Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Beethoven II

In class today we listened to and discussed the Op. 27 Sonatas of which the Moonlight is the most famous. The sonata has three movements:

  1. Adagio sostenuto
  2. Allegretto
  3. Presto agitato
The first movement is written in a kind of truncated sonata form. A melody that Hector Berlioz called a "lamentation" is played (mostly by the right hand) against an accompanying ostinato triplet rhythm (simultaneously played by the right hand). The movement is also played pianissimo or "very quietly", and the loudest it gets is mezzo-forte or "moderately loud". The movement has made a powerful impression on many listeners; for instance, Berlioz wrote that it "is one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify." The work was very popular in Beethoven's day, to the point of exasperating the composer, who remarked to his student Carl Czerny, "Surely I've written better things."

The second movement, a relatively conventional minuet and trio, provides a needed relief and contrast between the opening romanticism and the finale's storm. It is a moment of relative calm written in D-flat major. This key signature is harmonically equivalent to C-sharp major, that is, the tonic major for the work as a whole. The slightly odd sound of the first eight bars seems to be the result of the minuet starting in the "wrong" key; i.e. the dominant key of A-flat major. The music settles into D-flat only in the second phrase, bars 5-10. Of the second movement, Franz Liszt described it as "a flower between two chasms."

The stormy final movement (C-sharp minor), in sonata form, is the weightiest of the three, reflecting an experiment of Beethoven's (also carried out in the companion sonata, Opus 27 no. 1 and later on in Opus 101) placement of the most important movement of the sonata last. The writing has many fast arpeggios and strongly accented notes, and an effective performance demands flamboyant and skillful playing. Of the final movement, Charles Rosen has written "it is the most unbridled in its representation of emotion. Even today, two hundred years later, its ferocity is astonishing." The musical dynamic that predominates in the third movement is in fact piano. It seems that Beethoven's heavy use of sforzando notes, together with just a few strategically located fortissimo passages, creates the sense of a very powerful sound in spite of the overall dynamic.

These three movements combine to form Beethoven's most famous, if not his greatest, achievement for the solo piano

No comments: