BEETHOVEN'S PIANO SONATA N0. 23, OP. 57
'APPASSIONATA'
CREATION HISTORY AND
DISCUSSION OF MUSICAL CONTENT






Beethoven around 1804



INTRODUCTION

To refer to the time frame for the creation of this sonata as a Beethovenian microcosm would be misleading.   While our creation histories concentrate on specific information with respect to one Beethoven work, they are still embedded in the overall events in Beethoven's life, and that both from a creative viewpoint but also from a general, biographical viewpoint, so that they are never entirely removed from this framework and, on the basis of this, neither can nor want to present a microcosm.  

Particularly with respect to this sonata, this writer gained the impression that she was confronted by many kinds of wealth: the wealth of information relating to the creation of this work, the wealth of information of Beethoven's general life circumstances, and the wealth of the greater context of Beethoven's life as an artist and, as such, his being embedded in the course of the life of his time.  

That which--as is also the case with other Beethoven works--fills the gap between our creation history and our discussion of the musical content of the work in question, are the decades and meanwhile centuries through which this works continued to live, both through its being interpreted by great artists and through its being received by the public.   

If we consider what a brief moment might be taken up by that which is presented here and--hopefully--received well in active reflection by our readers, in comparison to the large context of the active creation, subsequent interpretation and reception of this work for nearly two centuries, we might, perhaps, together, be tuned in to dealing with this great sonata in an adequate manner.  

CREATION HISTORY 

With respect to our creation histories, we always are aiming at first establishing a time frame into which everything else has to be embedded.

When did Beethoven begin to write the first sketches to this great sonata?  

One way of finding an answer to this question is to determine when he would have been able to set time aside to do so.  With respect to this, Maynard Solomon provides us with a brief comment:  

"He began work on the first act, but a change in February in the ownership of the theater led to the annulment of his contract, which was not reinstated until late in 1804.  In the intervening months, Beethoven revised the Eroica Symphony in time for its first performance at Prince Lobkowitz' palace; completed the Triple Concerto, op. 56; composed the Piano Sonatas, op. 53 . . . and op. 54; and began planning, if not actually sketching, the Sonata, op. 57 (Appassionata)" (Solomon: 130).

Those who want to take another look at Beethoven's general life circumstances during this time, can do so in the relevant section of our Biographical Pages.  Here, we can briefly mention that this time saw his friendship with the young widow Josephine von Brunsvik-Deym and his further intercourse with this Viennese patrons such as Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Lichnowsky, while his new compositional style, his so-called heroic style, increasingly began to emerge during the course of his second creative style period.  

With respect to his piano sonatas, in connection with the creation histories to his last two sonatas, we already reported about some basic tendencies of his compositional activities during this year.  

However, when Beethoven might have actually started to work on this sonata, can not be precisely determined.  However, let us try to follow available traces as well as possible.  

We might recall that during this summer, Beethoven first stayed in Baden near Vienna, as becomes also apparent from Thayer's quote from one of his letters of this time:  

 "Not on my life would I have believed that I could be so lazy as I am here.  If it is followed by an outburst of industry, something worth while may be accomplished", Beethoven wrote at the end of his letter of July 24.  He was right.  His brother Johann secured for him the lodging at Döbling, (18: Presumably the same as the summer before) where he passed the rest of the summer and worked on the two Sonatas, Op. 54 and 57, certainly "something worth while" (Thayer: 355").

If we consider that Beethoven, as he confirms in his own words, was "lazy" when he stayed in Baden, this might not provide us with a conclusive evidence as to whether he started work on Op. 57 before his summer residence or after.  What might appear more likely? With respect to this question, some of the biographical authors we consulted provide us with some information  (Thayer: p. 356,  Cooper: p. 142-143), referring to Ferdinand Ries' following report of his time with Beethoven in Oberdöbling, in the fall of 1804:  

"In one of the long walks described by Ries (Notizen, p. 99), "in which we went so far astray that we did not get back to Döbling, where Beethoven lived, until nearly 8 o'clock, he had been all the time humming and sometimes howling, always up and down, without singing any definite notes.  In answer to my question what it was he said: 'A theme for the last movement of the sonata has occurred to me' (in F Minor, Op. 57).  When we entered the room he ran to the pianoforte without taking off his hat.  I took a seat in the corner and he son forgot all about me.  Now he stormed for at least an hour with the beautiful finale of the sonata.  Finally he got up, was surprised still to see me and said: 'I cannot give you a lesson today, I must do some more work.'" (Thayer: 356).

According to this report, during a walk in the countryside around Döbling, a very important idea for the finale of this sonata occurred to Beethoven.  Here, we might also wish to comment, referring back to the publication histories of his 21st and 22nd Piano Sonata, that Beethoven offered these sonatas, but also Op. 57 to the Leipzig publisher Breitkopf & Härtel, in his letter to him of August 26, 1804.    Does all of this information provide us with exact information as to how far other parts of this sonata had already progressed?  Since we can not answer this question positively, we have to investigate further.  With respect to this, Cooper's comments are the most helpful: 

"Concerning the last [Beethovens Brief vom 26. August 1804 an Breitkopf & Härtel], he wrote: 'Should you like to have one of these with an accompaniment, I would also agree to this too.' (11: A-96)  The first two were of course the 'Waldstein' and Op. 54, and since it was not Beethoven's practice to compose ad libitum accompaniments for sonatas already written, the clear implication is that the third sonata was not yet composed.  It was probably begun shortly afterwards, however, for Ries claims that the finale of a new sonata--the 'Appassionata'--was conceived while Beethoven was still in Oberdöbling, which must indicate the period around September 1804 since Beethoven did not stay there again for many years.  This date also concurs with references to the sonata in letters written to Breitkopf by Beethoven and his brother in the ensuing months.  The date seems to be contradicted by the sketchbook (Mendelssohn 15), since sketches for the song 'An die Hoffnung', probably written in November-December, appear on pages 151-7, while the main sketches for the 'Appassionata' (almost entirely for the first movement) appear further on (pages 182 and 187-98); but there is evidence that these pages were not filled in consecutive order.  Brief ideas for Leonore were inserted on numerous pages early on, with the gaps beneath them and on adjacent pages being filled up later, both by more Leonore sketches and sketches for other works, in a rather unsystematic way.  Thus sketches for both 'An die Hoffnung' and the sonata appear on pages already partly filled by ideas for Leonore.

Ries' reference to the 'Appassionata' is significant not just for the date it implied but still more for its revelation about how the finale was conceived.  The sketches in Mendelssohn 15 show detailed work on the first movement, culminating in drafts that are close to the final version; but the finale is shown only in a very primitive state, with even the main theme quite different.  The new man theme was conceived during a walk near Oberdöbling, as Ries reports" (Cooper: 142-143 ).

In this context, Thayer (p. 356) points out that the sketches for this sonata interrupt the "Leonore" sketches in the "Leonore" sketchbook, while one can find further sketches to this sonata among plans for the last act of the opera.  

In connection with the writing of the finale, Cooper still points out that during this time, Beethoven, as he would later do, did not yet take along sketch paper on his walks, so that Cooper attributes Beethoven's humming and howling to that fact.  It also appears clear to Cooper (p. 143-144) that Ries was not able to recognize any notes since this theme is one of the least "singable" Beethoven themes.  Beethoven, argues Cooper, then recalled his thoughts while improvising at the piano, and since his hearing was not as bad, yet, as it would later be, this might still have been a useful way for him to work out his theme.   Cooper is also not surprised about Beethoven's "absentmindedness" with respect to such trivial matters as taking his hat off, giving lessons to Ries, or even having an evening meal, as his mind was quite occupied by other, compositional matters.  

According to Beethoven's own indications (Cooper: 144) this sonata was completed in 1804 and, according to Czerny, up to his writing his Hammerklavier-Sonata, he considered it his greatest sonata.  

With respect to the completion of this work, Thayer (p. 392) lists it as having been completed in 1805, while Solomon (p. 145) points out that Beethoven went over it a last time in 1806.  

 

PUBLICATION AND DEDICATION

In connection with Beethoven's letter of August 26, 1804, we have already briefly touched on the beginnings of the publication history of this work.  The 'quick' publication that Beethoven had requested in his letter (Thayer: 346) would, however, have to wait for some time.   

With respect to this, not only the publisher was to blame since in Vienna, delays occurred in the copying of Op. 56 and Op. 57, as Beethoven wrote to Breitkopf and Härtel in his letter of April 18, 1805, so that he was not able to promise them these works for another four to six weeks.  Let us take a brief look at the relevant passage of this letter:

                                                                 "Wien, den 18. April 1805.

                                                   P S

Ich bedaure selbst recht sehr, daß ich Ihnen die beyden noch für Sie bestimmten Stücke [1] bis jetzt nicht schicken konnte, allein nicht zu ändernde Umstände, nämlich der Mangel eines vertrauten Kopisten, und sehr starke Beschäftigung, des einzigen, dem ich jetzt solche Sachen übergeben kann,[2] verhinderten mich, und machen es mir auch noch in dem jetzigen Augenblicke unmöglich. -- Ich werde die beste Sorge tragen, und hoffe es zu bewirken, daß Sie dieselben nun in 4 bis 6 Wochen ganz sicher erhalten. -- "

                                                                ("Vienna, the 18. of April, 1805.

                                                  P S

I, myself, regret very much that I was, not yet,  able to send you the two pieces destined for you [1], alone circumstances that could not be changed, namely the lack of a familiar copyist and the fact that the one copyist to whom I can give such things [2] at this time was extremely busy, prevented me from doing so and still make it impossible, at the very moment. -- I will do my best and hope to arrange it that you will certainly these [pieces] in 4 to 6 weeks. -- ")

(Quoted and translated from:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 1, Letter No. 218, p. 252 - 253).

(Original text not in Beethoven's hand, signed by Beethoven, location:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus; to [1]: refers to Op. 56 and his Piano Sonata, Op. 57; to [2] this refers, perhaps, to Wenzel Schlemmer; details taken from p. 253).

 

However, as Thayer (p. 356) states, this publisher grew tired of waiting and was no longer interested in the publication of these works. 

Therefore, the year 1805 also did not see the publication of Op. 57 and, as Solomon (p. 145) pointed out, Beethoven might have put some last touches to it in 1806.  With respect to the further fate of the manuscript in that year, Thayer reports the following:  

"In October [1806] Breuning wrote to Wegeler:  "Beethoven is at present in Silesia with Prince Lichnowsky and will not return until near the end of this month. . . . His spirits are generally low and, to judge by his letters, the sojourn in the country has not cheered him."  This visit to the Prince came to an abrupt termination in a scene which has been a fruitful theme for the silly race of musical novelette writers.  The simple truth is related by Seyfried in the appendix to his Studien (page 23) and is here copied literally except for a few additional words interspersed, derived by the present writer from a conversation with the daughter of Moritz Lichnowsky: "When he [Beethoven] did not feel in the mood it required repeated and varied urgings to get him to sit down to the pianoforte.  Before he began playing he was in the habit of hitting the keys with the flat of his hand, or running a single finger up and down the keyboard, in short, doing all manner of things to kill time and laughing heartily, as was his wont, at the folly.  Once while spending a summer with a Maecenas at his country-seat, he was so pestered by the guests [French officer], who wished to hear him play, that he grew angry and refused to do what he denounced as menial labor.  A threat of arrest, made surely in jest, was taken seriously by him and resulted in Beethoven's walking by night to the nearest city, Troppau, whence he hurried on the wings of the wind by extra post to Vienna."(10; Frimmel, in his Beethoven, (2nd ed., 1903, p. 42), tells the story in essentially the same manner on the authority of a grandson of Dr. Weiser, house physician of Prince Lichnowsky.  The story ends with Beethoven's sending a letter to Prince Lichnowsky containing this passage;  "Prince, what you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am I am through myself.  There have been and will still be thousands of princes; there is only one Beethoven."  Authentic or not, the expression may well have come from the lips of Beethoven in a fit of anger.  (Dr. Weiser's version had previously been printed by F.X. Bach in the Wiener Deutsche Zeitung, August 31, 1873).

Fräulein Giannatasio del Rio related the same scene: (11: Grenzboten, xvi, Nr. 14 (1857), April 3) "Once (around 1816) Beethoven was in a gay talkative mood and told us of the time which he spent at Prince Lichnowsky's.  He spoke of the Prince with much respect.  He told how once during the invasion when the Prince had a number of Frenchmen as his guests, he (the Prince) repeatedly tried to coerce him to play for them on the pianoforte and that he had stoutly refused; which led to a scene between him and the Prince, whereupon B. indiscreetly and suddenly left the house. . . . To propitiate him for the humiliation which he had suffered, the bust of his patron had to become a sacrifice; he dashed it into pieces from its place on a cabinet to the floor. . . . " (Thayer: 402-403).

However, what does that have to do with the Appassionata?  With respect to this, Barry Cooper reports:  

"It will be remembered that the Sonata in F major, Op. 57, near completion when offered to Breitkopf and Härtel in August, 1804, was still unpublished in 1806.  Beethoven, journeying to Silesia, took the manuscript and had it also with him on his return to Vienna per extra post from Troppau after the explosion at Lichnowsky's.  "During his journey," wrote M. Bigot half a century afterwards on a printed copy belonging to the pianist Mortier de Fontaine, "he encountered a storm and pouring rain which penetrated the trunk into which he had put the Sonata in F minor which he had just composed [!].  After reaching Vienna, he came to see us and laughingly showed the work, which was still wet, to my wife, who at once began to look carefully at it. Impelled by the striking beginning she sat down at the pianoforte and began playing it.  Beethoven had not expected this and was surprised to note that Madame Bigot did not hesitate at all because of the many erasures and alterations which he had made.  It was the original manuscript which he was carrying to his publisher for printing.  When Mme. Bigot finished playing she begged him to give it to her; he consented, and faithfully brought it to her after it had been printed" (Cooper: 159).

 


Appassionata - Manuscript Page


Also Thayer (p. 356) points out that in the fall of 1806, Beethoven finally handed the manuscript to Op. 57 over to his Viennese publishers, the Kunst- und Industrie-Comptoir. 

Thayer (p. 407) refers to Carl Czerny  and his report with respect to a change of the title that had not been authorized by Beethoven, namely in the arrangement for piano for four hands that was published in 1838 by the Hamburg publisher Cranz, "In a new edition of the Sonata in F minor, Op. 57, which Beethoven himself considered his greatest, the title 'Appassionata', for which it is too great, was added to it.  This title would be more fitly supplied to the E-flat Sonata, Op. 7, which he composed in a very impassioned mood." 

 



Title Page with Dedication



Thayer (p. 429) then refers to the publication of the work in the year 1807, by the Viennese publisher, the Kunst- und Industrie-Comptoir, with a dedication to Count Franz Brunsvik.  

 



Count Franz v. Brunsvik



"Beethoven's reasons for making dedications were usually short-term rather than long-term", writes Barry Cooper (S. 134).

A look at Beethoven's dedication of this work to Count Branz von Brunsvik therefore raises the question as to whether the reason for it was also rather 'short-term'.  Since we do not  have a direct reference to this, we can also not draw any direct conclusions.

What we can do, however, without drawing any such conclusions, is to take a look at Beethoven's intercourse of that time with this friend and patron, without making any value judgment.  With respect to their interaction, Thayer (p. 419) also refers to Beethoven's letter to v. Brunsvik of May 11, 1807 (Thayer points out that Beethoven erred in the dating of this letter, so that it was written in 1807 and not in 1806), in which he asks for the return of his three String Quartets, Op. 59, that he had lent to him, in his 'very won style', since he had come to an agreement with respect to them, with Clementi:


                                                                "[Wien, 11. Mai 1807][1]

                                                                Vien an einem Maytage[2]

am 11ten May 1806

   LIeber, lieber B. ! ich sage dir nur, daß ich mit Clementi recht gut zurecht gekommen bin -- 200 Pf.[und] Sterling erhalte ich[3] -- und noch oben drein kann ich dieselben Werke in Deutschland und Frankreich verkaufen[4] -- er hat mir noch oben drein andre Bestellungen gemacht -- so daß ich dadurch hoffen kann, die würde eines Wahren Künstlers noch in frühern Jahren zu erhalten -- ich brauche lieber B. die quartetten[5], ich habe schon deine Schwester desgeben gebeten, dir deshalb zu schreiben[6]

Es dauert zu lang, bis sie aus Meiner Partitur kopirt -- eile daher und schike sie mir nur gerade mit der Briefpost[7] -- du erhältst sie in höchstens 4 oder 5 Tagen zurück -- ich bitte dich dringend darum, weil ich sonst sehr viel dadurch verliehre[n] kann -- Wenn du machen kannst, daß auch die ungarn [mich] kommen laßen, um ein paar Konzerte zu geben, so thue es -- für 200 # in Gold könnt ihr mich haben -- ich bringen mein[e] oper[8] alsdann auch mit -- mit dem Fürstlichen Theater-gesindel[9] werde ich nicht zurechtkommen -- so oft wir[10] (mehrere)(amici) deinen Wein Trinken, betrinken wir dich d.h. wir trinken deine Gesundheit ---

leb wohl eile -- eile -- eile mir die quartetten zu schicken -- sonst kannst du mich dadurch in die gröste Verlegenheit bringen -- Schuppanzig hat geheirathet[11] -- man sagt, mit einer ihm sehr ähnlichen[12] -- welche Familie???? -- Küße deine Schwester Therese, sage ihr, ich fürchte, ich werde groß, ohne daß ein Denkmal von ihr dazu beiträgt, werden müßen -- schicke Morgen gleich die quartetten - quar - tetten - t - e - t - t - e - n

                                                         dein Freund Beethoven

A Monsieur Le Compte Francois Brunswich a Bude (en hongrie)"

                                                         "[Vienna, 11th of May, 1807][1]

                                                          Vienna on a day in May [2]

on May 11th, 1806

Dear, dear B. !  I only tell you that I fared well with Clementi -- 200 Pound Sterling shall I receive, an on top of this, I[3] can sell the same works in Germany and France. [4] -- On top of that, he has also placed other orders with me -- so that I can hope to still attain the dignity of a true artist, in earlier years.  I need, dear B., the Quartets [5], I have already asked your sister to write to you, because of it [6]

It takes long until she copies out of my score -- therefore, hurry and send them to me just by letter mail [7] -- You will receive them back in 4 or 5 days, at the most.  I ask you urgently for this, since I might lose a great deal on account of them -- If you can arrange for the Hungarians to have me come and give a few concerts, then do it, for 200 # [ducats] in Gold, you can have me -- I will also bring my opera along [8] -- with the Princely theater rabble [9], I will not be able to come to terms -- As often as we [10] [several][amici (friends)] drink your wine, we drink to you, meaning we drink to your health --

farewell, hurry -- hurry -- hurry in sending me the quartets -- otherwise you can put me into the greatest calamity on their account. -- Schuppanzig has married [11] -- they tell me, he married someone very much like him [12] -- what a family????  Kiss your sister Therese, tell her, I am afraid that I will have to become great without a memorial of hers contributing to it.  Tomorrow, send me right away the quartets - quar -- tets - t - e - t - s

                                                                your friend Beethoven

A Monsieur Le Comte Francois Brunswich a Bude (en hongrie)"

(Quoted and translated from:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 1, Letter No. 281, p. 312 - 313).

(Original:  Washington, Library of Congress; to [1]: refers to Beethoven's error in dating the letter 1806 instead of 1807; to [2): refers to double underlining; to [3]: refers to the fact that the fee was only paid out as late as in the year 1810; to [4]: refers to offers to other publishers, namely Pleyel and Simrock, Letters No. 277 and 278; to [5]: refers to triple underlining and Op. 59; to [6]: refers to Letter No. 279; to [7]: refers to double underlining and to the fact that Count Brunsvik sent the quartets not by letter mail, but rather through an acquaintance who travelled to Vienna, on May 18, 1807; to [8]: refers to Fidelio (Leonore) Op. 70; to [9]: refers to the "Gesellschaft der Cavaliere" that took over the management of the Hoftheater and the Theater-an-der-Wien in Vienna, of which among others, Princes Joseph von Schwarzenberg, Franz Joseph Mazimilian Lobkowitz and Nikolaus Esterhazy were members; to [10]: refers to triple underlining; to [11]: refers to Schuppanzigh's marriage of May 7, 1807 with Barbara Killitschky; to [12]: refers to double underlining and to Schuppanzigh's rotund figure; details taken from p. 313).

 




Beethoven 1806



ON ITS MUSICAL CONTENT

In our look at the musical content of this sonata we follow the pattern indicated in our introductory comments on music criticism offered here.  This pattern offers you comments in the following sequence: 


 MUSCIOLOGISTS AND BEETHOVEN RESEARCHERS

ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS

ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS

Each category can be directly accessed by clicking on the above links.  Therefore, if you prefer one kind of comment(s) over another, you can make your own selection. 


MUSCOLOGISTS AND BEETHOVEN RESEARCHERS

Here, we turn again to Solomon, Kinderman and Cooper:   

"While the Waldstein closes on Beethoven's typical note of joyous transcendence, the Appassionata maintains an unusual tragic mood throughout.  Tovey wrote:  "All his other pathetic finales show either an epilogue in some legendary or later world far away from the tragic scene . . .  or a temper, fighting, humorous, or resigned, that does not carry with it a sense of tragic doom." Here, however, "there is not a moment's doubt that the tragic passion is rushing deathwards."" (Solomon: 197).


"The contrasting companion work to the Waldstein is the Appassionata Sonata in F minor op. 57.  This work is overcast with dark foreboding and represents an antipode to the luminous C major Sonata. Tovey once observed that the F minor Sonata is Beethoven's only work to maintain a tragic solemnity throughout all its movements.(12: A Companion to Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas, op. 169)  The title Appassionata though not from Beethoven, is not inappropriate (though Czerny was surely correct in observing that the work is 'much too magnificent' for the title. (13: On the Proper Performance of All Beethoven's Works for the Piano, p. 12)  In its poetic power and richness of allusion, and in the gigantic simplicity of its structural foundation, this sonata represents a profound achievement, outstanding even for Beethoven.

The opening Allegro assai begins with a phrase of four bars, whose two halves embody contrary tendencies.  The first, two, unharmonized, bars consist of a triadic figure in gapped octaves, with the bass reaching the lowest F.  The second half of the phrase, in contrast, presents an imploring, plaintive, harmonized gesture around an expressive trill.  The tension implicit in this motivic juxtaposition is heightened in the following phrase, which is placed by Beethoven up a semitone, so that it closes on the dominant harmony of the Neapolitan, D-flat.  Subsequently, though his technique of foreshortening, Beethoven compresses the four-bar phrases into shorter units, beginning with the plaintive gesture of the trill, at which point we hear a four-note motif in the bass--D-flat--D-flat--D-flat--C--a motto that tersely encapsulates the harmonic tension.

A crucial dramatic event in the movement centers on the appearance  in the development of the lyrical second theme in D-flat major.  Already in the exposition this theme had employed a bass-line rising stepwise through a fifth.  Now, in the development, the bass continues to rise, carrying the music through a series of modulations.  After the ascent has spanned two octaves the theme dissolved, and the music becomes, in Tovey's words, 'inarticulate',(14: Beethoven, p. 44).  All that remains of the thematic material is a rhythmically charged texture of diminished-seventh arpeggios, and the music descends, in a free fall of four octaves, until impact is made on the low D-flat.  In a brilliant stroke Beethoven introduces at this point the four-note motto from the outset of the movement, the motif that so resembles the so-called Fate motif of the Fifth Symphony.  The recapitulation follows, as the accumulated energy of the development is unleashed in an ostinato bass pedal. 

Other passages, such as the end of the exposition and conclusion of the coda, trail off into a mysterious pianissimo, while opening a vast gap in register between the two hands.  As Martha Frohlich has observed, Beethoven actually sketched a powerful fortissimo conclusion, only to reject that idea in favour of a hushed, open-ended cadence. (15: Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata).  The mysterious ending connects more effectively with the ensuing slow movement, implying the unresolved character of the dramatic tensions exposed in the Allegro assai--tensions that must carry over into the remaining movements.

In the overall design of the Appassionata Beethoven exploits a relationship between serene lyricism in D-flat major and the tempestuous idiom in F minor such as is exposed in the first movement.  Important are the parallels in character between the opening Allegro assai and the finale, Allegro ma non troppo, and especially the contrasting role of the slow movement, a set of variations in D-flat major on an almost static, hymn-like andante theme.  The course of these variations seem predetermined by the quietly reflective nature of the theme, which consists initially of stationary pedal notes and which repeatedly closes harmonically on the tonic triad.  The variations embellish the theme through a series of progressive rhythmic subdivisions, coordinated with a gradual ascent in register, yet the entire process is contemplative and dreamlike, to be abruptly shattered, as Tovey observed, by the first hint of action.  That confrontation occurs at the harmonic substitution of an arpeggiated diminished seventh beneath the cadential D-flat, in the treble which might, under other circumstances, have closed the movement.  The arpeggiated chord returns an octave higher and then is reiterated 13 times in the original register at the outset of the Allegro ma non troppo, now intensified rhythmically and dynamically.  The rhythm of the Andante theme is extracted and accelerated in these chords, which build the threshold into the finale.  The 'self-sufficiency' of the variation movement is thus annihilated, as its tonic, D-flat, now becomes a crucial dissonance in the context of F minor, recalling a similar treatment in the first movement.  Indeed, from those 13 repeated chords Beethoven derives the main theme of the finale by 'composing out' the diminished-seventh chord as a sinuous figuration that carries over into the passagework of the Allegro ma non troppo.  

According to Ries, Beethoven conceived this passage, and much that follows it, during and immediately after a long walk in the countryside near Döbling, a small town outside Vienna where he spent part of the summer of 1804.  . . .

What preoccupied Beethoven on that summer day in 1804 was one of his most unrelenting finales, a movement 'whose tragic passion is rushing downwards', in Tovey's words (if 'rushing' is the right expression for a measured Allegro ma non troppo).  Beethoven gives unusual weight to the later portions of the finale by prescribing a repetition of the development and recapitulation, a direction unfortunately ignored by some pianists, at the recommendation of Hans von Bülow. (17: Notes in his edition of the sonatas. (New York: Schirmer, 1894), p. 473)  No-one who has seen the inscription 'la seconda parte due volta' written in large letters in Beethoven's autograph, however, would be likely to ignore it.  After the repetition we hear a presto coda, beginning with an ecstatically stamping dance which dissolves into a final, frenzied intensification of the turbulent rhetoric from the Allegro ma non troppo.  Uhde has rightly pointed to the dissociated, even shocking effect of the coda's beginning: (18:  Beethovens Klaviermusik, iii, p. 214) it seems to represent a valiant yet futile attempt to break out of the downward rush of music burdened with a sense of tragic doom" (Kinderman: 99 - 102).


"It possesses, especially in the first movement, all those features that were notably absent in the previous sonata and the Triple Concerto: strong character and intense emotion, powerful and concentrated rhythmic cells, and wonderful lyricism.  The descending F minor triad at the start, which falls to what was then the lowest note on the piano, is profoundly tragic, as if drawn from Florestan's dungeon scene, which Beethoven had just been sketching and which is in the same key.   The rhythm of this motif permeates much of the movement, as does another rhythm--three quavers and a crotchet, first heard in bar 10--and the two rhythms between them provide the movement with tremendous energy and drive.  Lyricism is prominent mainly in the second subject, which is surely one of the finest melodies he wrote.  Surprisingly, however, the early sketches show and exposition in which this theme is entirely absent, with bar 34 effectively followed by bar 51, a theme in A flat minor.  Only after much sketching did Beethoven insert bars 35ff., to produce two main themes in the second group--one in the major and one in the minor.  Even so, to the end the exposition in the minor form of the relative major was a new departure, intensifying the tragic character of the movement.

Many other innovations and subtleties can be found in the movement.  For example, to integrate the added second subject Beethoven made it motivically related to the first subject, although its character is very different.  As the two themes are developed, their relationship becomes increasingly plain, until at the end of the coda, they are virtually fused together into a single melodic line.  As so often, Beethoven's coda provides a reconciliation of opposites, and the movement finished with the same motif with which it had begun.  Another interesting facet of the movement is this manipulation of individual pitches and degrees of the scale.  The interplay between C and D-flat, often supported by F minor and G flat major triads respectively, is one of the primary foundations of the movement, and indeed the whole sonata.  Sometimes the two notes occupy corresponding positions in consecutive phrases:  thus the opening phrase begins on C and the second on D-flat.  Sometimes they are juxtaposed in a single motif; the two notes are even superimposed in bars 235-6, where this same motif occurs with the specific instruction 'sempre Ped.' to create a blurred effect.  The eventual release of the pedal in bar 237, enabling the motif to be heard once again with crystal clarity, is one of the most striking moments in the entire sonata.

The second movement is in D flat major, and when D-flat and C are heard consecutively (bars 7-8), it is as part of a peaceful, almost static melody.  The movement consists of a set of increasingly decorative and energetic variations, but barely a hint of a modulation until the mysterious diminished-7th chord in the penultimate bar, which then leads into the finale without a break.  The finale resumes the mood of the first movement, with again much development of the C-D-flat relationship.  The movement is in sonata form, but with two significant formal innovations:  a repeat is marked for just the second part of the movement (development and recapitulation); and the coda begins with a section in a closed binary form marked 'Presto' and suggesting some wild dance.  The main finale theme then returns at this new speed, and the movement concludes with descending F minor arpeggios, matching the first movement" (Cooper: 144-145).

 

ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS

Let us see what Kaiser has to write on this sonata:  

">>Beethoven selbst hielt diese Sonate für seine größte (bis zu der Zeit, als er Op. 106 komponiert hatte)<<, berichtet Beethovens Schüler Carl Czerny.  Ehrfürchtig scheint die klavierspielende Welt Beethovens Meinung zu teilen.  Seit dies von stürmischen Verläufen und Prozessen ungeheuerlich erfüllte f-Moll-Sonate existiert, seit ihr der Titel >>Appassionata<< anhaftet, mit dem aber keineswegs Beethoven, sondern ein Hamburger Verleger im Jahre 1838 was Werk etikettierte, gilt Opus 57 als leidenschaftlichstes klassiches Drama, das je für Klavier komponiert wurde.

Weil der Beiname auf den ersten Blick weder als absurd noch als nebensächlich zu erkennen ist, sondern die aufgewühlte Stimmung der Ecksätze durchaus zutreffend zu charakterisieren scheint, hat er sich durchgesetzt.  Und schwerwiegende Mißverständnisse verschuldet.  Denn >>Appassionata<<, >>Leidenschaftliche<<, das legt die Vermutung nahe, diese Sonate sei eine Art >>Eroica<< für Klavier, sie enthalte etwas von der Unbeirrbarkeit des >>Per aspera ad astra>> (>>Durch Nacht zum Licht<<).  Kurz: sie müsse eine Bühne für passioniert-heroische Theatralik sein.  Aber darauf dürfte man Beethovens 23. Sonate nur dann festlegen, wenn sie tatsächlich eine Appassionata wäre...und nicht nur so hieße!  Denn was zum Begriff hoher Leidenschaft zu gehören scheint, die Extrovertiertheit und die flammende Selbstsicherheit des groß (sich) aufspielenden Subjektes samt tapferem (katharsis-erzeugendem) Scheitern a la Coriolan-Ouvertüre -- das alles bietet diese Sonate nicht.  Da wird keine erhabene Sonatenbühne vorgeführt für wohllautende Leidenschaften, sondern viel mehr das Brüchigwerden, ja die Widerlegung aller sonatenüblichen Bühnenhaftigkeit.  Mag die sogenannte Appassionata auch die berühmteste Sonate der Musikgeschichte sein, sie ist dennoch kein Prototyp.  Sie wird nur von Pianisten, die an Beinamen glauben und bloß direkte Affekte darzustellen vermögen, manchmal so gespielt.  Aber sie hat mehr mit Erschrecken zu tun als mit selbstsicheren Leidenschaften.  Sie bringt zum Erzittern, läßt keinen Trost zu.  Der Sonatenboden wird erschüttert.  Der Kopfsatz bietet karge, fast anonyme Motive fahl und zwielichtig.  Ein Dreiklangsthema -- aber im pianissimo.  Nicht in gewohnten Oktaven, sondern im hohlen Doppeloktav-Abstand.  Die Durchführung zertrümmert das vorgegebene Material über alle Vorstellumg vom Ästhetisch-Schönen oder Erhabenen hinaus.  In der Reprise zittert der Schrecken 17 lange Takte nach.  Und einen ppp-Schluß, wie diese fahle, bewegungslos bewegende Coda des Kofpsatzes gibt es bei Beethoven kein zweites Mal.  Nah beieinander sind hier hitzig-virtuose, vitale Energie und Krankheit zum Tode: wer weiß, ob nicht gerade diese berauschende, finster-grelle Unterganssüchtigkeit zur Beliebtheit des Werkes führte . . .

Trotz analytisch-dissoziierender Variationen, häufiger sf-Vorschriften und ff-Steigerungen gilt das Des-Dur-Andante als still und schwärmerisch paradiesisch.  So ist es aufgefaßt und gespielt worden.

Besteht das Finale aus schwungvoll melancholischen Passagen und rhythmisch pointierten Episoden?  Oder könnte es als Ausdruck einer unhemmbar kreisenden Bewegungsenergie begriffen werden, die charatkeristische Gestalten eher produziert, als von ihnen beherrrscht wird?  Das abschließende Presto ist nicht im mindesten apotheotisch, sondern ein rasender, beinahe zynisch wirkender Tanz: Ausdruck sinnlich-übersinnlichen Zorns und aller Beschwichtigung fern.  Da in der Appassionata die Grenzüberschreitung, die Vernichtung des stets mitgedachten ästhetisch schönen oder erhabenen Rahmens zum Wesen der Sache und mancher Interpretation gehört, geht bei älteren elektroakustischen Darbietungen (Platte, Band, Fernsehaufzeichnung) oft Entscheidendes verloren.  >>Grenzüberschreitungen<< werden auf Platten -- bis in die Mitte der sechziger Jahre -- nur als Klirren, Krachen, als inadäquate Unvollkommentheit erkennbar.  Die Tontechniker mußten reduzieren.  Das hieß aber im Appassionata-Falle eben nicht nur: unmerklich >>verkleinern<<, sondern: merklich verfälschen.  So eindrucksvoll, wie die Appassionata in einer erregten, direkten Aufführung wirken kann, wie sie Edwin Fischer, Rudolf Serkin, Robert Casadesus und Arthur Rubinstein im Konzert darstellten, bewahrt sie keine damalige Platte, keine notwendig begrenzende, elektroakustische Fixierung auf."  (Kaiser: 393-394; --

--  Kaiser begins his comment by relating Carl Czerny's report of how Beethoven valued this sonata, himself and, in his inimitable manner, he points out that the piano playing world appears to share Beethoven's opinion and states that ever since this f-minor Sonata that is brimming with stormy passages and processes exists, since the title >>Appassionata<< has been given to it, with which, by no means, Beethoven named this work but rather a Hamburg publisher, in the year 1838, Op. 57 is considered the most passionate classical drama that has ever been composed for the piano.  

Since this name, argued Kaiser, at first glance, neither can be recognized as missing the mark nor as absurd, but rather, appears to be characterizing the stormy mood of the outer movements, it has been successful in remaining attached to this work, while it has cause grave misunderstandings, since >>Appassionata<<, thus, >>passionate<< would allow for the assumption that this sonata is some kind of >>Eroica<< for the piano and that it contains something of Beethoven's >>Per aspera ad astra<< striving, in short, that it has to be a stage for passionate, heroic theatrics.   However, argues Kaiser, one would only be able to hold Beethoven's 23rd sonata to this if it actually was an Appassionata and not only called thus, since that which appears to belong to the term of high passion, the extrovert manner and flaming self-assuredness of the subject that is presenting itself, including its brave, catharsis-producing failure a la Coriolan Overture, all that, writes Kaiser, this sonata does not offer.  No exalted sonata stage is prepared for well-sounding passions, but rather the breaking-up of and the antithesis of  such a sonata-style stage.  Even if this so-called Appassionata might be the most famous sonata in music history, continues Kaiser, it is still no prototype, and only pianists who believe in its >>name<< and who are only able to present direct effects, it is sometimes played in that manner.  To the contrary, argues Kaiser, this sonata has more to do with becoming affrighted than with self-assured passions, as it makes one tremble and does not tolerate any consolation.  The very ground of this sonata is shaken up, the the first movement offers sparse, almost anonymous motifs, sallow and ambiguous.  A triadic theme, continues Kaiser, but pianissimo, not the usual octaves, but rather, in a hollow double-octave distance, and the development breaks down the provided material, beyond all concepts of aesthetic beauty or sublimity, while in the repetition, the terror still trembles for 17 measures, and such a ppp finale as the pale, motionless-moving coda of the head movement, argues Kaiser, is not heard a second time in Beethoven's music.  What is close together here, writes Kaiser, are heated, virtuoso, vital energy and near-death illness:  who knows, he asks, if it was not this intoxicant, dark, yet garish striving for doom that led to the popularity of this work . . .

In spite of analytically-dissociating variations, frequent sf indications and ff accellerations, the Andante is considered calm, lyrical and paradisic, writes Kaiser, and confirms that this is the way how it was conceived and played.  

He then raises the question as to whether the finale consists of zestful, melancholy passages and rhythmically pointed episodes or if one could understand it was an expression of an irrepressibly-circulating motion energy, that rather produces characteristic forms than being governed by them.  The concluding Presto, states Kaiser, is not in the least apotheotic but rather a raging, almost cynical dance, an expression of sensual or super-sensual anger, far removed from any consolation.   Since, argues Kaiser, in the Appassionata, the moving beyond boundaries, the destruction of the aesthetic and beautiful frame work that one also always has in mind, belongs to the nature of the matter but also to many an interpretation of this work,  a great deal is lost of this in older recordings.  Kaiser understands that recording engineers of the past had to 'reduce' in order to blot out as much as possible that would only come across as clangour or cracking sound, and he regrets that inspired interpretations such as those of Edwin Fischer, Rudolf Serkin, Robert Casadesus and Arthur Rubinstein, as they rendered them in concert halls, did not find adequate reflection in their recordings.  

 


ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS

To this Sonata, Anton Kuerti provides the following overview: 

Kuerti writes that at the time of the composition of this work, Beethoven was at the height of the dramatic capability of his musical expression, and that the ecstatic climax of each movement is not found in the recapitulation but rather towards its end.  Kuerti describes the climax in the first movement as breathtaking and overwhelming, and in the second movement of expressive warmth and longing, while he describes the finale as being obsessed by utter fury.  

Allgegro assai

Kuerti describes the introduction to the first movement as soft and as if approaching from afar, whereby a majestic, foreboding mood is generated, which is heightened by the sound of the bare Arpeggio figure, the high register and the two separated bass octaves.  The brilliant second theme, continues Kuerti, is formed by a similar arpeggio figure, with the same nervous rhythm and thereby creates an unusual continuity.  Kuerti expresses his amazement as to how Beethoven was able to create such different moods with the same material, and particularly at his ability to create such noble calm out of this somewhat clumsy rhythm, to which end the accompaniment aided that continually produces a deep but tender sound . . .  

The warmth of the second subject is quickly dissolved in trills, continues Kuerti, and in a scary, descending pianissimo scale, after which the remainder of the exposition is filled with turmoil and despair, and all of it in a dark and remote a-flat minor key.  Kuerti describes the exposition as filled with breathtaking dramatic events, so that their repetition would diminish their dramatic effect and the effect of their continuity and intensity . . .   Kuerti points out that this is Beethoven's first piano sonata in which he does not repeat the exposition.  

Kuerti states that this is somewhat similar with respect to the recapitulation, as the emotional suspense had been heightened so painfully during the development that a precise repetition of the main subject would sound academic. . . .  Thus, the recapitulation appears with a new, pulsating accompaniment in the bass that hearkens back to the three fateful notes that remind of the Fifty Symphony and that appeared in the main subject, themselves.  . . . 

The recapitulation, writes Kuerti, becomes increasingly intense and virtuoso-like and it actually appears to him that Beethoven said here what he had to say, since the sound slowly dies away in exhausted vibrations . . .  however, continues Kuerti, the coda moves on like lightning, with doubled energy and faster pulse and what makes this appear so 'desperate' is not the faster speed and the struggle of the pianist with his piano, but the fact that the only cheerful and friendly element--the second subject, now returns in the major key, and that its character has thereby been frighteningly altered.  This, writes Kuerti, makes it to the most painful element:  the only ray of sun in this sonata has been extinguished and banished.  

Andante con moto

Kuerti describes the second movement as a succession of variations, and their almost melody-less theme appears in a grave, nobly expressed harmonic pattern.  Each of the three variations, continued Kuerti, doubles the motion of the preceding variation and becomes increasingly melodious, but only in the last variation does Beethoven leave behind his retrospective introvertness and replaces it with expressive urgency.  This outburst is followed by a repetition of the theme, that now sounds like a fleeting memory and continually moves from one octave to the next.  The music, writes Kuerti, halts at a very quiet, diminished chord that is then taken up, mercilessly repeated, and thus we find ourselves in the last movement.  

Allegro ma non troppo

As in the first movement of the "Waldstein"-Sonata, writes Kuerti, the accompaniment is a major part of the music and its 'perpetuum mobile' permeates everything.  Kuerti describes this as quiet, yet, unsettling, like waves in the middle of an ocean.  Above this, he writes, there arises a succession of lonely, piercing cries, separated by breath-like pauses.  This constant motion only stops once, shortly before the recapitulation, and even this brief halt, writes Kuerti, has a frightening effect.  

Kuerti describes this finale as having been composed in sonata form, but instead of the usual repetition of the exposition (that was also left off in the second movement) Beethoven, very unconventionally, is asking for the recapitulation of the development, and even wrote in Italian, "la seconda parte due volte" ("the second part twice").  This unique design, writes Kuerti, lengthens the movement beyond the expectations of the listener, while the accompaniment continues to flow, like water behind a dam, collecting ever more energy, that has to eventually break.  And this, writes Kuerti, happens in form of a demonic and majestic dance in which Beethoven finally allows the accompanying material that has been unbearably held back, to break out in a tumultuous, frenetic final cascade.    (Kuerti: 39-41).

 

Here, we offer you a chance to listen to a midi file of this sonata, via the following link: 

Kunst der Fuge: Beethoven-Sonatas

We wish you a great deal of listening enjoyment!

For those of you who want to explore this topic further in a serious manner, we can offer you a link to the Beethoven Bibliography Data Base of the Ira Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies in San Jose, California:


Opus 57 - Search