Beethoven around 1808


If we are to follow Thayer's view that  Beethoven had completed his 23rd Piano Sonata, the so-called Appassionata, in the year 1804, then we would arrive at the conclusion that it should take another four to five years until he would compose another piano sonata.  With respect to Beethoven's composition of the next group of sonatas, Thayer (p. 477) renders the following comment:  

"The three Pianoforte Sonatas, Op. 78, 79 and 81a, are closely connected in time, notwithstanding their diversity of sentiment").

Therefore, let us endeavor to establish a time frame for each of these sonatas and also look at Beethoven's general life circumstances during this time.  


"According to a note by Archduke Rudolph, the Fantasia, Op. 77, was composed in October as was the Sonata, Op. 78" (Thayer: 477). 

Of what 'October' does Thayer write here?  Since Thayer (p. 474-475) lists this sonata as having been completed in the year 1809, it must refer to the fateful year of Vienna's French occupation.  

Without going back into the particular section of our Biographical Pages, let us recall some of the events of that year:  

- In the fall of 1808, Beethoven occupied an apartment on the second floor of that building in Vienna (1074) Krugerstraße, in which Countess Erdödy lived in an apartment on the main floor, and Beethoven spent a great deal of time there as her house guest; 

- However, this time also saw the arrival of the Kassel Kapellmeister offer from the Court of Jerome Bonaparte; 

- The 1808 Christmas Season saw Beethoven's Erdödy house concert and that 'mammoth' concert of which Johann Reichhard from Kassel reported at length; 

- The winter of 1809 saw the completion of the annuity contract between Beethoven and his patrons, Archduke Rudolph, Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinsky, in which Countess Erdödy and Baron Gleichenstein acted as mediaries;  ultimately, this contract made the 'Kassel offer' redundant;   

- In addition to Beethoven's composing his Fifth Piano Concerto, the spring of 1809 also saw his (possibly temporary) quarrel with Countess Erdödy, on a 'domestic staff' matter; 

- In the meantime, Beethoven had moved again, although 'only' within Vienna (into the Walfischgasse), while Vienna's nobility fled from the approaching French armies, so that Countess Erdödy, but also Archduke Rudolph left Vienna (the latter left Vienna on May 4, 1809); 

- Thayer reports that during the bombardement of Vienna by the French, Beethoven sought shelter in his brother Caspar Carl's basement, covering his sensistive ears with pillows; 

- On May 31, 1809, the composer of whom, as Beethoven stated, he had learned hardly anything, but whom he, at the Liebhaberkonzert of the spring of 1808, had kissed on the forehead and on his hands:  Joseph Haydn; 

- During the course of the summer, Beethoven wrote to his publishers, here and there and reported of harsh times and of a general lack of artistic inspiration. 

This moves us up to the fall of 1808, when the situation had calmed down to some extent.  With respect to the composition of the 24th Piano Sonata, Op. 78, we can still report the following:  

- Thayer (p. 477) reports that no sketches could be found for this work; 

- Cooper (p. 187) refers to Clementi's presence in Vienna in the year 1809 and to Beethoven's production of the sonatas discussed here, namely Op. 78 and Op. 79, of which he describes Op. 78 as having been composed in October, 1809, and refers to Clementi as the initiator of these works;

- Thayers-Forbes  (1964 edition. p. 469) discusses, -- yet cautiously mentioning that this represents Thayer's opinion that, at least in 1964, could not be refuted by other proof-- Beethoven's possible stay in this summer, in Hungary.  Perhaps, this point is worthy of clarification by further Beethoven research.  However, let us quote Thayer directly, here:  

"Regarding the trip to Hungary, the unsettled conditions would not seem to favor it; yet, for lack of evidence to the contrary, Thayer's opinion may be given: -- "He was often in Hungary," said Czerny, and there is no good reason to doubt that he went thither now to pass several weeks with the Brunsviks.  It was already his practice to grant manuscript copies of his new works for the collection of Archduke Rudolph, whose catalogue, therefore, is of the highest authority in determining their dates.  From this source it is known that the Pianoforte Fantasia, Op. 77, previously sketched, and the great F-sharp Pianoforte Sonata, Op. 78, were completed in October.  The dedication of these two works to Count Franz and his sister Therese leads to the inference that they are memorials of happy hours spent in their domestic circle" (Thayer: 469).

Before we turn to the discussion of the publication and the dedication of this work, we can still take a look at a further piece of information provided by Thayer, who relies on Beethoven's lines, very likely from the fall or winter of 1809/10, to Baron Gleichenstein, and the "Therese" mentioned therein would, of course, be Therese Malfatti.  However, it should also be pointed out that Thayer can only guess that the mentioned sonata might have been Op. 78:  

"Here is the s[onata] (8: Op. 78?) I promised Therese.  Since I cannot see her today, give it to her--remember me to all of them.  I feel so happy with them all and as though they might heal the wounds inflicted upon my soul by wicked people.  Thank you, kind G, for having taken me there-- . . . " (Thayer: 487).



With respect to the publication of this work and with respect to all negotiations connected with it, we have to track back somewhat.  Barry Cooper (p.166-167) reports that the London-based composer, piano maker and music publisher, Muzio Clementi, arrived in Vienna via Rome, at the beginning of 1807.  In this connection, Cooper reports that, as is known, Beethoven admired Clementi and that his early sonatas appear to rather follow his example, yet that Beethoven  was hesitant to make his personal acquaintance, for which he would already have had an opportunity in 1802 and 1804, when Clementi also stayed in Vienna, prior to 1807.  However, the ice between the two was finally broken in 1807 and they also arrived at an agreement with respect to Clementi's English publication rights to Beethoven works.     Baron Gleichenstein who, from about this time on, had taken over the role as Beethoven's private secretary from his now married brother Caspar Carl, is reported as having become a witness to this agreement.  Its terms secured Clementi the English publication rights for five larger Beethoven works, namely of the Fourth Piano Concerto, the 'Razumovsky' Quartets, the Fourth Symphony, the Violin Concerto and the Coriolan Overture (thus, Opp. 56-62).    According to Cooper, Clementi also asked Beethoven to render an arrangement of his Violin Concerto as a Piano Concerto, which he was to send to England as soon as possible.  Clementi was willing to pay Beethoven 200 Pound Sterling for these works, and since Beethoven could sell these works separately on the European continent, which he arranged for through the Viennese Kunst- und Industrie-Comptoir, Beethoven did not fare too badly in all of this.  If we recall Beethoven's letter to his friend, Count Franz von Brunsvik, we will remember that he reported very positively on the matter, and that already on April 22 of this year, three of the commissioned work had been on their way to England, namely the Piano Concerto, the Symphony and the Overture, while the other works should follows.  As Cooper relates, this agreement also stipulated that Beethoven was to write three piano sonatas, or two sonatas and a fantasy, namely for the price of 60 Pound Sterling.  Two years later, Beethoven fulfilled this obligation by sending Clementi his works, Opp. 77 - 79, which the latter published subsequently.   


Muzio Clementi

However, how did the "continental" publication of these works occur, and in particular, Op. 78?  With respect to this, Thayer (p. (S. 477-478)  reports that Beethoven had already offered Breitkopf and Härtel "several sonatas" with his letter of September 19, 1809, thus at a time, when these had not been completed, yet.  Let us take a look at this letter:

                           "Vien am 19ten wein Monath [=September] 1809[1]

Mein Hochgeehrtester Herr,

  Auf ihren Brief vom 21 august[2], antworte ich ihnen, daß ich wohl zufrieden bin, wenn sie mir auch einige Posten in wiener Courant[3] (jedoch nicht viel), wollen ausbezahlen lassen -- die 3 werke sind schon abgeschickt, nun wünschte ich freylich, daß sie mir das honorar für diese 3 werke [4] früher anweisen als sie in Leipzig ankommen, ja wenn sie es sogleich hier anweisen wollten, würde mir sehr lieb seyn -- wir sind hier in geldes Noth,[5] dann, wir brauchen zweimal so viel als sonst -- verfluchter Krieg -- bey dem lied aus D sezen sie das tempo Allegretto[6] -- sonst singt mans zu langsam -- schreiben sie mir gefälligts, was die ausgaben von Schiller, Göthe [7] in Konwenzionsgeld kosten, auch die ganz in kleinem format Ausgabe von wieland[8] -- soll ich sie schon kaufen, so mag ich sie doch lieber von da her, indem hier alle ausgaben verhunzt, und theuer sind --

   nächstens über Quartetten, die ich schreibe, [9] -- ich geb mich nicht gern mit Klavier Solo Sonaten ab, doch verspreche ich ihnen einige [10] -- wissen sie denn schon daß ich Mitglied der Gesellschaft schöner Künste und wissenschaften geworden bin?[11] -- also doch einen Titel -- haha das macht mich lachen --

leben sie wohl ich habe nicht viel Zeit als ihnen zu sagen, daß ich mich nenne ihr ergebenster


Nb: vergessen sie nicht auf meine Bitte wegen dem Gelde --

An Breitkopf und Hertel in Leipzig"


                               "Vienna on the 19th wine month [=September] 1809[1]

My most highly honored Sir,

  With respect to your letter of the 21st of august [2] I reply to you that I will be well content if you were to have some amounts paid out to me in Viennese Courant[3][but not much] -- the 3 works have already been sent off, now, of course, I would wish that you were to authorize payment of my fee for these 3 works [4] sooner than they arrive in Leipzig, nay, if you could even authorize for it to be paid here, right away, I would appreciate it very much --  here, we are hard pressed for money, [5] then, we need twice as much as normally -- cursed war -- in the lied in D set the tempo Allegretto[6] -- otherwise, they will sing it too slowly -- do me the favor and write to me what the editions of Schiller, Göthe [7] cost in convention money, also the Wieland edition in the very small format [8] -- if I am to buy them, then I prefer them from there, since here, all editions are botched and expensive --  

   next on the Quartets that I am writing, [9] -- I do not like to deal with Piano Solo Sonatas, yet I promise you several [10] -- do you know that I have become a member of the Gesellschaft schöner Künste und Wissenschaften? [11] --  thus, a title, after all -- haha, that makes me laugh -- 

farewell, I do not have more time than telling you that I call myself your most devoted 


Nb:  do not forget my request with respect to the money --

To Breitkopf and Härtel in Leipzig"

[Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 2, Letter no. 400, p. 81 - 82]

[Original:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus; to [1]: "Weinmonat" [wine month], according to traditional German custom, would refer to October, yet, Beethoven also used it for September, as is confirmed by the registration reference of the publisher; to [2]: refers to letter no. 398; to [3]: refers to the fact that Beethoven had asked for payment in convention money, while Viennese bank notes were increasingly subject to inflation; to [4]:  refers to Op. 72, Op. 85 and Op. 86; to [5]: refers to the Viennese inflation and demands for monetary contributions by the French military; to [6]: refers to Andenken WoO 136; to [7]: refers to letter no. 395 in which Beethoven had asked for the sending of complete Schiller and Goethe editions; to [8]: refers to a complete edition of Wieland's works that had been published by Göschen in Leipzig, 1794 - 1802; to [9]: refers to the fact that, as appears to be evident from the Landsberg sketchbook, Beethoven intended to write more string quartets right after the completion of Op. 74; to [10]: refers to Beethoven's fullfilling his promise by sending to this publisher his sonatas, Op. 78, 79 and 81a, in 1809/10; to [11]: refers to Beethoven's having become a corresponding fourth-class member of the "Koninklijk Nederlandsch Institut van Wetenschappen, Letterkunde en Schone Kunsten" (Royal Dutch Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts], see also Letter no. 396; details taken from p. 81 - 82).

On February 4, 1810, Beethoven is reported as having repeated his offer:

                                                   "Vien am 4ten Februar 1810

  . . . 

   Hier von neuen Werken: 

  . . . 

3 KlawierSoloSonaten[7] -- Nb. wovon die 3te aus 3 stücken, Abschied, Abwesenheit, das widersehn besteht, [8] welche man allein für sich heraus geben müste -- "

                                                   "Vienna on the 4th of February, 1810

  . . . 

  Here of new works:

  . . .

3 pianosolosonatas[7] -- Nb. of which the third consists of 3 pieces, Farewell, Absence, the Return,[8] which one should publish separately -- "

[Quoted and translated from:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 2, Letter no. 423, p. 104 - 107]

[Original:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus; to [7]: refers to Op. 78, Op. 79 and Op. 81a; to [8]: refers to Op. 81a; details taken from p. 106].


Thayer reports that on August 21, Beethoven wrote with respect to the dedications:   

"The sonata in F-sharp major--a Madame la Comtesse Therese Brunswick; the fantasia for pianoforte solo--a mon ami Monsieur le Comte Francois de Brunswick. . . .  As regards the two sonatas publish them separately; or, if you want to publish them together, inscribe the one in G major Sonata facile or sonatina, which you might also do in case you [do not] publish them together."" (Thayer: 477-478).

                                  "Baden am 21ten SommerMonath [=August] 1810

. . .

-- die Sonate in Fis dur[8] A Madame la Comtesse therese Brunswick, die Fantasie für's Klawier allein[9] A <Monsieur> mon ami Monsieur le Comte <de B> Francois de Brunswick . . .

. . . was die zwei Sonaten angeht, so geben sie jede allein heraus, <das> Oder wollen sie sie zusammen herausgeben, so sezen sie auf die aus dem g dur Sonate facile Oder Sonatine[12], welches sie auch thun können im Fall sie sie zusammen herausgeben -- . . . "

                                  "Baden on the 21st summer month [=August] 1810

. . .

-- the Sonata in F-sharp Major[8] - A Madame la Comtesse Therese Brunswick, the Fantasy for Piano alone [9] A <Monsieur> mon ami Monsieur le Comte <de B> Francois de Brunswick . . .

. . . as far as the two sonatas are concerned, publish each separately, <the> or if you want to publish them together, then inscribe that in G Major with Sonate facile or Sonatine [12] which you can also do in the case you publish them together -- . . . " 

[Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 2, Letter no. 465, p. 148 - 152)

[Original:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus; to [8]: refers to Op. 78; to [9]: refers to Op. 77; to [12]: refers to Op. 79].

(As you can see, we have also quoted and translated this relevant passage from the Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe). 

Thayer (p. 503) describes Op. 78 as having been published by Breitkopf and Härtel in 1810, and as having been dedicated to Countess Therese von Brunsvik. 


Title Page with Dedication

With respect to the musical talent of the dedicatee, Kinderman reports: 

"Therese Brunswick was presumably a less accomplished player than Keglevics or Ertmann, but Beethoven devoted long hours to teaching her and her sister Josephine as early as 1799, when, as she later recalled, he 'never tired' of 'holding and bending my fingers'" (Kinderman: 136-137).

Therese von Brunsvik



With respect to this, we can offer you the text of the brief announcement of this Sonata, in connection with the Fantasy, Op. 77, in the Leipgizer Allgemeine Musikzeitung in 1811 [the underlining of the text related to the Sonata Op. 78 is ours]:

AMZ August 1811, Column 548:

1. Fantaisie p. le Pianoforte -- Oeuvr. 77. (Price 16 Gr.) und

2. Sonate p. le Pianoforte -- Oeuvr. 78. (Price 16 Gr.) both by L. v. Beethoven and published by Breitkopf und Härtel in Leipzig.

    Perhaps, both little works have been connected when they were written, or, at least, the second might have been considered an afterthought of the first:  at least, with respect to their ideas, the manner in which they have been composed, in their degree of difficulty and also on their key (H major), they follow one another.   The fantasy is truly a free one and -- in the novelty of its ideas, in the boldness and surprise of its modulations, in its learned way of arranging the parts, and also in the disconnectedness of its writing style -- it is most akin to those of the wonderful Ph. Eman. Bach; with the exception that Beethoven pays less heed than Bach to a simplicity of the melodious movements, while the overall impression is that of a more fiery work, that, of course, is fuller and is taking more advantage of the improvements of the contemporary piano.  After a brief introduction, the sonata contains a serious Allegro, rich in fantasy and a Vivace that features many unusual turns, full of fire and life.  Both works, if performed well and as they are to be understood, make a beautiful effect.  However, to perform them in this manner, is by no means easy, and more difficult than it seems when one first reads through the scores." 




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: 




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. 


Here, we can turn to the Beethoven researcher William Kinderman:  

"An unusual feature of the F# major Sonata op. 78 is the introductory motto encapsulated in the four opening bars, marked Adagio cantabile.  Euhponious chords enhanced with expressive appoggiaturas rise above a deep pedal point in the bass; the gesture is declamatory, yet tender and heartfelt.  This quality of Innigkeit is found often in Beethoven, yet nowhere more prominently than in some of the solo piano sonatas, from the gracious finale of the F-flat Sonata op. 7 to the glowing lyricism of the opening Allegretto of op. 101" (Kinderman: 136).  

"Uhde has suggested that the choice of key for the F# major sonata may have had a pedagogical purpose, and that the intimately lyrical character of the music was influenced by Bach's works in this key in The Well-Tempered Clavier.(28) A tight network of motivic relationships takes shape in op. 78 as the ascending contour and harmonic colour of the fervent opening motto are reinterpreted in ensuing passages of the Allegro, ma non troppo. In turn, the second group of the exposition introduces a motif of three emphatic chords, the last marked sforzando, which are juxtaposed with more gentle figures marked piano.  A variant of this motif is employed in the principal theme of the finale" (Kinderman: 137t).


In this section, Joachim Kaiser is, again, our "host":

"Zart, von rasch sich wandelnden Gestalten erfüllt, zieht der erste Satz dieser Sonate vorbei, chevaleresk und geistvoll virtuos der zweite.  Das Werk ist kurz, aber nicht karg, vielmehr zärtlich, beredt, überschwenglich.

Aller logisch-prozessualen Appassionata-Strenge steht diese -- von Hugo Rieman so genannte -- >>Theresensonate<< antipodisch fern.  An Erklärungsversuchen für ihn unstreitig >>Besonderes<< fehle es nicht.  Sollte es sich um einen klingenden Liebesbrief an Therese von Brunsvik handeln?  Kommt die innige Adagio cantabile-Einleitung einer Anrede gleich?  Oder waren es die Verlockungen des exquisiten Fis-Dur, die Beethoven zu einer so komplexen und kantabilen Schreibweise animierten?  Bestehen gar, wie wiederholt mit Hilfe plausibler Analogien nachgewiesen, verwandtschaftliche Beziehungen zwischen Bachs empfindsam melodischem Präludium und Fuge in Fis-Dur (aus dem 1. Band des Wohltemperierten Klaviers) und dieser Fis-Dur-Sonate?

Man kann den charakteristisch gewandelten Ton von Opus 78 auch mit der Entwicklung des Beethovenschen Personal-Stils zu erklären versuchen.  Vor den manchmal schroffen und entschlossen konstruktivistischen Ballungen der >>Spätzeit<< komponierte Beethoven nämlich eine Reihe melodischer, zugleich meditativer und avancierter Werke.  Bei den Klaviersonaten in Fis-Dur, Es-Dur (Opus 81a) und e-Moll (Opus 90), bei der Sonate für Klavier und Violine in G-Dur (Opus 96), vor allem aber im >>großen<< B-Dur-Trio (Opus 97) und im Liederkreis >>An die ferne Geliebte<< (Opus 98) wird eine weitausgreifende, intime, lyrisch inspirierte Kantabilität hörbar, erscheinen motivische Arbeit und gesangliche Entfaltung neuartig aufeinander bezogen.

Aber musikantische Einfühlung, die übrigens als ein Moment improvisatorisch lebendigen Musizierens keinesweg hochmütig verketzert zu werden braucht, spielt am Geheimnis, am Kontrast zumal des ersten Satzes vorbei.  Was da so überredend und flüssig, so einheitlich, inspiriert und empfindsam harmonisch scheint, das setzt sich aus lauter eigentlich zusammenhanglosen, knappen, in rascher Folge ohne erkennbares Ordnungsgesetz vorbeiziehenden, oft doppeldeutig ineinander übergehenden Impulsen zusammen.  Die wunderschöne Fis-Dur-Sphinx ist schwer zu enträtseln, sie offeriert spätstilhafte Dissoziations-Tendenzen in bezaubernd-verbindlichem Gewand . . .  Auch der zweite Satz -- im Aufbau einfacher, in der pianistischen Ausschmückung umso virtuoser -- birgt versteckte Vexierspiele.

Donald Francis Tovey weist (>A Companion to Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas<, a.a.O., S. 178) sehr einleuchtend darauf hin, daß es analytische Energieverschwendung wäre, im Kopfsatz -- wo die >>Logik<< sich aus den modifizierten Propoertionen der einzelnen Abschnitte ergäbe -- ein Motiv aus dem anderen ableiten zu wollen.  Manchmal sei ein halbes Dutzend völlig verschiedenartigen Motive zu einem Abschnitt zusamdmengeschweißt.  Aber die Feinheiten von Opus 78 gehören, laut Tovey, zu jenen Dingen, die wir >>vollkommen verstehen können, solange man sie uns nicht erklärt . . . <<

Ein schwacher Trost für Interpreten.  Pianisten müssen also imstande sein, vorzuführen, daß die Fis-Dur-Sonate gar nicht so selbstverständlich ist, wie sie klingt, daß aber ihre inspirierte Sprunghaftigkeit, ihre Fülle trotzdem einer höheren Logik folgt" (Kaiser: 425-426; --

-- Kaiser writes that the first movement of this sonata passes by us tenderly, filled with quickly changing shapes and forms, gentlemanlike, virtuous and spirited the second, and that the work is short, but not sparse, but rather eloquent, tender, exuberant. 

Kaiser states that this, as Hugo Riemann called it, >>Theresien<<-Sonata, is the antipode of all logical, process-driven Appassionata-sternness, and that it, undoubtedly, is not lacking in >>special<< eloquence, and Kaiser, in the 1970's, wondered if this might be a love letter in notes to Therese von Brunsvik in which the heartfelt Adagio-cantabile-introduction might represent an address to her; alternately, muses Kaiser, Beethoven might have been animated by the temptations of the exquisite F-sharp-Major to write in such a complex and cantabile manner, and he also raises the question as to whether there even exists a relationship to Bach's sensitive, melodic Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp Major (from the first volume of the Well-Tempered Klavier) and this F-sharp-Major sonata, as has repeatedly been stated with the help of plausible analogies.   

One can, continues Kaiser, also try to explain the different tone of Op. 78 with the development of Beethoven's personal style, as prior to the sometimes stern and decidedly constructivist conglomerations of his >>later period<<, Beethoven composed a number of melodic and, at the same time, meditative and advanced works.  In this F-sharp-Major Sonata, in his E-flat Major Sonata, Op. 81a, in his e-minor Sonata, Op. 90, in the Sonata for Piano and Violin in G-Major, Op. 96, but also in the >>great<< B-Major Trio, Op. 97, and in his song cycle >>To the Distant Beloved<<, Op. 98, one can hear a broad, intimate, lyrically inspired >>cantabile<< style and this work's motivic development and cantabile unfolding appear newly connected to each other.  Yet, musicians' sensitivity that, by the way, as one momentum of improvisatory music-making should, by no means, be looked down upon, does not appear to grasp the mystery and the contrast of the first movement of this sonata.   What, continues Kaiser, appears so fluent, so unified, inspired and sensitively harmonious, is comprised of completely unconnected, short impulses that pass by at a fast pace, without any recognizable order to them, and the beautiful F-sharp-Major sphinx can not easily be >>explained<<, it offers late-style dissociation tendencies in a charmingly-engaging costume.  . . .  Also, writes Kaiser, the second movement--simpler in its design, but in its pianistic decoration all the more virtuosic--contains hidden distortion games.  

Kaiser then refers to Donald Francis Tovey and his book, >A Companion to Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas< (p. 178) in which he, very convincingly, points out that it would be a waste of analytical energy to try to explain one motif out of other motifs in the first movement --- in which the >>logic<< is derived from the modified proportions of the individual passages, as sometimes, half a dozen of completely different motifs are welded together to one section, while the fine points of this sonata belong to that which we might completely understand as long as they are not explained to us.  

Kaiser calls this little comfort to pianistic interpreters, as they have to be able to demonstrate that this F-sharp-Major Sonata is not as >>matter of fact<< as it sounds, yet that its inspired volatility, its fullness, follows a higher logic, nevertheless).



The active pianist Anton Kuerti provides the following overview to this sonata:  

He first points out that, after having composed his "Appassionata". Beethoven set this compositional genre aside for several years, while he compensated his followers for this by writing his two last Piano Concertos, the Violin Concerto and many excellent chamber music works.  When he then returned to the piano sonata, continues Kuerti, he approached it from quite a different angle in which mature lyricism replaced the dramatic style of Op. 53 and Op. 57, and while, in the meantime, the tonal range of the piano had even increased, at least Op. 78, stays within moderate bounds, consisting only of two rather brief movements, both of them Allegros, yet, containing wealth and substance. 

Adagio cantabile; Allegro ma non troppo

Kuerti writes that an exquisite Adagio that consists of four bars forms the friendly introduction of the first movement, and that Beethoven's well-founded knowledge of musical psychology can be proven by trying to begin this movement without this introduction, what would take away half of its magic.  

Kuerti points out that the very simple harmonies create a sense of satisfaction and peace, yet that this peace is suddenly disturbed by the introduction of a very colorful, foreign note and thereby, at the right time, takes away something of the movements sweetness, before it might become unbearable.   This foreign note, continues Kuerti, the expressive chords that form a part of the second subject, and the excursion into the minor key in the development give this movement a plaintive dimension, which still lets us enjoy its previous sweetness without finding it too much.  

Allegro vivace

The smoothness and continuity that characterize the first movement, writes Kuerti, are blown away by expressive, yet also fleeting shapes in the second movement.  The reserved pairs of sixteenth-notes are obviously derived from the first two notes of the expressive introduction, which becomes clear after the first return of the main theme.  The sparse and abstract character of this figuration, writes Kuerti, shows that here, we are approaching Beethoven's unconventional characteristics of his later sonatas.   The "twittering" or "chirping" sequences of quick Appogiaturas, the sudden, yet not untroubled changes from Major back to minor and from minor to Major, the quick changes in registers, and the insistent harmony of the pianissimo-chord  before the last superb entry are achieved by the sudden change in mood towards the end of this movement, which was, above all, playful and provocative.  Beethoven, writes Kuerti, takes up the last fragment of the them and briefly develops it in a noble, expressive manner that moves the listener, although he only expected to be entertained.  (Kuerti: 44-45).

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 78 - Search