. He studied with the best available tutors including “Papa” Haydn, Johann Abrechtsberger, the celebrated pedant of counterpoint, and the maestro of Italian Opera, Antonio Salieri.
Beethoven wrote a number of chamber works during his first Viennese decade, but it was the realm of piano sonata in which he experimented most freely and applied what he had learned from older masters. The creative achievement of his early sonatas is obvious, but the tension between the composer’s emerging voice and the protocols of the Viennese style is equally evident.
With a genesis extending over several years, Beethoven completed the Sonatas Op. 10 in 1797. Their energetic drive and romantic impulse may, in part at least, be indebted to Christian Gottlob Neefe who was Beethoven’s teacher in Bonn and an admirer of Sturm und Drang. When he arrived in Vienna, Beethoven was a “diamond in the rough.” His early style abounded with ideas, instrumentally motivated textures, and sudden harmonic changes. He eventually mastered the Viennese classical style, but about the Sonatas Op. 10, the critic of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (AmZ) wrote:
It cannot be denied that Herr v. B. is a man of genius, a man of originality, and above all a man of independence. He is sustained by an extraordinarily thorough grounding in the art of composition and by his own phenomenal mastery of the instrument for which he writes […] His superabundance of ideas […] or sometimes bizarre grouping of them […] is likely to prejudice the listener against the whole work.
Later labeled Beethoven’s “heroic key,” C Minor serves as the harmonic platform of the first sonata of opus 10. During the compositional process, Beethoven abandoned his original idea of a four-movement structure in favor a more succinct dramaturgy. An impassioned opening Allegro is followed by a heartfelt Adagio; the work concludes with a brusque Prestissimo-finale in which Carl Czerny heard humor “typical to Beethoven.” A foreshadowing of the fabled opening motive of the Fifth Symphony appears in the midst of the movement’s flight.
The second sonata is the comic number of the opus 10 group. The first movement of this Sonata in F Major may well have sparked the AmZ critic’s remark about the “bizarre groupings of ideas.” A surprising modulation into a “wrong key”–A Major–immediately after the opening phrase, reestablishment of order with the “correct” C Major soon after, and a “false recapitulation” in D Major, all seem intended to challenge the listener’s expectations. The fugal opening of the Presto-finale sets off an alternation between “learned” polyphonic textures and themes in a more popular style. The F Major Sonata is the last of the early sonatas in which most of the musical material is repeated. The second part of the opening movement is halted with a fermata presenting an opportunity for the performer to provide an improvised Eingang.
The grand Sonata in D Major concludes opus 10. Rigorous command of the musical material combined with whirlwind pianistic virtuosity demonstrates an evolved level of compositional excellence. The opening Presto unfolds as a fervent potpourri of themes, all of which are derived from the curtain-rising motif, a series of staccato octaves. As in Neefe’s Sonata in C Minor, this sonata also contains a grieving slow movement labeled Largo e mesto. The intense poignancy of the movement caused Beethoven’s friends to speculate about how much the music stemmed from the composer’s innermost feelings. The finale emerges from a tiny nuclear idea: a dialogue between the briefest of harmonic utterances and moments of silence, which builds into a high-spirited frolic harking back to the opening movement.
At the dawn of the new century, Beethoven’s years of intense study were behind him. He had found his voice, manifest particularly in the Fantasy Sonatas Op. 27 and the monumental Eroica Symphony. The eccentricities of his early works had amalgamated within a musical style, which was grounded in classical ideals while becoming a vehicle of a new kind of heroic ethos. Beethoven created space in his music for profound tragedy and militant impact, and overcoming these heightened emotions became the driving force of musical experience. He reserved room for comedy and retained structural balance, thus anchoring his music in classicism, while removing hurdles to increasing music’s capacity to move the listener.
The years that followed were described by Ignaz Moscheles as a “Beethoven fever” raging particularly among younger music lovers. Several publishers released Beethoven’s music and trend-conscious amateurs snatched the scores hot off the press so that soon Beethoven became more popular than Mozart or Haydn, as is evident from the programs of public concerts.
In 1804, having completed the Eroica, Beethoven finished the sonata known today by the name of his long-time patron Count Ferdinand von Waldstein. The Op. 53 Waldstein Sonata was described by Wilhelm von Lenz, an early biographer of Beethoven, as a “heroic symphony for piano.” It is a joyous tribute to C Major. The Sonata’s French title l’Aurore (dawn) no doubt arose from the translucent sonority of the finale’s opening. While composing the sonata, Beethoven was playing a new Erard piano. This instrument’s expanded keyboard range and sound capacity may have inspired him in the creation of the sonata’s unprecedented ambitious textures.
The first two movements begin with an atmosphere of harmonic uncertainty created by descending bass lines. In contrast, the concluding Allegretto moderato starts with an affirmed tonic of C Major, which, for a while, is free of modulation. Soon after the opening of the first movement, restless motion and harmonic instability collide with the linearity of a chorale-like theme. Beethoven wrote a new second movement after a friend criticized the original slow movement for being too long. The new second movement, the Introduzione we have today, attaches directly to the finale. By creating a sense of expectation on a large scale rather than providing a self-contained musical sphere, the replacement movement condenses the dramaturgy of the work.
The central section of the slow movement of the Waldstein is framed by phrases laden with chromatically descending bass-lines, perhaps implying a search in the dark. Allegretto’s l’aurore-theme provides illumination. The finale’s display of exuberant trills and hyper triplet-textures leads to a coda which provides a climax for the entire work. The octave-glissandos of the coda create a dizzying sensation of joyousness; it is as if, having recently unleashed the revolution of the Eroica Symphony, Beethoven decided to dedicate this work to the muses of joy.
A two-movement structural design was somewhat common in late 18th century keyboard sonatas, but Beethoven employed the design for the first time in a mature work for solo piano in his Sonata in F Major, Op. 54. (The Sonatas Op. 49, written nearly a decade earlier, are two-movement works, but they were meant for private use and Beethoven never intended them to be published.) Frequently, the first movement of a two-movement sonata was a minuet. The Sonata in F Major begins In tempo d’un Menuetto, making it a legitimate child of its time.
The second and last movement–a real moto perpetuo–is a cheerful antithesis to the cataclysmic forces of the concluding movement of the Appassionata. In all three sonatas, Opp. 53, 54, and 57, Beethoven created a finale simpler than the preceding movements, though with greater musical weight. And all three end with a fast-moving coda.
Brimming with tragic power, the Appassionata is undoubtedly Beethoven’s darkest and most aggressive work. The Sonata has been compared to Dante’s Inferno and Shakespeare’s bloodthirsty Macbeth. In the course of the work, Beethoven time and again applies a tactic of destroying major keys: A-flat Major, E Major, D-flat Major, and, ultimately, the “prime” major of the movement, F Major, all in their time collapse into minor modes. Beethoven originally sketched the opening movement with almost no major keys, but ultimately changed his mind and allowed them to appear, though only to fail like doomed attempts of virtue.
Remaining entirely in major, the Andante denies the horrors of the preceding Allegro assai, but the terrific attacca opening of the finale crushes the major mode once and for all. The outer movements display unusual structural choices: the first movement lacks the expected repeat of the first part, the last movement repeats only the second part. The recurring thematic material of the finale, heightened by the repetition of the second part, creates a spiral of desperation. Exiting the vortex necessitates violence, which, indeed, the coda delivers. A-flat Major (the key pushed aside in the first movement) finally appears in the coda, but tragically late and, because of its tardiness, sounding like devil’s laughter in the face of ultimate damnation: in the words of D.F. Tovey, “here there is not a moment’s doubt that the tragic passion is rushing deathwards.”
Beethoven’s habit of endlessly sketching his compositions is frequently reported, but at times he composed rapidly, spurred by a moment’s inspiration. His student Ferdinand Ries related the following story about the creation of the Appassionata‘s finale:
During a walk […] he [Beethoven] had hummed […] up and down, up and down, without any definite note. When I asked what this was, he replied: “A theme for the last Allegro of the sonata has occurred to me.” When we entered the room he rushed to the piano without taking off his hat. I took a seat in the corner and he soon forgot all about me. He stormed on for at least an hour with the new finale of the sonata, which is so beautiful. Finally he got up, was surprised see me still there, and said. “I cannot give you a lesson today. I still have work to do.”
Why these two composers? I wanted to explore the music of Schumann and Stockhausen together not only because of its tremendous depth, but also because their compositions offer a fascinating journey into two very musically different eras – the sounds of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. The two composers also bear similarities: both were iconic and era-defining figures; Schumann encapsulating the spirit of Romanticism and Stockhausen becoming one of the leading proponents of post-World War II modernism. Both composers made their mark early in their careers primarily as composers for the piano, and, importantly, both were most definitely Avant-garde!
Stockhausen’s Klavierstück IX (1961) begins with heightened tension as its first chord is rigorously repeated 140 times. The chord oddly resembles another, more famous German chord, the Tristan chord, a symbol of modernism since its 1865 debut in Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. Stockhausen’s composition attempts to resolve the tension of the opening as the work’s middle section toils with the material presented in the first chord, and the final section portrays some of the most free-sounding music ever composed for the instrument. Stockhausen grew up in 1930s Germany where Nazi cultural politics dominated the arts and where Wagner was seen as the greatest national achievement to date. It is tempting to read Klavierstück IX as a sounding image of dissolving that dark union.
The theme of Schumann’s Opus 1 is built on the letters of the name of its dedicatee, Countess Pauline d’Abegg. The theme opens with the notes A-B-E-G-G, a motif then repeated in a descending line of similar contours. While Schumann’s tonal language obviously inhabits a different musical planet than the non-tonal Stockhausen, the Abegg-variations’ structure resembles that of Klavierstück IX. The Abegg-variations unfold as a musical affair where each variation moves further from the theme, leading ultimately to a Finale where the theme is all but forgotten. While the Klavierstück IX is a progression from the monolithic to the chaotic, or from control to freedom, Schumann’s Variations hinge on symmetry and fantasy.
Klavierstück XI is arguably Stockhausen’s most famous rendering of Open form, a concept where the piece’s form and construction are variable, and to a degree left to the discretion of the performer. The work consists of 19 fragments spread over a single, large page. The performer begins with any fragment and continues to any other, proceeding through the labyrinth until a fragment has been reached for the third time, which marks the end of one particular realization of the piece. Indications for tempo and dynamics are found at the end of each fragment and are to be applied to the next fragment. Each performance of the piece is thus unique and heavily reliant on the personality and intuition of the performer – it is even possible that not all the fragments end up played. The score also asks that each time the piece is performed, at least two different realizations should be played.
Schumann commented his inspiration for his Humoreske Op. 20 to a friend “[…] the two characteristics and concepts that are most deeply rooted in the German mentality – das Gemütliche and Humor – of the which the latter is a felicitous combination of gemütlich and witzig (cozy and jocular). […] Do you know Jean Paul, our great writer? I learned more counterpoint from him than from my musical teacher.” Known earlier as literary genre, Schumann’s Humoreske, the first of a kind in music, has been described as the most personal of the composer’s large piano cycles. Like many of his works, Humoreske was composed with his beloved wife Clara in mind. The first movement provides a section where an inner voice is written in the score, but which is not to be played but instead, according to Clara, “sensed in a shadowy manner”. The melody of the inner voice recalls Clara’s own composition, Romanze Op. 11, and she further explained that “with the Humoreske, one had to conjure up melancholic, extravagant, fantastic ideas.” The work culminates in a lengthy slow section testifying to Clara’s description of Humoreske’s challenges being far from ordinary.
I’ve called this program Character in order to draw your attention to character as a possible starting point in the listening experience. Character points to the manner in which musical character shapes the flow of Schumann’s and Stockhausen’s music. The Humoreske gradually unfolds as a mosaic-like musical narrative, where the character of each section transmits its proportion of the whole. In Stockhausen’s case, on the contrary, musical character is the result of treatment of singular parameters such as pitch, duration, and dynamic. This disposition takes a deliciously complicated turn in the Klavierstuck XI, where repetitions of the same musical material are to be played at different tempos and dynamics according to the decisions made during the course of the performance.
Musicians are familiar with Leopold Mozart’s oft-repeated statement that “before we can decide about the correct tempo for a piece, we must decide about its proper character.” Wolfgang Mozart’s father describes a kind of music where identifying the musical character was the duty of the performer. In Schumann’s case the subtleties of musical character are carefully designed by the composer, and in Stockhausen’s case the musical character is the result of carrying out the prescribed musical acts.
Even the text of both composers’ scores leaves little doubt about their intentions. Schumann’s markings in Humoreske include descriptions like “simply, hastily, sincerely, with pomp,” while Stockhausen’s Klavierstück XI instructs the player to “randomly choose the next section to be played and then play it extremely fast and extremely quiet.” Although these composers had radically diverse notions of what musical character was, both Schumann and Stockhausen captured the liminal character of their respective epochs.
Why these two composers? I wanted to explore the compositions of Schumann and Stockhausen together not only because of their music’s tremendous depth, but also because their compositions offer a fascinating journey into two very different eras–the sounds of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. The two composers also bear similarities: both were iconic and era-defining figures, with Schumann encapsulating the spirit of romanticism and Stockhausen as one of the leading proponents of post-World War II modernism. Both composers made their mark early in their careers primarily as composers for the piano, and, importantly, both were most definitely Avant-garde!
Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X (1961) begins with a broad gesture of sonic flux. Lasting for several minutes, this passage contains eager complexity and rapid shifts from violent arm-clusters to murky glissandos, as well as an absence of recognizable rhythmic and melodic impulses, acclimating the listener’s ear to a whirlpool of modernist dialect. The opening section lasts just long enough for the listener to almost become lulled into the action, until, suddenly, the musical matter freezes. The halt comes as a bewildering surprise but it soon proves to be only the first of many before the piece eventually ends in a near-complete liquidation of sound.
X is indebted to John Cage’s ideas of applying negative space in music, famously demonstrated by his “silent” piece, the groundbreaking 4’33” from 1952; the listening experience turns outward during the silences and attention shifts from the performer creating sounds to the space shared by the performer and the audience. Stockhausen’s framing of silences with vexing sound-masses in X invites the listener to focus their attention acutely during moments of silence and near-silence. Much of the detail is inevitably lost during the times of hyperbolical action but the enchanting atmosphere of the echoes and resonances is all the more jarring.
As a mosaic of sound and silence, X unfolds as a unique structural narrative plotting a slow dissolving of a mass of sound. The work’s textures often evoke an image of a musical brush-stroke, making it arguably the clearest example of Stockhausen’s idea of the Klavierstücke as “sounding paintings.”
A dedication “to Clara from Florestan and Eusebius” accompanied Robert Schumann’s Sonata in F-sharp Minor (1835). The composer’s muse and future wife, at the time 16 years of age, Clara was the daughter of Schumann’s teacher, Ludwig Wieck. Florestan and Eusebius were something of the composer’s alter egos and a reflection of his double-sided self-image–a personality constrained by the conflict between his impassioned and dreamy sides.
In a review of the Sonata (1836) in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, a magazine founded by Schumann himself, the critic Ignaz Moscheles took a stab at the claimed dual authorship. Moscheles wrote that “clearly, the work is a creation of one spirit” and that Schumann was simply in the habit of crediting his internal “twin brothers,” thus gaining a humoristic tone for his writings, on the one hand, and a motivation for applying contrasting elements in his music, on the other hand.
Considering the work as a collaborative of its composer’s tempers, it is Florestan who seems to have the upper hand in the work’s brooding opening movement. The brief second movement, Aria, in return, gives voice to Eusebius’ tender earnestness. The scherzo, carrying a superlative tempo indication “Allegrissimo,” again yields the playground for Florestan’s fanatics. The movement’s second intermezzo, titled “alla burla ma pomposo” evoked for Moscheles an idea of music in old style. He imagined Florestan with help of a wizard being transported into a “ballroom of our ancestors” and join in dancing with an “esteemed couple wearing wigs and pannier dress.”
The Sonata climaxes with a vast finale, in which the two faces of Janus join forces. The movement is a rondo, which by definition rotates its musical material. In Schumann’s hands the design unfolds as a process of attempting to achieve some grand goal. The trope is laden with increasing anxiety and the opening refrain, victorious at the outset, transforms into something more terrifying in each reiteration, as if the grapes of victory became sourer during the campaign.
I’ve titled this program Monumentalism in order to draw attention to the works’ monumental characteristics as a possible starting point in the listening experience.
Both Schumann’s First Sonata and Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X are larger-form compositions emerging from a tradition of musical works that became their own monuments. To be sure, the outward scope of these two works is far from such obvious megalomaniac creations as Wagner’s Ring Cycle or Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, but the two, both over half an hour long enterprises, convey a degree of grandiosity rare among works for solo piano.
Schumann’s epoch dates back to a time when the idea of unified Germany was on its way up. As the superpower of philosophy and arts was gearing up for nation building, many artists, including Schumann, celebrated this process and brought forward their own “German” works. Beethoven had paved the way for the Symphony as the highest of art forms and composers after him would follow suit. Schumann paid his national dues with Symphony No. 3, “Rhenish.”
At the time he wrote his First Sonata, Schumann had not yet made his mark as a composer of large piano cycles consisting of many small movements, which is the image we largely entertain of him today. Instead, he was figuring out his own take on the Beethovenian model of form, which would stage the work’s poetic climax in its finale. With the First Sonata he accomplished that goal in a fresh way, as Moscheles points out: “the youngest preacher of music [Schumann] was called upon to expand the art’s horizons and take it to further afield than where Beethoven himself had gone.”
The Sonata’s opening sets up the stage for something grand. A slow introduction is a hallmark for works of symphonic scope and by the solemnity and grandeur of this particular opening the “young preacher” is clearly declaring that this sonata is no harmless venture. The promise is fulfilled in the finale with an intriguing sequence of themes: following a virtuosic theme of a “concluding” character, he introduces a simple lied-like theme harking back to the Aria, then a rumble in the bass carrying a harmonic sequence filled with growing anxiety, and, finally, a return of the movement’s declaratory opening theme in an audacious fashion.
Leaving our discussion of Schumann aside for a moment, Karlheinz Stockhausen grew up in 1930s Germany where Nazi cultural politics dominated the arts and where Wagner, the quintessential composer of musical monuments, was seen as the greatest cultural asset of the nation. The collapse of that world during World War II and the rumble that was left was both the concrete and aesthetic backdrop of the work of composers like Stockhausen. Although probably not meant as such, X’s transformation from a wall of sound into debris can be seen as a metaphor of that process. Broadening this idea to the two works in the program, while the Sonata by Schumann is a construction of compositional ideas, X by Stockhausen presents itself as a deconstruction–in the 1830s, the idea of building a new European nation seemed a positive prospect, but by the 1960s that prospect had fatally failed.
Still one more idea about actual monuments as statues that commemorate; as I was thinking about how the introduction of Schumann’s sonata reappears at the climax of the first movement, another work intuitively came to mind. The Overture of Mozart’s Don Giovanni begins with music which reappears in the opera’s final act as the deceased Commander’s statue returns from the dead to avenge his murder at the hands of Don Giovanni. Schumann’s Sonata obviously doesn’t have a text or a known story, so we are left to imagine what a musical gambit similar to the work by Mozart and his librettist Del Ponte might stand for here.
Why these two composers? I wanted to explore the compositions of Schumann and Stockhausen together not only because of the music’s tremendous depth, but because their works can offer a fascinating journey into very different eras – the sounds of Europe in the 19th and the 20th centuries. The two composers also share similarities in that both were iconic and period-defining figures: Schumann encapsulated the spirit of romanticism and Stockhausen was a leading proponent of post-World War II modernism. Both men made their early career marks primarily as composers for the piano, and, importantly, in their respective times, both were most definitely Avant-garde!
Stockhausen’s Kontakte (1958–60) was originally conceived as a purely electronic work. He later added piano and percussion parts and, in so doing, created a unique chamber ensemble blending acoustic and electronic sounds. An electronic “performer” plays without interruption throughout the piece; the pianist and percussionist are required to time their entries by counting the seconds between them while following a graphic description of the tape’s sounds. The four-channel electronic part is delivered from loudspeakers that were intended to be situated around the audience but are in this realization set on the floor in the middle of the surrounding audience.
Kontakte presents an abundant exchange of acoustic and electronic sounds in time and space. The three performers’ (counting the electronic tape as the third) textures vary between impulses, melodic passages, and sound-fields. The title refers to “contacts” between the work’s sound cells as well as to the “contacts” among the performers. The tape renders sounds which appear from different directions and move with impressive agility around the room. The acoustic sounds, obviously, are created in set locations (the three different “stations” of instruments) – this offers a tempting metaphor of humans occupying a seemingly standstill place in the universe which is itself in whirlwind motion (there was a time when Stockhausen famously stated that he came from the Sirius star system). On occasion, the two performers move to center stage where a gong and tam-tam are situated, returning to their respective stations diagonally facing each other. These processions, pantomime-like, are suggestive of ceremony or ritual, seemingly filled with meaning, but ultimately trivial in relation to the “science-fiction” flare of the work’s electronic sounds.
The futuristic ambiance of Kontakte is characteristic of the era in which it was created. Discoveries of chemical and physical phenomena governing the universe as well as technical advances which, among other things, landed
humans on the moon were the scientific backdrop for the decade of the magnetic tape, the vehicle employed by Stockhausen and other pioneers of electronic music. In 2015, the soundscape of Kontakte may come across as dated or sound vintage to modern ears, but the work’s cool optimism has not been eroded in the more than five decades since it was first heard. The piece starts with a full circle on the tam-tam and, after a journey of opulent sonic discovery, ends by evaporating into a higher sphere.
Schumann’s Carnaval, subtitled Scènes mignonettes sur quatre notes (Little Scenes on Four Notes), is arguably the composer’s most celebrated piano cycle. Roughly 21 movements–the obfuscated boundaries of some of the movements makes the actual number somewhat ambiguous–are connected by a number of links, both obvious and more numerous hidden ones. The quatre notes of the subtitle (really four letters: A.S.C.H.) function as a melodic embryo appearing in many different permutations in numerous movements. The city of Asch was the hometown of Schumann’s fiancée at the time. Was Carnaval a gift to her? The probability is suspect because Robert’s great love and future wife, the then-seventeen-year-old Clara, is portrayed in a movement (Chiarina) of the work as well.
The movements fall into two general categories: dances (mostly waltzes) and depictions of real and imagined characters. Schumann’s alter egos, the dreamy Eusebius and the impassioned and uncertain Florestan are there, as are the real-life figures Chopin and Paganini. The “carnival” in Carnaval is the masquerade performed by characters Schumann borrowed from Italian Commedia dell’arte (Pierrot, Arlequin, Pantalone, and Colombine) as well as a “hide and seek” – an intricate thread winding through the work of characters engaged in forbidden pleasures and taking advantage of the anonymity provided by masks. The flirtatious Coquette answered with a definite “maybe” by Réplique; the bubbling sensation of the lovers recognizing each other behind their masks in Reconnaissance; the obvious question about whose Promenade it is; what is the conversation really about after the love vow in Aveu?–these and other dramatic moments make Carnaval a daring interplay of the sensual and the seductive.
Préambule, which begins the carnival, presents a thematic microcosm of what follows. The waltz-topos is soon introduced, as is the tendency to trump any idea of the waltz behaving expectedly or well. More themes enter that will make eventual appearances at key moments of the comedy. What is but a mere transition in the opening movement emerges much later as Pause, a brief movement preceding the finale, Marche des “Davidsbüdler” contre les Philistins, which in turn uses as one of its transitions a moment from Préambule.
And then there is the unsaid. Tradition has it that the movement entitled Sphinxes was not intended to be played at all. The movement consists of three small melodic fragments (all permutations of the A.S.C.H. notes) notated without rhythm. The score, in fact, states the question ambiguously and the movement may or may not have been intended to be played, or perhaps even improvised upon. Performers have taken different stances on the issue. The dubious nature of the movement is not atypical of Schumann: the “inner voice” in one part of the Humoreske should, to some, not be played but only “heard” by the pianist, others include it in their performances.
I’ve called this program Carnival for various reasons: it was handy to borrow the name from the work concluding the three-concert cycle focusing in the two composers’ music (that may be a trivial consideration); and, secondly, Stockhausen’s Kontakte brings onto the stage an impressive battery on instruments in order to create a kind of carnival of sounds.
More profoundly though, what fascinates me in Schumann’s Carnaval is the question of identity through characterization. The carnival in Carnaval allows purely musical gestures to take on roles that can be related to, that, in fact, need to related to. In his time, Schumann was criticized for making characterizations too literal, yet what he described was not the masks themselves but the human behind them. Stockhausen’s music can be construed as abstract: it is not tonal and it doesn’t apply melodies in the traditional sense. But I believe that to be merely a mask. In works like Kontakte, we are confronted with an extraordinary number of sonic identities and sound-characterizations, which, like the movements of Carnaval, are essentially an enchanting and elaborate facade in front of (or masking) something deeper, a comedy of meaning perhaps, or maybe simply a carnival.
By the late 1790s Beethoven had acquired a reputation as a composer ever ready to deliver works exemplifying the felicities of the Viennese style. His studies behind him, the maverick surrounded himself with powerful supporters. The final breakthrough into celebrity coincided with the dawn of the new century but before that Beethoven faced a personal catastrophe which threatened his very being.
Beethoven’s catalog of piano sonatas was expanded in 1798 by the two charmed Op. 14 Sonatas. Their elegance foreshadows the famed Septet Op. 20, which he was busy composing at the same time. He arranged the first of the two sonatas, the one in E Major, for string quartet though, as he confessed in a letter to the publisher, without much motivation. Carl Czerny described the Sonata’s first movement as picturesque and poetic, like a small painting rich in detail. The finale’s uncommon tempo marking, Allegro comodo, induces the pianist to deliver the movement’s semiquaver textures with fluidity; in the version for string quartet, the finale is marked simply Allegro.
The Sonata in G Major begins with a rhythmic pun, the placement of the strong beat in first theme seems to be deliberately obscured. In the coda of the movement the same theme is transformed into a version in which the rhythmic structure is made clear. The second movement is a set of comedic variations, the music proceeds with the empty pride of a recently promoted tin soldier whose strutting march is abruptly curtailed by the movement’s concluding chord, à la Haydn’s Surprise Symphony. The finale has something of the feeling of an improvisation. It opens with another rhythmic jest, clever little fragments race upward in a sequence, again seeming to conceal the whereabouts of a consistent downbeat.
The Grand Sonata Op. 22 is the apotheosis of Beethoven’s early sonatas. With this work, the composer takes his place among the pantheon of Viennese masters. Absolute control over structure and style, as well as the Sonata’s fuming virtuosity, affirms Beethoven as equal to the finest European sonata composers, Muzio Clementi, Friedrich Wilhelm Rust, and their ilk. Beethoven advertised the Sonata as “really something” in a letter to the publisher, an act that paid off quite literally. He received 20 ducats for the publishing rights, an unprecedented sum for a “private” work such as a sonata. It was, in fact, the same amount he got for his first symphony.
The renowned German pianist Wilhelm Kempff described the opening of the Sonata as a hawk beating air under its wings a couple of times before soaring into the sky. The Apollonian tranquility of the second movement is followed by a minuet which seems to negotiate some middle ground between the Sonata’s calm and choleric dimensions. Beethoven completed the Sonata Op. 22 in 1800 when he was also working on the Spring Sonata Op. 24. The many similarities in the finales of the two sonatas are readily apparent to the keen listener.
Regarding Beethoven’s artistic growth, the Sonata in B-flat Major marks the end of an era and the beginning of another. Upon his arrival in Vienna, the intensely gifted young musician had sharpened his skills by working with the best teachers the great city had to offer. His cultivated talents enabled him to create a masterwork like the Sonata in B-flat Major. Still, the numerous compositions, any of which would immortalize him, were yet to be penned. What finally triggered the creativity whose inspirations fill concert halls even today? The answer lies in a simmering crisis which, in 1801, brought Beethoven to brink of despair: he was becoming deaf!
Beethoven kept the early symptoms, tinnitus and buzzing, secret even from his close friends, but finally he couldn’t deny what was happening. In a letter to his friend Franz Wegeler the composer wrote: “My ears continue to buzz and hum day and night […] I have ceased to attend any social functions because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf […] Heaven alone knows what is to become of me.” The condition slowly worsened, leading inexorably to complete deafness in Beethoven’s last years. Losing his most treasured sense was a traumatic, tormenting process, which gradually isolated Beethoven within his own private world. And as his contact with the real one faded, he fled into his music, where, simultaneously, musical fantasy and utopia gained more space. It was in this realm Beethoven found his own unique musical voice.
While Beethoven was admitting and reacting to the possibility of deafness, the whole of Europe was going through a turbulent phase. The unrest following the French Revolution kept people on their toes, some wanting the fires to abate, others hoping the flames would spread across the continent. Napoleon Bonaparte’s ascent from common soldier to ruler of France seemed to promise a new order, inspiring many who had originally believed in the necessity of the revolution. Beethoven kept himself informed about France, and subsequently, he brought France into his music. One typical subject in post-revolution music was “the death of a hero.” Beethoven employed this idea in the slow movement of his Sonata Op. 26, a Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un Eroe.
The Marcia funebre became a special favorite of the composer. He wrote them into Eroica and Seventh Symphonies, among other works. His ambivalence towards Napoleon haunts all of his funeral marches in some way; upon learning of the former commander’s death, Beethoven reportedly remarked about “having already provided the proper music for the disaster” though whether or not he was referring to one of these funeral marches is unknown. Coincidentally, Beethoven supplied the music for his own passing: an arrangement for brass ensemble of the Marcia funebre from the Sonata Op. 26 was performed at the composer’s funeral.
Beethoven’s musical community is omnipresent in the Funeral March Sonata. According to Ferdinand Ries, Beethoven had found inspiration for the Marcia funebre in Ferdinando Paer’s opera Achilles (1801). The tremolandos rumbling in the movement’s trio section originated as an innovation of Daniel Steibelt, a pianist who had recently challenged Beethoven in a piano duel. The work’s finale bears close resemblance to the Sonata in A-flat Major Op. 22 by his close friend Johann Cramer. And the opening movement, a set of variations, might well be considered a set of gifts to the countless amateur pianists in Vienna.
The so-called Fantasy-sonatas Op. 27 were composed during 1801, a year of fervent creativity for Beethoven. Within keyboard music of the 18th century, the fantasy was perhaps a little cousin of the sonata, a musical genre based on a more relaxed set of protocols. Sonatas and fantasies shared many qualities and their fusion cannot in any way be seen as extraordinary. Many sonatas and fantasies begin with slow introductions. Emanuel Bach, among others, had composed sonatas in which movements followed one other without break (attacca), a feature typical of fantasies. Still, the Fantasy-sonatas Op. 27 occupy a special place in Beethoven’s oeuvre. They were conceived at a time when the composer turned to his art seeking reasons to go on living. These Sonatas seemed to unlock something deep within him. He was able to apply what he had learned of the Viennese style to his most original gifts of inspiration, which had been so prevalent in his Bonn years.
Of the two Op. 27 works, the first in E-flat Major is structurally closer to a fantasy. The transitions between movements are taken attacca and the opening movement in particular demonstrates the flair of an improvisation. Sonata-like qualities, including a proper slow movement and a finale, appear toward the end of the work. The reappearance of the slow section, originally in A-flat Major and now in E-flat, before the coda is a compositional choice clearly emerging from the realm of the sonata: a tonal relationship frequent in sonata style is a main-key recapitulation of an important theme originally presented in a contrasting key.
A motif reminiscent of a hunting horn call begins the work. The opening expresses anticipation leading into a buoyant peasant-style dance. Chromatically descending sequences alternate with vigorous forte cadences in the second movement, a sort of a mystical scherzo. A typical element of a fantasy, a quixotic “apropos-cadenza,” brings the work’s slow section to a momentary halt before the Dionysian pleasures of the Allegro culminate the work.
The second work in Op. 27, the Sonata in C-sharp Minor, gained its nickname “the Moonlight” from a character in Ludwig Rellstab’s short story Theodor: eine musikalische Skizze (1824) who describes the first movement with the phrase “moonlight above a lake.” Earlier, Carl Czerny had established nocturnal associations with the work, calling the first movement “a night-scene, with lamenting sounds heard from afar.” It is tempting to imagine the “moonlight”-movement having emerged from Beethoven “fantasizing” on his piano. Beethoven’s improvisations were often described as gloomy and his plentiful use of the sustain-pedal was known to have frequently bothered listeners. The Sonata in C-sharp Minor soon became very popular and even today it remains Beethoven’s most often played composition.
Structurally the three-movement work is a typical sonata, however, both the opening movement’s hypnotic character and its psychological link to the finale do justice to the quasi una fantasia sub-title. Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung wrote enthusiastically of the new work:
This fantasy is from beginning to end one pure whole, rising out of the deepest emotions of the soul, carved from a solid block of marble. There cannot be a single person in any way sensitive to music who can fail to be […] affected by this free-form piano music.
What explains the unity praised by the critic? It is unlikely he would have meant the textural qualities shared by the outer movements, the similarities of the finale’s arpeggios’ and its coda’s cadenza-like eruptions to the first movement. Perhaps the answer is to be found within the work’s dramaturgy. At the outset of the first movement, the music behaves as expected for a while: an opening phrase solidifies the main key and is followed by a theme modulating into Major. But suddenly Major collapses into Minor, a gambit repeated in the recapitulation of the theme later in the movement. A movement that begins with soothing melancholy ends up in tragic negation. What can this denial of sympathy mean? It is as if some latent horror beneath the music’s surface needs to be informed by the alarming passion of the finale. And what about the felicitous second movement? It provides a momentary relief from the surrounding pain, like a dream interrupting a dream, a reverie in the middle of a nightmare.
The year 1801 also saw the birth of the Sonata in D Major Op. 28. Beethoven dedicated the new work to Joseph von Sonnenfels, a Freemason and respected man of the Enlightenment. A former adviser to the late Emperor Joseph II, Sonnenfels had fought a successful campaign to ban the use of torture as a means of punishment. By 1801 the regime of Emperor Francis had taken a negative attitude toward many of the societal reforms introduced by Joseph II (in part no doubt because of having been taken aback by the unrest in France) and was ruling strictly and with the aid of the feared Emperor’s Secret Police.
The Sonata in D Major is a work of affirmative lyricism. A ceremonial basso-ostinato emerges under the opening movement which mainly sails through temperate waters. The nostalgic second movement was to Beethoven’s liking and he was said to have played the ballade-like movement frequently. The simplicity of the vast finale bears resemblance to the keyboard style of some of the notable Czech composers of the time, for example Leopold Koželuch and Jan Ladislav Dussek.
The English publisher of the Sonata, Broderip & Wilkinson, conferred on it the popular title ”Pastoral.” A large number of instrumental works bearing the same label were produced around this time, and many of this Sonata’s qualities make it an obvious constituent of the sub-genre. One typical feature of works in the pastoral style is an emphasis on the subdominant key, a tonal center considered to have a sonority milder than the dominant. (Subdominant literally means “below-the-dominant”, which is also the fourth step in a key, the dominant being the fifth. In D Major, the subdominant key is G Major). G Major is first heard in the very beginning of the work, although in a passing reference. Later, G Major lays the preparations for the movement’s stormy middle section. In the finale, just moments before the end, the naive simplicity of G Major is given full stage. Here the key is stripped of any link to conflict, a characteristic which it conveyed in the first movement.
The turn of the century saw Beethoven dedicating many of his works to people he perceived to be reformers: The Symphony Op. 21 was dedicated to Gottfried van Swieten, who, like Sonnenfels, had been close to Josepf II; Tsar Alexander of Russia, recipient of the Violin Sonatas Op. 30, had begun his tenure by introducing reforms; and, of course, there was the Sinfonia Bonaparte epitomizing Beethoven’s politically motivated dedications with storied and oft-told consequences.
The genesis of the two petite Sonatas Op. 49 is unclear. Beethoven’s brother Carl had the works published in 1802. The second, in G Major, appears to be unfinished, that being suggested by the absence of most performance instructions. Beethoven rarely used the same musical material in different works, but the second movement of the Sonata in G Major gets a more cultivated treatment in his Septet Op. 20. Thus, it seems likely that Beethoven didn’t intend the two Sonatas to be published. Their thematic work is delightful, however, and they have served as an introduction to Beethoven’s keyboard works for many young musicians. The connection is not without significance, since Beethoven’s entire keyboard output in many ways emerged from the rich amateur music culture of late 18th century Europe.
Beethoven was in the middle of intense work on two sets of variations in the spring of 1802 when a commission from a Zurich publisher to deliver three new piano sonatas reached him. The composer had recently told his friend Wenzel Krumpholz that he wasn’t satisfied with his works up to that point and that he would ”from today on take a new path.” It is likely that the Variations Op. 34 and Op. 35 were the composer’s reaction to his own injunction but the Sonatas Op. 31 also bore the traits of the “new Beethoven”.
Unlike the previous (so-called) Fantasy Sonatas that possibly were influenced by the composer’s impairing hearing, the Sonatas Op. 31 give the impression that Beethoven was determined to overcome the personal crisis. This is suggested by what might be described as the compositional assertiveness of the Sonatas as well as musical ideas which seem to be drawn from situations more public than, say, from the psychological depths explored in the Fantasy Sonatas. The first two Sonatas of Op. 31 could be indebted to the stage: they unfold like instrumental versions of an opera buffa and a tragedy. The third Sonata impresses as a pastiche of instrumental music’s bravura style from the preceding decades.
The beginning of the Sonata Op. 31 No. 1 in G Major produces comedy out of the lack of synchrony between the two hands; the left hand is assigned the role of the slower starter. Rare as a tonal scheme in sonata movements, the two main key-areas are separated by a major third (much more typical is the fifth). It was Haydn who taught Beethoven much about third-based tonal relationships, and the movement’s second theme in B Major perhaps subconsciously pays homage to the elder composer. Characteristic of Beethoven’s musical style was the amalgamation of street and military musical elements into the Viennese Classical syntax. As often was the case, also in this movement it is the second theme that displays the popular affinity, in fact the theme would be suitable for a street ditty.
The second movement also assigns the hands different roles. In the role of soloist, the right hand is challenged with glimmering passagework, acrobatic melodies, and scintillating trills to be performed effortlessly in the manner of the best coloratura soprano. The left hand provides an accompanying texture imitating a group of stringed instruments playing pizzicato. The movement’s somber middle part offers a moment of respite for the soloist. Song-like expressiveness continues into the finale which starts with a lengthy and lyrical rondo-theme. In the coda, the theme is splintered into smaller and smaller units, evoking the fragmented nature of the opening movement.
The mail brought back from Zurich a published score of the Sonatas Op. 31 riddled with errors and misprint; the publisher Nägeli had even included some bars of his own in the coda of the first movement of the Sonata in G Major. An infuriated Beethoven immediately sent the three Sonatas to Edition Simrock in Bonn asking them to be published under the title Edition très correcte.
The second Sonata of Op. 31 commences with harmonic uncertainty. As if played with a bard’s lute, an arpeggiated A Major chord seems to be asking for a direction. An anxious passage appears to answer but ends up leading to the unexpected key of C Major where another more mystical arpeggio interrupts its flight. The harmonic ambivalence and theatrical display of opposing characters launches a musical drama, the episodic nature of which has proven to provoke listeners to ponder its meaning.
Enigmatic arpeggios return in the middle of the movement, this time receiving a more credible answer in the form of melismatic recitatives surrounded by a blurry echo created by the famously extended pedals, actually a signature facet of Beethoven’s improvisations. Carl Czerny described the recitatives as “a voice from the tomb.” Typically the main key of a sonata movement (in this case D Minor) would be consolidated by several root-position cadences but in this movement there exists only one such resolution, the one concluding the diluted harmonic business of the opening. Towards the end of the movement the lack of foundational cadences seems to suggest D Minor giving up its position as the main tonal arena of the work.
As if reacting to the labile nature of the tonic key of the first movement, the second movement’s opening chord, another lute-like arpeggio, is firmly founded on the movement’s main key, B-flat Major. The serene Adagio provides stability and warmth lacking in the agitated first movement. Originally heard in the recitatives of the first movement, dotted rhythms here become an integral part of the second movement’s narrative. The reappearance of this rhythmic dimension of the “voice,” as per Czerny, can be heard proposing human dimension of the tale.
Following these two rather fragmentary movements, the finale, with its continuous flow, appears an echo of the Sonata’s mystical world. The arpeggio-motive, so prevalent in the work, evolves into an uninterrupted current, which at times surges in ways reminiscent of the first movement and, between these swells, turns toward the gentler climates of the second. In time the journey, begun with a mysterious upward roll, concludes with a quiet, laconically descending arpeggio.
The Sonata’s radical dramaturgy and the manner in which its musical material is transformed in the different worlds of its three movements make it one of Beethoven’s most original creations. Czerny, too, appreciated the Sonata, writing:
This Sonata is perfect. The unity of the ideas and of the tragic character, the artistic form, which is disturbed by no episode, and the romantic and picturesque nature of the whole, will never fail to produce the greatest effect, when the fancy of the player is on a par with his facility.
The Sonata got its popular title from Anton Schindler who reported that Beethoven had answered his inquiry about the work’s musical meaning by instructing him to “read Shakespeare’s Tempest.”
The Sonata Op. 31 No. 3 in E-flat Major begins, surprisingly, in the middle of a phrase. The chromatically ascending bass line and pompous fermatas of the introduction may be mocking the drama of the preceding Sonata, if doing so somewhat lightheartedly. A straightforward motion gets underway harnessing the pianist with brilliant passagework and energetic trills. The Sonata’s four-movement structure is reminiscent of a dance suite and, like the Eight Symphony, doesn’t include a proper slow movement, the inner movements consisting of both a minuet and a scherzo. A motive found throughout the Sonata is an exchange between the notes “C” and “C-flat”. This simple yet effective ploy creates a clown-like effect: smiles and tears appear simultaneously on the same face.
If the first movement’s drum-conjuring trills don’t manage to evoke a hunting scene, the lively chase of the finale provides ample clarification of the Sonata’s occasionally used popular title “The Hunt.” Beethoven rarely applied the tempo marking Presto con fuoco but here the inscription introduces a tarantella. The composer could review the fruits of his labor with contentment: his creativity had surely overcome the recently looming crisis.
Beethoven was often in love, and from time to time his feelings were reciprocated. To his great disappointment, however, he never married. The much-written-about affair with his “Immortal Beloved,” begun in 1810, was doomed from the start but nonetheless amounted to what was probably Beethoven’s most fulfilling relationship with a woman. The affair became known from a letter found among the composer’s belongings after his death. Written over two days, the letter was an open and unconditional declaration of love to a woman whose identity remained concealed.
What followed the discovery of the letter was one of the most exciting puzzles in the music history. Over the next century and more, numerous theories were proposed naming in turn nearly all of Beethoven’s female friends as the object of the letter. Maynard Solomon finally and credibly closed the case by proving the identity of the “Immortal Beloved” to have been one Antonie Brentano. Beethoven knew the Brentano family well and it is likely also that Antonie’s husband Franz was aware of the liaison between his wife and the famous composer.
In the letter, Beethoven speaks to dreams of a life together with his beloved whom we now know to be Toni, as he called Antonie. He writes that his love for her made him both the happiest and the unhappiest person in the whole world. The letter ends with the words: “never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved. Ever thine, ever mine, ever each other’s. L”.
In 1809, four years after the appearance of his previous piano sonata, Beethoven returned to this favorite genre of his youth and quickly finished three sonatas. By now he was enjoying a reputation as one of the most celebrated composers of instrumental music. His compositions from this period reveal a less heroic tone than those from the earlier part of the decade, instead, they offer a richer palette of musical colors. The increasing tenderness of nuances and smaller forms in fact serve to cultivate the inherently emotional spirit of Beethoven’s music. At the time Beethoven’s friends couldn’t help but notice that life’s wounds, the gradually worsened deafness and the failing marriage prospects, had begun to show in the composer’s forlorn mood. In return, he became more dependent on the camaraderie within his close circle of friends and found ways to bring them into his music.
The contrasts between the two movements of the Sonata Op. 78 in F-sharp Major are based on different degrees of delight. The lyrical first movement paints melodies with broad strokes. The second movement brilliantly plays with a texture imitating virtuosic violin technique. The Sonata begins with a concise slow introduction where an ascending melodic curve, perhaps reminiscent of a sunrise, and a motive recalling a birdcall frame a hymn-like phrase. The second movement also begins with the briefest of introductions, a harmonic motto borrowed from the first movement treated with near-sarcastic maneuvering.
Beethoven dedicated the Sonata to Therese von Brunsvik. The Brunsvik family belonged to Beethoven’s closest circle but, contrary to the once persistent belief, Therese and Ludwig were not romantically involved. The Sonata À Thérèse is music for a dear friend.
For the first time in years Beethoven was not working on a symphonic project. Instead, among other things, he was occupying himself with arranging British folk songs. Folk music found its way into the Sonata in G Major, whose first movement, Presto alla tedesca relates to a popular style, the Teuscher (Tedesca in Italian) which was a German dance that had evolved from the Ländler. Beethoven had composed similar pieces already in the 1790s. The Sonata’s second movement is a melancholic barcarolle where the soprano and alto voices join in a duet; the constituents of this duo seem also to initiate the finale’s contra-dance characteristics.
The Sonatas Op. 78 and Op. 79 were commissioned by the London publisher Clementi. Their brevity and modest pianistic demands may have been thought more suitable for English keyboard amateurs. In 1810 Beethoven proposed to marry Therese Malfatti, only 18 at the time, but her family opposed the union. Maynard Solomon has speculated that the Sonata in G Major might have been intended as a gift from the composer to his then beloved. Perhaps this petite Sonata bears some special connections between Beethoven and his intimate friends: a copy of the same work owned by Antonie Brentano’s daughter, Maximiliane, has an inscription “from Beethoven, personally.”
Archduke Rudolph, the brother of Francis I, Emperor of Austria, was also among Beethoven’s closest friends. Rudolph’s archives contain over a hundred carefully preserved letters from the composer as well as personal memorabilia including first copies and manuscripts of Beethoven’s works. Rudolph supported Beethoven financially and negotiated matters for him in the Imperial Court numerous times. When the nobility, Rudolph among them, fled Napoleon’s armies’ bombardment of Vienna in 1809, Beethoven presented his friend a heartfelt musical gift.
The Sonata Op. 81a in E-flat Major, dedicated to Rudolph, is titled Lebewohl, Abwesenheit und Wiedersehen (Farewell, Separation, and Reunion). The Sonata was issued with the title Les Adieux, because the publisher believed that a French heading would result in greater popularity. Beethoven, incidentally, wasn’t pleased because he though some of the meaning of the word Lebewohl was lost in translation. The first movement begins with the “farewell,” a post-horn motive a due voce, its three descending notes have the syllables “Le-be-wohl” written above them.
This opening movement is happy in the manner of two friends enjoying one another’s company. The farewell-motive becomes especially important in the movement’s coda, the time of departure. The second movement speaks to the anguish of separation. No key is ever really confirmed as the tonic of the movement, lamenting music temporarily visits many tonalities instead, as if wandering with no clear sense of direction. Near the end of the movement, the search finally leads to E-flat Major, the home-key of the Sonata: the friends recognize each other. The music thereupon turns rapturous and a vivacious Reunion ensues.
Beethoven always took the dedications of his works seriously. Dedicatees included supporters as well as public figures he revered. But even among all these, the Archduke Rudolph and the Les Adieux Sonata are a special case. Beethoven wrote on a sketch leaf of the Sonata, “dedicated and written from the heart to His Imperial Highness.” He even asked the publisher to print the date of Rudolph’s departure from Vienna (May 4th) on the cover of the Sonata. Channeling into music his affection for a dear friend from whom he was about to be separated perhaps grew out of a need to find a surrogate for the romantic love which life seemed intent on denying him.
Five years elapsed before Beethoven again returned to the piano sonata. He composed the Sonata Op. 90 in E Minor during the summer of 1814, shortly after having completed revisions to his opera Fidelio, a project already spanning more than a decade. The Sonata in E Minor can be heard as a collision of youthful passion and mature wisdom. The work’s touching dramaturgy–a titan in the first movement struggling against an unmatched opponent and, in the second, yielding before unconditioned forgiveness and grace–is like a self-portrait of the aging composer.
Two-movement sonatas were popular during Beethoven’s youth but now, two decades later, they were a novelty. Beethoven was in the middle of a stylistic transformation. The polyphonic style of his late period took years to evolve and the plain musical language of the Sonata in E Minor doesn’t seem to be reaching towards any kind of complexity. On the other hand, the work’s subjective intensity as well as its emotional credence might well be a precondition to the profound dignity of his monumental late works.
The Sonata Op. 7 (1797) casts the listener into the center of the dawn of the Eroica Symphony, a turbulent time in European history. The French Revolution had alarmed the established monarchies and, adding to a hazardous political climate, the unpredictable new nation was targeting aggressions all over the map. European views diverged. Those fed up with autocratic rulers had invested hope in the Revolution and were now eagerly waiting for the Gallic unrest to cool down but others, especially those having gained privileged positions in the old power cliques, hoped that continued turmoil would prevent the new nation from stabilizing. During the 1790s France’s hostile foreign politics and the many military campaigns it generated opened a route for Napoleon Bonaparte’s ascent to power.
The young Beethoven labored tirelessly during those years. His unprecedented keyboard skills earned him a place in the hearts of the Viennese and, to fulfill his ambitions as a composer, he sought advice from the most celebrated masters of the time. Beethoven kept up an intense presence in his supporters’ family circles and taught music to many of their children. His work began at dawn and he often left his desk well after midnight. His new compositions sold well, and as their dramatic power steadily increased so did the young maverick’s personal fame. Depending on one’s point of view, it was either a grand coincidence or a logical consequence of history that Beethoven and Bonaparte climbed to the top at the same time. As the latter was fiercely directing the course of European nations the former gave a voice to the whole era.
Several years separated the completion of two works in E-flat Major, both unmatched in their monumentality, the Sonata Op. 7 and the Eroica Symphony. Even so, the two are linked: the Sonata emerged from the middle of a decade-long musical evolution for which the Symphony was the pinnacle. Both works refashioned their genres: the Eroica amalgamated the Viennese salon symphony tradition with echoes of the Revolution to form a new kind of heroic ethos; the Sonata demonstrated how grand a formal structure Beethoven was able to render in the context of the solo sonata.
Like the preceding Op. 2 sonatas, the Sonata Op. 7 makes use of a four-movement design. And like its predecessors, it provided a suitable vehicle for a performer familiar with the Viennese style and equipped with ample keyboard virtuosity. Accordingly, Beethoven dedicated the new work to his accomplished student Babette von Keglevics. As in the Eroica Symphony, the predominate element of the work’s opening is a sense of motion. Beginning quietly but soon achieving its full power, the music constantly finds new directions and gradually reveals the scale of Beethoven’s vision.
Beethoven assimilated Joseph Haydn’s use of harmonic third-relationships. Consequently, the second movement of the current Sonata is in C Major, a tonality a third removed from the opening movement. This key allocates to the slow movement a realm free from the energetic flavor of E-flat Major. Both movements, and for that matter the whole Sonata, employ a soundly optimistic tone, but the reflective second movement gives the work a sense of narrative weight that reflects its mighty breadth. The raging triplets in the third movement’s Minore section bring to mind the “storms” of the pastoral style. Displaying a pleasant mood, the finale repeatedly comes to a halt on B-flat. At first the agreeable prevails but the second B-flat fermata is followed by a turn to an untamed C Minor. The last occurrence of the halt elicits a momentary appearance of an idyllic E Major.
While E-flat Major served as the key for many of Beethoven’s jubilant works, C Minor revealed his darkening compositional vistas. The Sonata Pathétique Op. 13 (1799), an extraordinarily popular work among the amateur musicians of the time, was Beethoven’s first profound glance into the world of this passionate key, a tonality which would end up hosting many of his most celebrated musical journeys. Hot off the press, the Pathétique also provided the music for the start of the companionship between the master and his future musical “ambassador” Carl Czerny. Having just begun his studies with Beethoven, one of the first tasks assigned to the talented young keyboardist was to study the new Sonata.
“Pathétique” was a trendy sub-genre of instrumental music and C Minor its most popular key. In his Dictionnaire de musique (1768), Jean-Jacques Rousseau had defined the pathetic as a ”genre of dramatic and theatrical music which tends to paint and to arouse the grand passions, particularly pain and sadness.” Rousseau even identified three different kinds of harmonic worlds: the diatonic, the chromatic, and the pathetic, the last consisting of “wandering through keys that have little in common with each other, heart-rending intervals, and fiery ideas capable of disturbing the soul.”
Baroque-inspired dotted rhythms, diminished harmonies, and startling pauses flavor the opening Grave of the Sonata Pathétique, a rather conventional “pathetic” introduction. The unexpected return of the Grave twice in the movement proper, on the other hand, demonstrates a most original manipulation of the topos. A restatement of the Grave interrupts the fleeing Allegro forcing the listener to hear the two sections in relation to one another. This unforeseen juxtaposition provokes the listener to wonder if the Allegro’s vehemence suggests an escape from the Grave’s fateful blows or, perhaps, an intoxicated dash towards them. As the movement rushes toward conclusion, the listener knows now to expect a third appearance of the Grave only to be again caught off guard when the emphatic chords are replaced by dramatic silences, the now missing blasts left to echo silently in the listener’s imagination.
A brief appearance of the Major mode in the middle of the introduction almost furtively prepares the way for the soothing sounds of the second movement. The Adagio, a movement that has inspired an enormous number of arrangements during the past two centuries, unfolds in the manner of a concerto movement: a lean melody suggests a soloistic start followed by a sonorously expanded, perhaps orchestral, phrase. The Adagio’s key, A-flat Major, is here again a third removed from the opening movement. According to Beethoven’s student Ferdinand Ries, the composer performed the finale of the Sonata Pathétique with “very special expressiveness.” The movement recalls preceding sentiments, the agitation in C Minor and the sincerity in A-flat Major, but with a certain reserve, as if looking at them from a cool, philosophic distance.
Within two decades of the Pathétique, the cycle of 32 piano sonatas was complete. Even though the final three sonatas were published individually, they still form a coherent whole. The initiation of this sonata trilogy, somewhat coincidentally, interrupted Beethoven’s work on his grandest orchestral project, the Missa Solemnis. A Berlin publisher requested three new sonatas and the composer took on the project. Instead of starting fresh, however, he heeded the advice of his friend Franz Oliva and appropriated a recently composed small piano piece to be the opening movement of the first Sonata.
This first movement of the Sonata in E Major Op. 109 (1820) unfolds more in the manner of a Baroque keyboard prelude than a classical sonata movement. Fantasia-like sections interrupt the regular motion of the opening Vivace twice. The antithesis between the two sections creates a sense of balance which the second movement, a tempestuous Prestissimo, violently snatches away. The Sonata’s variation finale accounts for more than half of the work’s duration. Its theme, an evocation of a sarabande set as a chorale, brings back the serene atmosphere of the first movement’s conclusion, as if in denial of the Prestissimo, the odd centerpiece of the Sonata.
Constant change is a characteristic of Beethoven’s variations. Often the beginning of a particular variation serves merely as a starting point for gradual organic growth and transformation of the musical material. The final variation of the Sonata in E Major expands ecstatically before calming in preparation for a repeat of the theme, another feature more typical of a Baroque period variation than a Viennese classical sonata.
The free-spirited nature of the Sonata in E Major is novel among Beethoven’s works. The rich network of links and references interconnecting the movements, often characteristic of the composer’s style, seems all but absent. The first movement’s fantasia of oppositions never returns; no light is shed on the second movement’s aggression; and finally, following the terseness of the first two movements, the finale embarks on a vastly extended journey only to arrive at the point where the voyage began. The Sonata feels fresh because it doesn’t attempt to sew together the musical threads it introduces.
The instruction Con amabilita, sanft (endearingly, soft) designates the opening movement of the following Sonata Op. 110 in A-flat Major. The narrative flow of the first movement is interrupted from time to time by sparkling arpeggio passages. A pensive modulation into E Major in the middle of the movement reflects back to the previous sonata. The second movement, a kind of serioso, with its folksy beat departs from the peaceful mood of the first movement.
The manuscript of Op. 110 is dated Christmas Day 1821; the Sonata’s musical inspiration, however, is more inclined to the spiritual themes of Easter. The finale, a combination of slow movement and fugue, reveals a highly original construction. Much like the slow movement of the Hammerklavier Sonata, the musical symbolism traces a path from suffering to forgiveness. A hint of a funeral march colors the opening phrase, which leads to a recitative in the manner of a Baroque Passion. The recitative includes a dream-like quote from the despairing climax of the Hammerklavier. The following Arioso dolente, a lamentation, quotes the melody of the aria “Es ist vollbracht!” (It is finished!) from Johann Sebastian Bach’s St John Passion.
A musically rendered crucifix (à la Bach) concludes the lamentation. The fugue which follows begins optimistically and gradually expands into expressions of solemn joy. The notes of the fugue theme (A-flat / D-flat / B-flat / E-flat / C / F) were already heard in the very beginning of the Sonata, perhaps as a premonition of the salvation from the Arioso’s grief. A reappearance of lamentation follows the fugue, this time harmonically lowered a half step to G Minor. The melody keeps gasping, as if suffocating under an unbearable weight. And again, a fugue reaching towards the brighter follows. This final fugue is marked poi a poi di nuovo vivente (gradually awakening). The Sonata, which displays many symbolic linkages with themes of resurrection, comes to an end awash in spiritual bliss.
While the Sonata in A-flat Major, a true “Passion Sonata,” can be viewed as an homage to the music of J. S. Bach, the inspiration for the next, Beethoven’s last sonata, came from the more recent past. The layout of the Sonata Op. 111 (1822), a slow introduction followed by two movements, was prevalent during Beethoven’s youth. Even the movements’ tempo relationships, the first quick and the second tranquil, point toward the popular sonata structure of the 1780s and 90s. Also a plausible reference to his own oeuvre is the Maestoso introduction with its clear similarity to the introduction of the Sonata Pathétique. The keys of the two movements, C Minor for the first and C Major for the second, are tonalities whose juxtaposition Beethoven had explored many times before, the clearest example perhaps being the moment in the Fifth Symphony when the Scherzo collides with the finale resulting in a momentous shift from darkness to light, surely one of the most beloved moments in all of Beethoven’s output.
The first movement of the Sonata Op. 111 could well be a portrayal of the inferno. Twice, a lyrical theme douses the flames. This theme in A-flat Major does little to hide its obvious reference to the preceding Sonata. The second movement is another set of variations. The vast Arietta, in fact the sonata cycle’s longest single movement, emerges from a serene opening and concludes with sounds of resignation. The theme has a solid but gentle bass line and a bright but tender melody, the bass perhaps inferring eternity, the melody divine love. At the end of the movement, the theme appears in a paradise-like context, a silhouette of the melody shimmers through lush but delicate trills. Lingering in this atmosphere, a passage of thirds and sixths serves as a graceful reminder of the first movement’s anguish. At the very end, a series of bowing gestures appears, as if blessing the spiritual leave-taking.
The trill has a special significance in Beethoven’s last Sonata: the fateful blows of the introduction lead to fleeting trill gestures; the demonic force of the Allegro emerges from a murmuring trill which concludes the introduction; filled with rhetorical charisma, a lengthy trill in the middle of the Arietta prepares a recollection of the previous Sonata’s Passion-ethos; and finally, the rhythmic diminution of the Arietta’s variations ultimately leads to a trill which accompanies the final appearance of the theme. During the period between 1790s and 1820s Beethoven transformed the trill as a compositional device. Originally an ornament demonstrating the stylistic awareness and abilities of the performer, it became an apparatus of emotion and mysticism, one of many examples of Beethoven’s revolutionary influence in music.
The last three sonatas signified, for Beethoven, a restoration. Musically, he returned to his early years in Bonn, when Christian Gottlob Neefe had introduced his young apprentice to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He reestablished the two-movement Sonata and, with musical references, looked back at many of his own compositions. And, finally, he returned to love once-lived. Beethoven intended to dedicate the last two sonatas to Antonie Brentano, his “Immortal Beloved” of a decade before. His plans changed, however, and Antonie’s name ended up only on the title page of the English first edition of the Sonata Op. 111. Sonata Op. 109 was dedicated to her daughter, Maximiliane, to whom Beethoven wrote in the dedication letter of “the spirit that holds together nobler and better people on this earth, and [which] no time can destroy.”
“I try to create something different–in a sense realities–and these imbeciles call it Impressionism”
Claude Debussy (1862–1918) cherished enigmatic statements and left behind conflicting remarks about the issue of musical imagery: on the one hand, he thought it was “more important to see a sunrise than to hear the Pastoral Symphony,” while on the other hand, as he wrote in a letter to the composer Edgar Varèse, he “liked images as much as music.” Debussy’s nuanced relationship with the worldly inspirations of his music links him with the artistic movement known as Symbolism. The movement was active especially in the realm of literature and, in his music, Debussy often used texts from many of the iconic Symbolist writers, among them Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé. According to the Symbolist view, a work of art was to elaborate the sensation caused by its subject, not merely describe it. In the score of the Préludes, the individual movement titles are at the end of each prelude, as if Debussy had followed Mallarmé’s advice: “To name an object [in the title] is to suppress three-quarters of the enjoyment of the poem, which is meant to unfold little by little.”
Despite Debussy’s dislike of being labelled an Impressionist, the Prelude which opens Book I (1910), Danseuses de Delphes, begins with as much of a musical rendition of the “blurry line” as anything: a melody is embedded within a chordal texture, but the line is obscured by the profusion of surrounding voices. A sculpture of three dancing Greek priestesses in the Louvre is said to have inspired the Prelude. Voiles develops the whole-tone motive introduced in Danseuses. The title can mean both “sails” and “veils”, the ambiguity likely being intentional. Varèse claimed that the long trailing silk veils of a particular Paris dancer were the composer’s true inspiration. The swirling Le vent dans la plaine concludes the group comprising the first three preludes; all use B-flat as a tonal center. The harmonic foundation provided by the anchoring B-flat gradually becomes more and more labile in each of the first three preludes, ending up in the chromatically laden third prelude as merely a transparent façade.
The title ‘Les sons et parfums tournent dans l’air du soir ‘ is a quotation from Baudelaire’s poem Harmonie du soir. The Prelude explores a multitude of vivid harmonic intricacies. Les collines d’Anacapri picks up the Mediterranean theme hinted at in the first Prelude. The luminosity of B-Major provides the tonal domain for a theme, evocative of a popular chanson, which grows to climactic elation by the end. Debussy composed Des pas sur la neige in a single day. The sparse texture appropriately depicts poignant solitude; the piece’s snowy backdrop contrasts with the human aspect of the picture.
The frozen landscape quickly shifts to a maelstrom with the Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest which was possibly inspired by the West Wind in H.C. Andersen’s Garden of Paradise. Debussy’s oeuvre has few truly virtuosic numbers, despite his closeness with the Parisian salons where the century-long virtuoso tradition was at its height. The turbulent tale of the West Wind is one such rarity. La fille aux cheveux de lin, the most tonal of the Preludes, returns to a sedate but refreshingly naïve mood. La sérénade interrompue transports the listener to Hispania to witness two frustrated young men attempting to serenade the same woman.
The legend of the submerged city of Ys was Debussy’s inspiration for La cathédrale engloutie. Two independent tempos with subtle differences support the piece’s sonic vision, the ancient architecture’s movements viewed through water. Debussy was a great admirer of Shakespeare, he even considered setting As You Like It as an opera. La danse de Puck is a gigue fusing the fantastic with the comic and is therefore an apt homage to a playwright famous for such stylistic mixtures. The final Prelude of Book I continues the “theater” theme with a group of Minstrels providing music to accompany the audience’s departure, a popular convention during Shakespeare’s era.
The publication of Book II of the Preludes (1913) evoked reactions of disappointment. Comparisons between the inspired optimism of the Book I and the pessimistic mood of many of the new preludes left some fans feeling betrayed. A certain realism presides over the world of Book II: ancient myths have been replaced with scenes from turn-of-the-century Paris, the romantic Mediterranean is cast aside in favor of glimpses of a world exhausted by colonialism, such points of view transmitted by postcards and newspapers and making their way into various of the preludes. Some lightheartedness remains, though: Varieté and the British, which held special attractions for Debussy, are given benevolent depictions. Curiously, instead of the typical two, Debussy set the music on three staves in the score of Book II; perhaps he was thinking of eventually arranging these preludes for an orchestral ensemble.
Brouillards opens the door to the darkened world of Book II. The pianist’s hands take on contrasting roles: the insubstantial passagework of the right creates shadows above the mystically numb chorale of the left. A Symbolist gesture can be traced in the prelude: it begins as a somewhat naturalistic rendition of the mist but soon concentrates its effect into gloomy unison octaves. Possibly inspired by a collection of George Turpin’s poems published under the same name some years prior, Feuilles mortes continues the dejected mood of the first Prelude. An atmosphere of suppressed violence lurks beneath La puerta del Vino. The archaic exoticism of the piece stems from a postcard of a Moorish wine-gate in Granada sent to Debussy by the composer Manuel de Falla.
The will-o’-the-wisp of « Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses » flutters on the pages of a book illustrated by Arthur Racham, Peter Pan in the Kensington Gardens, which Debussy’s daughter Claude-Emma (or “Chouchou” as she was called in the family) had received as a Christmas present. The temperate harmonies of Bruyères, named for a town in Eastern France, hark back to the optimism of the Book I. The stage is then taken by Edward Lavine, the clown who rampages through « General Lavine » – excentric –. Lavine performed a popular act in Paris at the Théâtre Marigny juggling and playing the piano with his feet!
A newspaper article about the coronation of George V as King of India concluded with the words: ”…the audience was observing the events in a shimmering moonlight.” La terrasse des audiences du Clair de lune dramatizes an absurd event from the soon failing colonialist era. While Ravel’s Ondine was above all a thrilling virtuoso work, Debussy’s “Ondine” is seized in the midst of queer action. No doubt, could he speak, the creature would reveal the truth about the Submerged Cathedral. A declaration of God Save the King raises the curtain on Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. Debussy held the English in great esteem. The token of his admiration here is Charles Dickens’ debut novel, The Pickwick Papers.
Two Egyptian Canopic jars occupied a place on Debussy’s desk. Stillness and the anguish of death collide in the Prelude Canope. Les tierces alternées could well have earned a place in the composer’s collection of etudes which were composed two years later. This pianistic spin replaced another Prelude, Toomai des éléphantes, originally sketched by the composer for inclusion in the cycle. Book II of the Preludes concludes with fireworks on Bastille Day (French National Day, July 14). Feux d’artifice displays dazzle through which a deformed recollection of the Marsellaise is heard, perhaps suggesting the passing of Europe’s days of greatest glory.
Debussy’s oeuvre has been explored both by the amateur pianist and the most legendary virtuosos of the keyboard. Throughout his career Debussy sought new ways to express his musical vistas. He began numerous large compositional projects, often combining different art genres, which were frequently left unfinished. Between these big ventures, miniatures such as songs and petite piano pieces offered for him a kind of aesthetic refuge.
The six pieces forming the cycle Children’s Corner (1908) evoke adult recollections of childhood. The set bears a dedication to Chouchou. Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum spins lighthearted amusement out of pianists’ exercises while referring with its title to both the etudes of Muzio Clementi and the classic counterpoint treatise by Joseph Fux. Jimbo’s Lullaby serenades a pet elephant to sleep where adventurous dreams and nightmares alternate.
Debussy composed Serenade for the Doll two years before the rest of the cycle, soon after the birth of Chouchou. The Snow is Dancing appeals to a youngster’s fascination with the mysteries of winter and snow. The little Shepherd in vain searches for someone to save him from loneliness. Ragtime was the hottest new thing in Paris. John Philip Sousa and his orchestra had performed at the 1900 Exposition to popular acclaim. Golliwogg’s cake walk casts Chouchou’s doll, Golliwogg, as the dancer in the fashionable cake walk rag.