Beethoven around 1808


Due to the more "compact" nature of this small work, our page is also somewhat more "compact":  


Thayer (p. 475) also describes this "Sonatina" as having been composed in the year 1809.   He still points out (p. 478) that the earlier assumption that Op. 79 must have been composed earlier has been proven wrong by the 1809 sketches.  In this context, he refers to Nottebohm's "Zweite Beethoveniana", p. 269.  

We have already discussed Beethoven's general life circumstances of this time in our last page.  Therefore, here, we can move on to the publication history of this work that we want to summarize as follows:  

- That this small work also belongs to the piano sonatas that Beethoven sold to Clementi already became evident in our discussion of this topic, in the publication history of Op. 78; 

- On September 19, 1809 (Thayer: 477-78), Beethoven offered Breitkopf und Härtel "a few" sonatas, while he also mentioned "three pianoforte solo sonatas" (see also Kinderman: 136); 

- On August 21, 1810, Beethoven wrote with respect to Op. 79:  In bezug auf op. 79 schrieb Beethoven dann am 21. August 1810:   ". . . 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 -- ";

- Thayer (p. 503) describes Op. 79 as having been published in 1810 by Breitkopf and Härtel.


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 turn again to William Kinderman:   

"Notwithstanding its compact dimensions and motivic similarities to Beethoven's Ritterballett of 1791, op. 79 is a highly polished work.  The rhythmic elan of its outer movements is reflected in the unusual direction 'Presto alla tedesca' for the first movement; the relaxed pace more typical of a German dance is supplanted here by vivacious energy.  The second movement, in G minor, marked Andante, displays metrical ambiguity and a remote, archaic quality suggesting the influence of Eastern folklore; one is reminded at least distantly of the Allegretto of the C major Quartet op. 59 no. 3" (Kinderman: 136).




Let us look at what Joachim Kaiser has to say to this sonata: 

"Problemlos, prägnant.  Eine fast übermütige Demonstration leichthändiger Meisterschaft.  Energisch brillant die knappen Ecksätze, verhalten ausdrucksvoll das g-Moll-Andante.

Das von Beethoven ausdrücklich als >>Sonatine facile<< oder >>Sonatine<< bezeichete Stück scheint bewußt unkompliziert gehalten, spielt mit der elegant beherrschten Form und dem Instrument wie die Katze mit einer quicklebendigen Maus.  Da bleibt kein Vieldeutigkeitsrest.  Beethoven hat hier so eindeutig und direkt komponiert wie der >>späte<< Mozart die >Sonata facile< KV 545, die in Mozarts eigenem Verzeichnis >>Eine kleine Klavier Sonate für anfänger<< heißt.

Dem vergnüglichen Terz-Spiel in der Durchführung des ersten Satzes verdankt das Stück seinen Beinamen >>Kuckucks-Sonate<<.  Tatsächlich beherrscht aber die Terz nicht nur -- als Kuckucksruf -- die Durchführung, sondern sie prägt das Thema des Kopfsatzes, ist entscheidendes Intervall sowohl des g-Moll-Themas als auch des Es-Dur-Mittelteils im Andante und findet sich wieder im Beginn des Vivace.  Es wäre unangemessen, in diesem lustig-luftigen Stück Terz-Konstruktions-Geheimnisse a la Hammerklaviersonate aufspüren zu wollen.  Aber wer die Sonatine sorfgältig durchanalysiert, dürfte ohne weiteres beweisen können, was ohnehin kein vernünftiger Mensch bezweifelt:  nämlich, daß auch dies niemals langweilig regelmäßige oder pendantisch trockene Werk die Hand des reifen Beethoven erkennen läßt" (Kaiser: 437; --

-- Free of problems, concise, that is how Kaiser describes this little work, and as an almost exuberant demonstration of light-handed mastery, with energetic, brilliant and short outer movements and a reservedly-expressive g-minor Andante.  

He states that this work that Beethoven expressively described as a >>Sonatine facile<< or >>Sonatine<< appears to be kept deliberately uncomplicated, playing cat and mouse with its elegantly mastered form and the piano, leaving no ambiguities.  Kaiser even states that here, Beethoven composed as clearly and directly as the >>late<< Mozart in his >>Sonata facile<<, K 545, which, in Mozart's own records, is described as a little sonata for beginners.   

Kaiser then relates that this sonata owes its nick-name >>Kuckucks-Sonate<< (cuckoo sonata) to the pleasant play of thirds in the development of the first movement, and, indeed, the thirds do not only characterize the development, but also the theme of the first movement, and moreover, it is the decisive interval both of the g-minor theme but also of the E-flat-Major middle part of the Andante and can again be found at the beginning of the Vivace.  Yet, states Kaiser, it would be inappropriate here to look for "mysterious thirds" as in the Hammerklavier Sonata, while those who carefully analyze this Sonatina, will find what no reasonable listender will doubt, namely, that this never boring or dry work reveals who has written it:  the mature Beethoven). 


Anton Kuerti provides the following overview:  

Kuerti states that even the most serious composer has the right to sometimes amuse himself, as that is what Beethoven obviously did here in this small, charming work, which is the only one of his 32 piano sonatas that is actually called a "Sonatina", and this best describes its modest proportions.  

Presto alla tedesca

Kuerti describes the first movement as a sparkling dance rhythm and that, however, its swaying, in the extensive development, turns rather into a limp.  The "limp", continues Kuerti, and refers to the figure that consists of two notes that is rather over-emphasized, is derived from the second and third note of the first theme.  The insisting on this "cuckoo-like" figure, however, becomes somewhat strenuous, yet, the work justifies itself through the finesse with which the recapitulation is introduced by means of accompanying repetitions of the same figure.     


Kuerti describes the Andante as a brief gem" that leaves behind a much deeper impression as its length would indicate.  Here, Beethoven might have found himself in a mood that is not very characteristic of him, namely that of introvert melancholy, that would rather be reminiscent of composers such as Mendelssohn or Chopin. . . .  The simple intensity of the middle section and the return of the introductory theme,  writes Kuerti, are again more characteristic of him.  


Kuerti is of the opinion that the final movement, the Vivace, is reminiscent of Haydn's playfulness, with its surprise pauses and repetitions, its expressive freshness and its simple pianistic texture.    (Kuerti: 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 79 - Search