BEETHOVEN'S PIANO SONATA
N0. 29, OP. 106 - "HAMMERKLAVIER"
CREATION HISTORY AND DISCUSSION OF MUSICAL CONTENT






Beethoven around 1818



INTRODUCTION

From our creation and publication history of Beethoven's 28th Piano Sonata, Op. 101, we know that in January 1817, Beethoven eagerly tried to apply the German term for piano, "Hammerklavier" on the title page of this work.  Therefore, we should not be surprised that his next sonata should become known as the "Hammerklavier" Sonata.   However, should we already burden this work here, in our introduction, with further terms, adjectives and descriptions, or should we not rather try to inch our way into the world of this sonata by first chronologically tracing its creation, then its publication and dedication, before we consult 'our' expert critics on its musical content?  

ON ITS CREATION 

In order to arrive at a time frame for all of that, we might wish to try to find out first, when Beethoven began to work on this composition.  With respect to this, Thayer reports:  

"On September 11 [1817], Beethoven was able to report to Zmeskall that the reply to his letter had been received from the London Philharmonic Society the day before.  There was no tone of elation in his note; it merely mentioned the arrival of the letter and a request for the name of someone who could translate it for him, it being in English.  As might have been expected the Philharmonic Society rejected the new terms demanded by him, but, as the Society's records show, repeated the old.  These were now at once accepted by Beethoven.

And did he now sit himself down zealously and perseveringly to work on a ninth and tenth symphony?  Not at all.  His thoughts had become  engaged upon a new pianoforte sonata--the great one in B-flat, Op. 106" (Thayer: 681). 

As Thayer (p. 681), relying on Nottebohm (23 II Beethoveniana, p. 159-65 and 121-37) further reports, Beethoven worked on the compostion on this sonata from the fall of 1817 to the spring of 1818, and that among the sketches of this time, one also finds those for the first movement and the Scherzo of the Ninth Symphony.  Barry Cooper (p. 260) points out that the first sketches of this sonata were very likely written in December, 1817. 

As we can read in the relevant section of our Biographical Pages, during this time, Beethoven could not dedicate himself exclusively to the composition of this work.  Let us, therefore, take a look at some of the factors of his general life circumstances of these months:  

-- In October/November 1817, Beethoven planned to take his newphew Carl into his own household (see his letter of November 1 to the Giannatasios);  

-- A pleasant surprise to Beethoven was the gift he received from London:  the Broadwood piano (see his thank-you letter in French of February 3, 1818; more on this topic in our section Trials and Tribulations of our Biographical Pages); 

-- The experiment of having Carl tutored at home by a private teacher, in order to prepare him for the 'Gymnasium' (High School), however, was not very successful; 

-- By this time, Beethoven's hearing had worsened to such a degree, that from March, 1818, on, he mainly communicated by using his Conversation Books that would later become a valuable source of information to biographical research.  

However, as we have learned from Thayer's report, during this time, Beethoven also worked on the composition of this Piano Sonata and on parts of his Ninth Symphony.  How did matters progress in the spring of 1818?  

 



View of the 'Klausen' near Mödling



With respect to this, Thayer (p. 700-701) reports that on May 19, 1818, Beethoven and his nephew left Vienna and took up summer lodgings on the second floor of the so-called Hafner house in the Ungargasse (today: Hauptstraße no. 79) in Mödling.  As Thayer reports, these lodgings consisted of a large room with a view into the courtyard and garden, and a small, dark kitchen, in which, in all likelihood, his two servants slept.  Two days after his arrival, Beethoven is reported as having started to take the baths at Mödling, and, thus refreshed, he vigorously returned to the completion of his great piano sonata.  

That Beethoven, in spite of all of his difficulties in looking after his newphew Carl--on the one hand, Carl's mother bribed his servants in order to gain access to her son, on the other hand, Beethoven's communication with Carl's teacher at Mödling, Pastor Fröhlich, was also none too successful--was still making progress in his work on the sonata, is, as Thayer (p. 713-14) reports, also evident from his hand-written comment in the midst of the manuscript, which we quote here from its German original text and for which we render our own translation:  

"Ein kleines Haus allda, so klein, daß man allein nur ein wenig Raum hat! -- Nur einige Tage in dieser  göttlichen Brühl! -- Sehnsucht oder Verlangen, Befreiung oder Erfüllung" (Ludwig van Beethoven in Briefen und Lebensdokumenten: 150; ["A small house here, so small, that alone, one has only very little room!-- Only a few days in this divine Brühl! -- Longing or yearning, liberation or fulfillment"]).  

As Anton Schindler (referred to by Thayer: 713-714) reports, the work was completed in the fall of 1881 (see also Thayer, p. 717).   

This comment brings our creation history to its conclusion and leads us towards our next section:  

 

ON ITS PUBLICATION AND DEDICATION 

 



Archduke Rudolph



As Barry Cooper reports (p. 269-270), in the winter of 1818-19, Beethoven was, at first, busy with proofreading the sonata score.  Both  Cooper (p. 269-270) and Thayer (p. 714) report that Beethoven sent a copy of the work to Ferdinand Ries in England for publication there.  In his letter of January 30th to Ries  Beethoven wrote:

                                                     "Vien am 30ten Jenner 1819

Mein lieber Ries!

. . .  thun sie für mich, was sie können, denn ich bedarf es, Bestellungen von der Philharmonischen Gesellschaft wären mir sehr willkommen gewesen, die Berichte welche mir unterdeßen Neate über das beynahe Mißfallen der 3 overturen geschickt hat,[5] waren mir verdrießlich, jede hat hier in ihrer Art nicht allein gefallen, sondern die aus Es[6] u. C dur[7] sogar großen Eindruck gemacht, unbegreiflich ist mir das schicksaal dieser Kompositionen bey der P.G. -- sie werden das arrangirte 5-tett[8] u. die Sonate[9] schon erhalten haben, machen sie nur, daß beyde werke besonders das 5-tett so <bald>gleich <als möglich> gesto[chen]* werden,[10] mit der Sonate kann es chon etwas langsamer gehen doch wünsche ich[,]* daß sie wenigstens innerhalb 2 oder längstens [3]* Monathen erscheine, ihren von ihnen erwähnten frühern Brief erhielt ich nicht, daher ich keinen Anstand nahm beyde werke hier auch zu verschachern[11] Nb: d.h. bloß für Deutschland, Es wird unterdeßen ebenfalls 3 Monathe bis die <sin>Sonate hier erscheint, nur mit dem 5-tett eilen sie . . . "

                                                     "Vienna, on the 30th of January, 1819

My dear Ries!

. . .  do for me everything that you can, for I need it, orders from the Philharmonic Society would have been very welcomed by me, the reports, that, in the meantime, Neate sent me about the near-failure of the 3 overtures were very vexing to me, here, each in its own way did not only please, but those in E-flat and C major even made a great impression, incomprehensible is to me the fate of these compositions with the P.S. -- you will already have received the arranged 5-tet [8] and the Sonata[9], see to it that both works particularly the 5tet will be etched as soon as possible,[10] with the Sonata more leisure can be taken, however, I want that it will be published at least within 2 or the longest [3]* months, the letter that you mentioned, I did not receive, for which reason I did not hesitate to peddle these works off here[11]--but that is only for Germany, in the meantime, here it will also take 3 months until the Sonata will be published, but hurry with the 5tet . . . "

[Quoted and translated from:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 4, Letter No. 1285, p. 230-231]

[Original:  Bonn, Beehtoven-Haus, to [5]: refers to Letter No. 987 of October 29, 1816; to [6]: refers to the Overture, Op. 117; to [7]: refers to Op. 115, to [8]: refers to Op. 104; to [9]: refers to Op. 106; to [10]: refers to Op. 104; to [11]: the Artaria editionof Op. 106 published in September 1819; details taken from p. 231].   

 

As Cooper (p. 269-270) reports, in March, 1819, Beethoven sent Ries a lengthy list of corrections to the Sonata [in the Ludwig van Beethoven Briefe Gesamtausgabe, Volume 4, corrections sent to Ries by Beethoven in March, 1819 are listed as  letters no. 1294, dated March 8, 1819, p. 248 - 251 and no. 1295 dated March 19, 1819, p. 252 - 263, and both feature numerous corrections with note samples], and, as traditional Beethoven research used to report, in his letter of April 16, 1819, Beethoven sent him the metronome markings, as well as the first bar of the slow movement that was still to be inserted.  As Cooper further reports, there is also the possibility that, in spite of its April date, this letter had only been written in June, 1819.  [The Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe Volume 4 lists this letter as no. 1309, dated April/June 16, 1819, p. 278-279].  A further example of Beethoven's correspondence with Ries regarding the Quintet and the Sonata is his letter of May 25, 1819:

                                                     "Vien, am 25ten May 1819 .[1]

Lieber Rieß!

     Ich höre u. sehe nichts, indem ich ihnen das Quintett u. Sonate geschikt,[2] noch viel weniger einen Heller dafür empfangen habe -- ich glaube, es fehlen zu der sonate die tempos metronomisch, diese werde ich mit nächstem Postag senden,[3] ich war derweile mit solchen Sorgen behaftet, wie noch mein Leben nicht, u. zwar durch zu übertriebene wohltaten gegen andere Menschen[4] --

    Komponieren sie fleißig,  mein liebes Erzherzöglein Rudolph u. ich spielen ebenfalls von ihnen, und er sagt, daß der gewesene schüler dem Meister Ehre macht. --

    nun leben Sie wohl  ihre Frau werde ich, da ich höre, daß sie  schön  ist, jetzt bloß in Gedanken küßen, doch hoffe ich künftigen winter persönlich das Vergnügen zu haben -- 

    Vergeßen Sie nicht auf das 5tett u. Sonate und das Geld ich wollte sagen:  das Honorar (avec ou sans honneur!!!!)

    ich hoffe baldigst von Ihnen nicht allegromäßig sonder[n] veloce Prestissimo das Beste zu hören --

    diesen Brief überbringt ihnen ein Geistvoller Englände[6]r, welche meistens alle tüchtige Kerls sind, u. mit denen ich gerne eine Zeitlang in ihrem Lande zubringen mögte.

Prestissimo -- Respondio il suo amico ed Maestro

                                                                                                     Beethoven

Vienne

a Mons. Ferdinand Ries p. adr de Mess. Goldsmidth in bankeer[?] a Londres"

                                             "Vienna, on the 25th of May 1819 .[1]

Dear Rieß!

     I hear and see nothing, in that I sent you the Quintet and Sonata,[2] nor have I received a penny for it -- I believe, for the sonata the metronome markings are missing, I will send you these on the next postal day,[3] in the meantime, I have been burdened with sorrows as I have never had in my life, and that due to too many good deed towards other human beings[4] -- 

    Compose diligently, my dear little Archduke and Rudolph also play your works, and he says that the former pupil does his master honor. -- 

    now farewell your wife, since I hear that she is beautiful, I am now only kissing in thought, but I hope that I will have the personal pleasure next winter --  

    Do not forget the Quintett and the Sonata and the money I wanted to say:  the honorarium (avec ou sans honneur!!!!)

    I hope to hear from you as soon as possible not allegro style but  veloce Prestissimo the best --

    this letter is brought to you by an intelligent Englishman[6], who, for the most part, are all clever fellows, and with whom I would like to spend some time in their country.  

Prestissimo -- Respondio il suo amico ed Maestro

                                                                                                     Beethoven

Vienne

a Mons. Ferdinand Ries p. adr de Mess. Goldsmidth in bankeer[?] a Londres"

[Quoted and translated from:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 4, Letter no. 1302, p. 272 - 273]

[Original:  Koblenz, Wegeler Collection; to [1]: as per Thomson's note, Ries only received this letter in Ocotber of this year; to [2]: Beethoven is reported as having sent Opp. 104 and 106 to London at the end of 1818 or in early 1819; to [3]: see our above reference to letter no. 1309 of June 16, 1816; to [4}: perhaps a reference to Beethoven's failed attempt of sending his nephew Carl to Bishop Sailer's boarding school in Landshut, Bavaria; to [5]: refers to double underlining of this word; to [6]: very likely refers to John Smith from Glasgow]

  

In this letter to Ries, Beethoven also refers to the recipient of the dedication to this work, without, however, directly discussing this matter, while, in his letter to the Archduke of March 3, 1819, which has traditionally been dated to June, 1819, Beethoven explicitly refers for whom he had intended this work. Let us feature this letter in full and also refer to all annotations [so that you may also draw your own conclusions as to the possible reasons for the different dating of this letter in the past]:

                                                                                   "[Wien, 3. März 1819]

Ihro Kaiserliche Hoheit!

   An dem Tage, wo I.K.H. gnädigst zu mir schick[t]en, war ich nicht zu Hause, u. gleich darauf befiel mich ein starker Katharr so, daß ich im Bette Liegend mich schriftlich I.K.H. nahe -- Welche Menge von Glückwünschungen auch bey ihnen mein gnädigster Herr mag herangeströmt seyn, so weiß ich nur zu gut, daß diese neue Würde[1] nicht ohne Aufopferungen von Seite I.K.H. angenommen wurde, denke ich mir aber, Welch erweiterter Wirkungs Kreiß dadurch ihnen u. ihren großen edelmüthigen Gesinnun-[gen] geöfnet wird, so kann ich auch nicht anders als deswegen meinen Glückwunsch zu den <Ersten>übrigen andern I.K.H. agleben, Es gibt beynahe kein gutes -- ohne Opfer u. gerade der edlere beßere Mensch scheint hiezu mehr als andere Bestimmt zu seyn, damit seine Tugend geprüft werde. --

              Feurig                                  [2]

              (Notenbeispiel)

              Er - fül - lung    Er - fül - lung

mögte ich nun von Herzen gern singen, Wären I.K.H. nur ganz wieder hergestellt, aber der neue Wirkungskreiß, die Veränderung, später Reisen, kann gald gewiß die Unschäzbare Gesundheit I.K.H. wieder in den besten Zustand bringen, u. alsdenn will ich obiges Thema ausführen mit einem tüchtigen A---men oder Alleluja, -- Was die Meisterhaften V[a]r.[iationen] I.K.H. anbelangt,[3] so habe ich selbe ohnlängst zum schreiben gegeben,[4] manche kleine Verstöße sind von mir beachtet worden,[5] ich muß aber meinem erhabenen Schüler zurufen:  "La Musica merita d'esser studiata" -- bey so schönen Anlagen u. wirklich reicher Erfindunggabe I.K.H. wäre es schade, nicht selbst bis zur kastalischen Quelle vorzudringen, wozu ich mich denn als Begleiter anbiete, sobald es einmal die Zeit I.K.H. zulaßen wird.  I.K.H. können auf zweierley Art schöpfer werden sowohl für das Glück u. Heil so mancher Menschen als auch für sich selbst, Musikal. schöpfer u. Menschen-Beglücker sind in der jezigen Monarchen Welt bisher nicht anzutreffen. -- und nun von mir -- ich bedarf wohl der gnädigsten Nachsicht--ich füge hier 2 Stücke bey, worauf geschrieben, daß ich sie vor dem Namenstage I.H.H. voriges Jahr schon geschrieben habe,[6] aber Mißmuth u. so manche traurige Umstände meine damalige so üble Gesundheit hatten mich so Muhtloß gemacht, daß ich mich gar nur mit der größten Ängstlichkeit u. Befangenheit I.H.K. nähern konnte, Von Mödling aus bis an das Ende meines dasigen Auftenthaltes[7] gieng es mir meiner Gesundheit zwar beßer, aber wie viele andere Leiden trafen mich, manches befindet sich unterdeßen in meinem schreibpulte, wo ich das Andenken an I.H.H. bezeugen kann, u. ich hoffe dieses alles in einer beßeren Lage auszuführen -- der Erlaß I.K.H., daß ich kommen sollte, u. wieder, daß I.K.H. mir dieses sagen würden laßen wann?[8] wußte ich nicht zu deuten, denn Hofmann war ich nie bin es auch nicht, u. werde es auch nie seyn können, u. ich komme mir hier gerade vor als, wie Sir Davison in Marie Stuart, als die Königin E.[lisabeth] das Todesurtheil in seine Hände übergibt,[9] ich wünsche, daß Ich, daß ich zu meinem Gnädigsten Herrn kommen darf, wie ehmals, Gott kennt mein innres, u. wie der schein auch gegen mich vieleicht ist, so wird sich einmal alles für mich aufklären, -- der Tag, wo eih Hochamt Von mir zu den Feyerlichkeiten für I.K.H. soll aufgeführt werden,[10] wird für mich der schönste meines Lebens seyn, u. Gott wird mich erleuchten, daß meine schwachen Kräfte zur Verherrlichung dieses Feyerlichen Tages beytragen. --

   Es folgen nebst tiefster Danksagung die Sonaten[11], nur fehlt das Violonzell noch glaube ich, welche Stimme ich nicht gleich gefunden habe, da der Stich schön ist, so habe ich mir die Freyheit genommen, ein gestochenes Exemplar nebest einem Violinqui[n]tett bey zu legen.[12] -- Zuden 2 Stücke[n] von meiner Handschrift an I.K.H. Namenstag geschrieben sind noch 2 andere gekommen, wovon das letztere ein großes Fugato, so daß es eine große Sonate aus macht, welche nun bald erscheinen wird, u. schon lange aus meinem Herzen I.K.H. ganz zugedacht ist,[13] hieran ist das neueste Ereigniß I.K.H. nicht im mindesten schuld.

   Indem ich um Verzeihung meines schreibens bitte, flehe ich den Herrn an, daß Reichlich seine Segnungen auf das Haupt I.K.H. herabflößen, der neue Beruf I.K.H. der so sehr die Liebe der Menschen umfaßt, ist wohl einer der schönsten, u. hierin werden I.K.H. Weltlich oder geistlich immer das schönste Muster seyn. --

Ihro Kaiserliche Hoheit gehorsamst teuer Diener

                                                                                Ludwig van Beethowen

am 3-ten Merz 1819"

                                                                    "[Vienna, March 3, 1819]

Your Imperial Highness!

   On the day on which Y.I.H. most graciously summoned me, I was not at home, and right afterwards, I was beset by a strong cold, so that I approach Y.I.H., lying in bed, in writing -- What amount ever of congratulations will have poured in at your resident, my most gracious Lord, I only know too well that this new honor [1] has not been accepted on the part of Y.I.H. without sacrifices, however, I think of what expanded area of influence has been opened up to You and to Your great, noble intention(s), and therefore, Y.I.H., I can not do otherwise but add my congratulations to the rest of them, there is hardly any good -- without sacrifice and it is mostly the nobler, better man who appears to be destined for it than others, so that his virtue will be tested. --   

              Fiery                                     [2]

              (Note Sample)

              Ful - fil - ment    Ful - fil - ment

I would like to sing from my heart, would only Y.I.H. be quite restored, again, but the new sphere of influence, the changes, later travels, can certainly restore the invaluable health of Y.I.H. in the best way, very soon, and then, I want to execute the above theme, with a vigorous A---men or Hallelujah,-- As far as the masterful Variations of Y.I.H. are concerned, [3] I have recently sent them for copying,[4] and some smaller transgressions have been noted by me,[5] but I have to call out to my sublime student: "La Musica merita d'esser studiata"--with such beautiful talents and really rich inventiveness, Y.I.H., it would be a pity not to advance to the Castalian source, yourself, wherefore I offer myself as his accompaniment, as soon as the time of Y.I.H. will allow it.  Y.I.H. can become a creator in two ways, both to the fortune and advantage of many men but also for himself, musical creator and benefactor of men, that has still seldom been met in the world of today's monarchs. --   and now of me -- I certainly require the most gracious lenience--here, I am attaching 2 pieces on which is written that I had already written them before the Name Day of Y.I.H., last year, [6] but dismay and many sad circumstances my ill health of that time had made me so discouraged that I could only approach Y.I.H. with the greatest shyness and reservation, From Mödling to the end of my stay here[7] my health was somewhat better, but how many other sufferings I have been confronted with, meanwhile, many things are in my desk with which I can attest to my memory of Y.I.H. and I hope that in a better position I will be able to carry it all out -- the Decree of Y.I.H. that I should come and again, that Y.I.H. would have that told to me and when?[8] I was not able to interpret, since I never was a courtier and I am also not courtier, and will also never be able to be one, and I imagine myself in the very same position as Sir Davison in Marie Stuart when Queen E.[lizabeth] hands over the death warrant into his hands,[9] I would wish that I, that I could come to my most Gracious Lord, as before, God knows my innermost, and as much as appearances might perhaps be against me, everything will be cleared up in my favor, some time,-- the day on which a High Mass by me will be performed on the occasion of the Celebration of Y.I.H.,[10] for me, it will be the most beautiful day of my life, and God will enlighten me, so that my weak powers will contribute to the glorification of this solemn day. --  

   Next to my deepest expression of gratitude there follow the Sonatas[11], only the Violoncello, as I believe, is still missing, which part I was not able to find, right away, since the etching is beautiful, I have taken the liberty of attaching an etched sample in addition to a Violinquintet.[12[ -- To the 2 pieces from my hand that had been writen on the Name Day of Y.I.H., two more have been added, of which the last is a great Fugato, so that it makes up a great sonata, which will be published, very soon, and which, in my heart, had been entirely destined for Y.I.H.,[13] and with respect to this, the latest event of Y.I.H. is not to be blamed for, in the least.  

   In begging forgiveness for my writing, I pray to the Lord that His blessings will flow down upon the head of Y.I.H. in rich measure, the new calling of Y.I.H. that encompasses the love of man to such a great degree, is certainly one of the most beautiful, and in this, Y.I.H., both wordly and spiritually, will always be the most beautiful example. -- 

Your Imperial Highness' most devoted, faithful servant 

                                                                                Ludwig van Beethowen

on the 3-rd of March 1819"

[Quoted and translated from:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 4, Letter no. 1292, p. 245-247]

[The original is an autogtraph in 2 double sheets with 7 pages that have been written on, and the first double sheet is located in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the Institute for Russian Literature, Pushkin House, the second double sheet is located at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, while the last part of the second double sheet, that has been cut off and that shows the signature and the date, is located at the Austrian National Library in Vienna; to [1]: refers to the Archduke's appoinment as Cardinal of Olmütz; to [2]: refers to WoO 205e, to [3]: refers to 40 Variations for Piano on a Theme by Beethoven, composed in 1818; to [4]: refers to the copy that Beethoven had Wenzel Schlemmer make of the Archduke's Variations; to [5]: refers to the fact that both autographs by the Archduke's hand show numerous corrections by Beethoven; to [6]: refers to the 1st and 2nd movement of Op. 106; to [7]: refers to Beethoven's 1818 stay in Mödling from May - October; to [8]: refers to a possible strict admonition of Beethoven by the Archduke's office, which has not been preserved; to [9]: refers to Friedrich Schiller, Maria Stuart, Act IV, Scene 11; to [10]: refers to Op. 123, the Missa Solemnis, which, however, was only completed in 1822; to [11]: refers to a copy of the two Cello Sonatas, Op. 102, that Beethoven had lent to the Archduke for a brief period of time; to [12]: might refer to Beethoven's adding to his letter the copies of Op. 102 and O. 104 that Artaria had printed in January and February of 1819; to [13]: refers to the Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106, which was published by Artaria in September, 1819, with a dedication to the Archduke; details taken from p. 247].

 

While, with respect to the English publication of this work, we have a great deal of correspondence between Beethoven and Ries at our disposal, the 'closeness' of Beethoven's Viennese publisher Artaria provides us with less written background material.  With respect to this, Thayer (p. 714) reports that Beethoven sold this sonata to Artaria for 100 ducats, that Artaria sent the corrections to Beethoven on July 24, 1819, and that Artaria announced this work as follows, on September 15, 1819:

"Now we shall put aside all the usual eulogies which would be superfluous anyway for the admirers of Beethoven's high artistic talent, thereby meeting the composer's wishes at the same time; we note only in a few lines that this work, which excels above all other creations of this master not only through its most rich and grand fantasy but also in regard to artistic perfection and sustained style, will mark a new period in Beethoven's pianoforte works" (Thayer: 714).   

As Thayer further reports, it was published with a French and with a German Title:  

"Grosse Sonate für das Hammerklavier Seiner Kais: Königl. Hoheit und Eminenz, dem Durchlauchtigsten Hochwürdigsten Herrn Herrn Erzherzog Rudolph, von Österreich Cardinal und Erzbischoff von Olmütz, etc. etc., etc., in tiefster Ehrfurcht gewidmet von Ludwig van Beethoven, Op. 106" (Thayer: 714; --

-- "Great Sonata for the Hammerklavier  Dedicated to His Imperial Highness and Eminence, the Most Gracious, Most Reverend Archduke Rudolph of Austria and Cardinal and Archbishop of Olmütz, etc., etc., etc., in deepest reverence by Ludwig van Beethoven, Op. 106").

 



Op. 106 - Title Page



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

 

Hier wenden wir uns an die zwei Beethovenforscher- und Biographen   Kinderman und Cooper:   

"As he began work on the largest of his piano sonatas, the mammoth work in B-flat, op. 106, Beethoven was virtually stone deaf; the first of his conversation notebooks, in which visitors and friends wrote down their comments to him, date from this period.  Yet Beethoven's inward powers of imagination now gained new strength, as the great sonata abundantly reveals.  The name 'Hammerklavier' reflects Beethoven's concern at this time to use German terms in music in place of Italian ones; the word was originally also associated with op. 101 but came to be linked specifically with op. 106.  The Hammerklavier Sonata is but the first of a series of works that includes Beethoven's most monumental achievements in several other important musical genres:  the Diabelli Variations, the Missa solemnis, and the Ninth Symphony.  The Sonata became his major compositional preoccupation in late 1817 and throughout 1818.  Beethoven himself claimed that op. 106 was 'a sonata that will give pianists something to do' and that it would 'be played 50 years hence'--a fairly accurate prediction since, apart from Liszt and von Bülow, few pianists tackled the immense challenges of this great sonata before the last decades of the nineteenth century.

The op. 106 Sonata offers unusual challenges not only to pianists but to all listeners.  It was this work in particular that provoked a crisis in the reception of his music.  The notion of Beethoven's later music as inaccessible, too difficult, or even incomprehensible arose particularly in reaction to pieces like the fugal finales of op. 106 and of the quartet op. 130 in its original version--the Grosse Fuge.  Beethoven was fully aware that he had broken new ground with the Hammerklavier and succeeding works, and he expressed resentment about what he saw as undeserved enthusiasm for certain of his earlier pieces, such as the popular Septet op. 20.  The significance of the Hammerklavier was not lost on some of Beethoven's friends; a conversation-book entry from late 1819 records that Zmeskall 'listens to no music apart from op. 106'(17; Ludwig van Beethovens Konversationshefte, i, p. 92) Not surprisingly, other listeners took a contrary view.  One reviewer wrote about the Septet in 1826, for instance, that 'It is strange, that Beethoven declared precisely this work to be one of his least successful.  For even if the dimensions are somewhat broad, it is infinitely richer in true beauty than many of his later works, for instance, the big sonata, op. 106'.(18 Cited in Kunze, ed., Ludwig van Beethoven:  Die Werke im Spiegel seiner Zeit, p. 21)  

The Hammerklavier Sonata is concerned with much more than mere beauty; it is profoundly shaped by forces of conflict and tension.  An extraordinary role is assumed in each movement in B minor--a tonality Beethoven once described as a 'black key'.  B minor functions in the Hammerklavier like a focus of negative energy pitted against the B-flat major tonic, creating a dramatic opposition with far-reaching consequences.  In the first movement this generates an important climax after the beginning of the recapitulation, an event deeply anchored in the musical structure. The melodic detail and the harmonic and tonal progressions of op. 106 mirror one another with uncanny precision, often elaborating chains of falling thirds, as Charles Rosen has pointed out.(19 The Classical Style, pp. 404-34; also Ratz, Einführung, pp. 201-41).  The opening chordal fanfares triumphantly spell out the descending thirds D-B-flat and F-D; the G major theme beginning the second subject-group brings graceful falling thirds in a smooth legato figuration; and the powerful fugal development elaborates the descending thirds relentlessly, periodically substituting rising sixths (their inversion) in order to maintain a stability of register within the extended chains of thirds.

On the larger, architectural level of the tonal structure, Beethoven develops the same relationships based on descending thirds.  Beginning at the abbreviated restatement of the opening fanfare, he modules from B-flat major to B major, whereas the fugal development begins with another conspicuous tonal drop of a third, to E-flat.  Then, instead of preparing the recapitulation with the usual dominant key, F major, he continues the series of descending thirds by modulating to B major (enharmonically equivalent to C-flat major) for the last section of the development.  The shift to B-flat major at the recapitulation is abrupt, undermining the reassertion of the tonic, and he soon makes yet another change of key down a third, to G-flat.  He now seized upon the enharmonic equivalence of G-flat to F# to expose the opening fanfare of the movement in the remote, yet rigorously prepared key of B minor, climactically destabilizing the B-flat major tonic while opening a rift into the 'black key'.

Never before had Beethoven achieved such close coordination between motivic and harmonic detail, tonal structure, and formal shape.  We have noted various passages in earlier works in which he turns a melodic inflection into a pivotal structural gesture; the shift from B to B-flat at the end of the slow movement of the Emperor Concerto is one such example.  In the Hammerklavier Sonata this practice is taken to a new stage.  The difference is perhaps best illustrated though a comparison with Beethoven's previous compositions that exploit the same motivic relationships that are so prominent in the Hammerklavier:  the semitone from the Neapolitan B to the tonic B-flat, and the related semitone above the dominant, G-flat-F, in the key of B-flat major.

As we have seen, it is especially characteristic for Beethoven to emphasize dramatically the semitones above the tonic and dominant in his F minor works:  the Quartet op. 95 and the Appassionata Sonata spring to mind.  The Appassionata goes furthest towards 'composing out' this relationship on the various possible levels of structure:  Beethoven distils the D-flat-C tension as a motto within the main theme, places the lyrical second theme in the key of D-flat major in the development, and has the entire slow movement in this key as well.  These interlocking levels of structure contribute to the quality of gigantic simplicity in the Appassionata, as well as to its expressive force.

In the Hammerklavier Sonata the semitone tension is more deeply and pervasively lodged in the msuical substance.  Beethoven does not employ a motivic tag or motto here, as he does in the Appassionata Sonata.  Instead, as Rosen observes, he allows the same relationships that are highlighted in the large-scale tonal structure to invest the harmonic texture of individual themes.  The G-flat-F semitone is emphasized in the bass line of the polyphonic continuation to the opening theme, after the majestic opening fanfares.  A striking phrase in the second subject-group in G stresses the corresponding relationship E-flat-D and each time supplies the alternative, E-natural (major)-D major, in a higher register.  In the next few bars Beethoven transfers this tension between E-flat and E-natural (major) into the bass progression B-E-C(subscript #-D-E-flat and develops it in turn in a series of sequences.  The theme that follows, marked cantabile dolce ed espressivo, is similarly poised between the major and minor.  Beethoven repeatedly supplies both the minor (B-flat) and major (B-natural (major) thirds in its melodic structure, and, although the major tonic triad retains primacy, the balancing presence of the minor is reflected in his very consistent use of the lowered sixth degree, E-flat instead of E-natural (major).

In this context Beethoven's stroke of substituting B-flat for B in the first-time bar leading back from the end of the exposition to its repetition carries special conviction.  When the exposition is repeated, in the second-time bar, the B-flat is superseded by B-natural (major) which carries the music into the development.  elements of the minor are structurally assimilated into the basic tonality of the Hammerklavier Sonata, as part of the pervasive emphasis on third relationships.  Nowhere in the opening Allegro is this modal tension involving a rising semitone more conspicuous than in the final section of the development leading to the recapitulation.  The long fugal passage in E-flat shows a gradual broadening in harmonic rhythm, until the music dwells on repeated Ds in both hands.  Here, the energy of the descending third chain shifts from a harmonic to a tonal level, as Beethoven recalls the cantabile theme in B, a key enharmonically a third below E-flat and Neapolitan to B-flat, the tonic.

At this transitional moment the melodic semitone tension is between D and D(subscript #), the minor and major third degrees of B; in the fifth bar of the cantabile, marked espressivo, and again two bars later, Beethoven restates this semitone, whereas the following decorated variant in eighth-noted expresses the tension as D(subscript #) against Cx. The rising linear motion is developed by Beethoven in the passage leading to the recapitulation.  The bars immediately before the reprise are a foreshortening of the preceding music and incorporate the chromatic ascending motion derived from the cantabile theme.  This relationship supports a reading of A instead of A(subscript #) at the famous disputed passage beginning at the upbeat, two bars before the recapitulation.  The first edition (Plates 14 and 15) contained no natural signs here to cancel the A(subscript #), but that was presumably an error (there are numerous other mistakes and omissions on the same page).  The autograph score is not extant, but a sketch implies the accuracy of A-? as Nottebohm pointed out.(20 A thorough discussion of this sketch and other issues beaing on the disputed passage is in Badura-Skoda, 'noch einmal zur Frage Ais oder A in der Hammerklaviersonate Opus 106 von Beethoven', pp. 53-81)  If the passage is played as originally printed, the shift from G(subscript #) to A(subscript #) as the lowest notes in these sequences causes the music to avoid the dominant triad altogether, not only weakening the harmonic preparation for the reprise but breaking the ascent by semitone to the tonic note B-flat, a progression implied by the intrinsic logic of the musical structure.

Beethoven underscores the importance of the cantabile theme by recalling it once more at the beginning of his coda.  Here, a slow trill on the semitone C-flat-B-flat, enharmonically equivalent to B-B-flat, is at first combined with the theme; moments later, this new reflection of the work's central harmonic tension is resolved by a double trill in the inner voices on C-natural (major)-B-flat.  Still, the corresponding semitone tension on the dominant, G-flat-F, darkens most of the remainder of the coda.  These tensions prove too powerful to be resolved in the first movement; they spill over every movement of this enormous work.

The following scherzo is a humorous yet dark parody of the opening Allegro, transforming the motivic material based on thirds.  A sardonic dimension surfaces here in the presto passage connecting the B-flat minor trio to the repetition of the scherzo, and again, more tellingly, in the closing moments of this Assai vivace.  Characteristic of the scherzo is a tendency for its phrases to close softly on the tell-tale B-natural (major).  The drift towards B undercuts the tonic B-flat octaves that closed the first scherzo section and might otherwise have closed the entire movement.  What follows is an eerie disruption of the tonal equilibrium, as the music lingers in the 'wrong' tonality of B minor, even venturing a 'distorted' version of the opening motif in that key.  Only through a tremendous exercise of will does Beethoven bring these subversive forces under control, as 18 repeated double octaves build in a furious crescendo to a brief closing restoration of the tonic B-flat major.

The two mysterious octaves on A and C(subscript #) that open the following slow movement were an afterthought by Beethoven, added just before the sonata was printed.  The added bar acts like a pedestal, setting the ensuing music into relief.  But the A also captures the descending linear energy from the end of the scherzo, carrying the B-B-flat progression one step further, to A, before a change of key casts this pitch into a new perspective.

The great Adagio sostenuto that follows is the longest slow movement in Beethoven, an immense sonata form, described by von Lenz as 'a mausoleum of collective suffering of the world'.(21 Kritischer Katalog sämtlicher Werke Ludwig van Beethovens mit Analysen derselben, iv, p. 41) Its key, F(subscript #) minor, is enharmonically a third belof B-flat, poised between the overall tonic of the work and the focus of contrary forces in B minor.  The opening section in F(subscript #) minor contains two themes, the first of which is played with the left pedal (una corda) throughout, its sombre restraint brightened intermittently by fleeting lyrical glimpses of the Neapolitan G major in the higher pitch registers.  In the second theme the left pedal is lifted, yielding a more direct sound quality, as a passionately inward expression is rendered in intricate melodic decoration of the melody.  Only now, after 40 bars, does the music change key to D major (a third lower), opening up new, more hopeful regions of feeling in a theme whose phrases are first sounded in the cavernous bass register before being echoed four octaves higher in the treble.  A return to muffled una corda inflections eventually leads to the cadence of the exposition in a passage of vast contemplative stillness.

In the development Beethoven dwells on the opening theme and the juxtaposition of una corda and tutte le corde, while a long series of harmonic sequences based on descending thirds eventually converges onto the recapitulation.  The music seems at once suspended in a flux.  The recapitulation is no more symmetrical return, but a profound reinterpretation of the opening theme, which is 'composed out' into moving thirty-second-note figuration in the right hand, balanced against deep chordal pedal points in the bass.  But if the recapitulation brings the inner climax of the Adagio sostenuto, the outward, dramatic climax is reserved for the coda.  Here the theme characterized by vast registral echoes returns in G major, and Beethoven incorporates a rising bass progression bringing the music for once a third higher, to B minor.  A series of high, climactic repeated F(subscript #)s follows; after this dramatic outbreak, the return of a curtailed from of the opening una corda theme has the effect of deep resignation.  Yet there, for the first time, the theme is conclusively resolved into F(subscript #) major, with the major third, A(subscript #) (enharmonically equivalent to B-flat), prominently doubled in the inner voices in the final bars.

The ensuing slow introduction to the finale begins with the drop of a semitone, as F is sounded across all the pitch registers.  Beethoven now distils the intervallic basis of the of the whole sonata, reducing the music to a fundamental, underlying level of content consisting solely of the chain of falling thirds in the bass, accompanied by soft, hesitant chords in the treble.  This chain of thirds is interrupted three times by brief glimpses of other music, and the last of these evocations is obviously Bachian in character.  As in the transition to the choral finale in the Ninth Symphony there is thus a search towards new compositional possibilities, with the clear implication here that Baroque counterpoint is transcended by the creation of a new contrapuntal idiom embodied in the revolutionary fugal finale of the sonata.

No less fascinating is the manner in which Beethoven seems to derive elements of the fugal finale from this Largo introduction.  Following the Bachian 'quotation', he repeats the searching unison octaves across all the pitch registers, now in A instead of F; the head of the fugue subject employs precisely these pitches, F and A, to span a rising tenth--an interval reminiscent at the same time of the initial upbeat in the first movement.  Another, more obvious foreshadowing of the finale is rhythmic in nature.  After the strangely still and expressively blank chain of falling thirds, Beethoven introduces an astonishing rhythmic intensification and acceleration of fortissimoI and prestissimo in the final moments of the introduction, before a ritardando and harmonic pivot from A to F lead into the Allegro risoluto.

Beethoven described the fugue as 'con alcune licenze', but it is exhaustive in its contrapuntal resources.  Most of the seven main sections of the finale unfold like fugal variations on the main subject, which is worked out in rhythmic augmentation (section 2), retrograde motion (section 3), and inversion (section 4).  The subject bears an audible resemblance to the beginning of the sharp profile of sequences outlining falling thirds lend themselves particularly well to contrapuntal processes.  Even the most abstract thematic transformation--the retrograde version, played in reverse, or Krebsgang--can be readily recognized through the rhythm and placement of repeated notes.

This section in retrograde with its implied negation of the theme, as well as the sublime interlude heard later in D major, raise fundamental aesthetic issues.  The smooth, somewhat faceless cantabile of the retrograde section and its tonality (B minor!) set it apart from the remainder of the movement.  By reversing the pattern of thematic unfolding Beethoven seems almost to annul time, opening a dimension apart from the main action.  The role of B minor as a focus of negative energy receives its ultimate embodiment in this passage, though one, to be sure, that depends vitally on an understanding of the structural operations in the music and not merely on a response to the outward expressive effect.

By contrast, the D major episode, played una corda, is wholly positive in character and akin to Beethoven's setting of 'in nomine Domini' in the Benedictus of the Missa solemnis, as Uhde observed.(22 Beethovens Klaviermusik, iii, p. 457)  As a still oasis amid the harsh brilliance and rhythmic fury that generally characterize the finale, the D major interlude creates an even greater contrast than the B minor episode in retrograde.  Yet both contrasting modalities are but stages within a larger process, and exert little lasting influence on the final sections of the movement.

The fugue of the Hammerklavier seems not to affirm a higher, more perfect or serene world of eternal harmonies, as in Bach's works, but to confront an open universe.  Beethoven utilizes an initially abstract, retrograde rhythm to generate a vigorous, propulsive forward momentum in the transition to the fourth section, when this figure is juxtaposed with the original subject in inversion.  And the wonderful transition from the sublime D major interlude to the penultimate section is like an awakening from a dream.  As Uhde pointed out, there is no deus ex machina in the Hammerklavier finale.  "Man thinks", but whether "God guides" is left open, not denied, but also not affirmed here'.(23 Ibid, p. 464)  

A relevant mythic analogy to the Hammerklavier Sonata may be Prometheus, the legend that gripped Beethoven more than any other and became an inspiring force for the Eroica Symphony, as we have seen.  Of possible significance are certain motivic parallels between op. 106 and the Eroica--the trio of the scherzo in the sonata sounds much like a minor-mode variant of the opening of the symphony.  Prometheus was, of course, condemned to suffering in reprisal for his gift to humankind of knowledge and art.  Like the Eroica, yet even more profoundly, the Hammerklavier Sonata implies an analogous narrative progression of heroic struggle and suffering, leading to a rebirth of creative possibilities.  After the purgatorial Adagio sostenuto, the return of vital forces in the slow introduction to the finale, and the fiery defiance of expression in the fugue itself, embody one of beethoven's most radical artistic statements, a piece of 'new music' among the most uncompromising ever written" (Kinderman: 201-210).

"The sonata is the first manifestation of a new feature in Beethoven's late style--one which may be termed gigantism.  Just as, in 1803, he had begun composing on an enlarged scale after the crisis at Heiligenstadt, with works such as the Eroica and the 'Waldstein' Sonata, so now in 1818 the scale was enlarged again, resulting in a series of works of unprecedented proportions--the 'Hammerklavier', the Ninth Symphony, the Diabelli Variations and the Missa solemnis--all begun within quite a short space of time.  Beethoven's prolonged lay-off from composition, his enhanced awareness of the greatness of the created universe and its Creator, and a repetition of his 1803 desire to extend the scope of his own creations, may be suggested as possible causes for this new approach, in which his thoughts operated on an expanded plane, not just in terms of length of composition but in several other dimensions.  Thus the 'Hammerklavier' was designed to be grander, more elaborate and more imposing than any previous sonata, bar none; Czerny reports that Beethoven actually told him, while the work was in progress, 'I am writing a sonata now which is going to be my greatest'.(3: Czerny, Proper Performance, 10)  Its unprecedented length is combined with such features as extraordinary power and complexity, and a vast tonal range in which practically every key-signature from six flats to six sharps is used.

The power of the sonata is evident right from the start, where the first three sounds combine to form a gigantic fortissimo chord spanning over four octaves, followed by a suggestion of the rhythm 'Vivat vivat Rudolphus' . . .  The initial left-hand leap--two octaves plus major 34d--has thematic significance for all four movements.  Nevertheless, it is the concept of chains of falling 3rds that provides much of the underlying melodic and harmonic structure of each movement, helping to bind the work into a unified whole.  Descending 3rds even provide much of the tonal architecture of the work:  the second subject, for example, is in G major, a 3rd below the tonic, rather than in F, and the key of the slow movement is a major 3rd below the original tonic, though it is notated as F sharp minor.  The second movement, a scherzo, is relatively brief, but the ensuing slow movement is Beethoven's longest--a huge sonata form with extended coda.  It is also one of his most highly emotional, marked 'Appassionato e con molto sentimento', and its deeply anguished lyricism derives from the same world as the Cavatina in the String Quartet, Op. 130.  The first subject is in a regular sixteen-bar structure, with the second half then repeated and extended before being broken off by a sudden rest (bar 27).  The transition, unusually, is equally lyrical, consisting of an almost operatic, Italianite melody with some highly ornate decoration.  The second subject is in D (another example of a descending 3rd), and contains dialogue for the right hand between registers a full four octaves apart, while the left hand plays a quiet accompaniment in the middle.  During the first theme there is much emphasis on the chord of G major, the flattened supertonic, which greatly intensifies the mood of profound tragedy, the second subject eventually reappears in this key in an extended coda, before the music returns to F sharp, with fragments of both the transition theme and the first subject.

The finale begins with a slow introduction in which metre is temporarily abandoned, evoking a sense of timelessness.  Beethoven instructs the performer to count in semiquavers, but much of the introduction is written without bar-lines, so that the enormous first 'bar' lasts for thirty-five semiquavers (excluding pauses), and the second is even longer.  The main movement, following the example of Beethoven's last cello sonata, is a fugue, but 'with some licenses', including not beginning the fugue theme itself until the sixth bar of the Allegro risoluto.  The theme starts with a large leap, reminiscent of that at the start of the sonata, and is enormously long, generating a massive fugue that incorporates traditional contrapuntal devices including augmentation (bars 84 ff.), retrograde (bars 143 ff.) and inversion (bars 198 ff.).  In none of these variants does the theme flow as naturally as in its original form, and the sense of conflict is thus heightened--particularly in the augmentation, where because of the triple metre the accentuation is distorted, and in the retrograde, where the runs have a disconcerting tendency to halt on weak semiquavers, resulting in further rhythmic disruption.  At bar 240 a new theme in contrasting style is introduced; this is then combined in counterpoint with the original fugue theme, following the example of some of Bach's fugues.  It is the main theme, however, that predominates towards the end--especially its trill, which is developed as an important motif during much of the movement (one of many examples where Beethoven uses an ornamental device motivically), and is eventually stretched into enormous trills lasting several bars (bars 359-70).  In every way, this work is a giant among sonatas  (Cooper: 260-263 ).  

 

AKTIVE MUSIKKRITIKER UND FEUILETTONISTEN

Here, we should immediately proceed to relating Joachim Kaiser's comments: 

He calls this the greatest sonata of music history and, as Alfred Brendel wrote,  >>Nach Umfang und Anlage geht die Hammerklaviersonate weit über alles hinaus, was auf dem Gebiet der Sonatenkomposition jemals gewagt und bewältigt wurde<< (Brendel expresses here that, as to its volume and compositional design, this sonata goes beyond everything that has ever been dared and accomplished in the field of piano sonata composition).

Kaiser writes that, when Beethoven composed this work, a time of crisis lay behind him and that from these crisis years, we have all the more personal and diary notes of his.  He then refers to the material biography by Jean and Brigitte Massin, >Beethoven< (the German edition of which appeared in 1970 at Kindler in Munich and the French edition in 1967, by Artheme Fayard, Paris), who point out that there could exist a relationship between this large amount of personal records and his slower compositional output. 

After this crisis, continues Kaiser, Beethoven composed his Hammerklavier-Sonata and that it is not one of many works that were written at the same time, but a total summation of that which he had experienced, suffered, learned.  

However, writes Kaiser, this sonata can also be understood as a beginning, as it appears to him that this sonata gave the composer courage for his greatest works, as, from then on, except during the last few months of his life, Beethoven exclusively worked on gigantic works:  the Diabelli Variations, the Missa Solemnis, the Ninth Symphony, his last Piano Sonata and Quartets.  After 1818, writes Kaiser, the composer, who was plagued by illnesses and outer misfortunes, was never without gigantic, ambitious projects.  >>Hätte ich nur den tausendsten Teil Ihrer Kraft und Fertigkeit<<, (>>If I had only one thousandth of your strenth and skill<< is what Grillparzer was supposed to have said in his conversation with the revered Beethoven that was 21 years his senior.

Despair, plans for flight, deathly fear, but also a clear awareness of his own mastership, artistic self-confidence and a grandiose will for self-preservation went into the Hammerklavier Sonata, continues Kaiser.  

>>Ein Bauerngut, dann entfliehst du deinem Elend!<< [>>a small farm in the country side, then you will escape your misery!<<] is what Beethoven reportedly noted in his diary in 1816 --  as if, writes Kaiser, the work of a farmer would have managed to prevent or >>cure<< him from the pain of writing the f-sharp-minor Adagio.  [Kaiser refers to Richard Wagner who, during the time of writing his opera >>Tristan<<, planned a cold-water-treatment.]  Kaiser also refers to Beethoven's writing on a sketch of the Scherzo of this sonata,  >>Ein kleines Hauss allda so klein, daß man allein nur ein wenig Raum hat . . .  Sehnsucht oder Verlangen -- Befreiung oder Erfüllung<< (a small house, so small, that alone, one has very little room . . . longing or desire -- liberation or fulfillment<<, and he refers to Beethoven's despair during the years of 1816 - 1817, when he wrote to Nanette Streicher, that Besserung [betterment, improvement], to the composer, would look like this:  >>Ich sage Ihnen nur, daß es mir besser geht; ich habe zwar diese Nacht öfters an meinen Tod gedacht, unterdessen sind mir diese Gedanken im Tage auch nicht fremd.<< [>>I only tell you that I am better; still, this night I have often thought of my death, meanwhile, these thoughts are also not alien to me during the day<<].  He also mentions Beethoven's lines o f August 21, 1817, to Zmeskall,  >>Mit Bedauern vernehme ich Ihren kränklichen Zusstand -- was micht angeht, so bin ich oft in Verzweiflung u. möchte mein Leben endigen.  Gott erbarme sich meiner, ich betrachte mich so gut wie verlohren. . . . << [>>With regret I learned of your ill health -- as far as I am concerned, I am often in despair and want to end my life.  God have mercy on me, I consider myself as good as lost. . . .<<].

Yet, continues Kaiser, Beethoven's self confidence, his proud ability to use his mind without the advice of others -- even against all outside convictions or expectations -- was not shattered by ailments, aggravation and despair, and at the end of 1816, as Kaiser writes, Beethoven noted:  >>Nur in den seltensten Fällen andrer Menschen Rat folgen: in einer Sache, die schon überdacht ist, wem können alle Umstände so gegenwärtig sein als jemandem selbst?!<< [<<Only in the rarest of cases, follow the advice of others:  in a matter that has already been reflected on, to whom can all circumstances be as present as to oneself?!<<].  Kaiser then rereports that Alexander Thayer related the often-quoted reply that Beethoven is supposed to have given to an admirer of his Septet (Opus 20):  >>Ich wußte in jenen Tagen nicht zu komponieren.  Jetzt, denke ich, weiß ich es.<< [>>In those days I did not know how to compose.  Now, I think, I know it.<<], and, as Thayer continues, >>Bei dieser oder einer ähnlichen Gelegenheit sagte er: >jetzt schreibe ich etwas Besseres<[>>at this or another similar occasion he said, >>now I write something better<<, and soon thereafter, continues Kaiser, the Piano Sonata in B-Major, Op. 106, was published. . . . 

Kaiser then comments that Beethoven also made comments with respect to the >>daring aspects<< of this sonata, and the first, general statement, in his opinion a grandiose, courageous artist's statement, was, >>Die Grenzen sind noch nicht gezogen, die sich dem Talent und dem Fleiß entgegenstellen, indem sie erklären: bis hierher und nicht weiter<< [..the boundaries have not been drawn up, yet, that confront talent and diligence, in that they would declare: up to here and no further<<], while, as Kaiser states, the publisher Artaria would hear from Beethoven, >>Da haben Sie eine Sonate, die den Pianisten zu schaffen machen wird, die man in fünfzig Jahren spielen wird<< [>>there you have a sonata that will give pianists some trouble and that one will play in fifty years<<, what Kaiser considers even an understatement since, even today >>one<<, among pianists, the Hammerklavier Sonata is still not something matter-of-course, but still something extraordinary that can only be approximated . . .  

Dire situations, writes Kaiser, not only provoked Beethoven's bravery, but also his wit, so that, even in the midst of the most pressing private trouble (while he worked on the so supremely written Allegro movements of this sonata), he wrote to his helper in need, Nanette Streicher, >>Ja, wohl ist diese ganze Haushaltung noch ohne Haltung und sieht einem Allegro di Confusione ganz ähnlich<< [>>Yes, this household still does not hold up, yet, and is more like an Allegro di Confusione<<].  When he then, continues Kaiser, sent to his faithful student Ries in London >>die Tempos der Sonate<< [the tempi of the sonata] including the first bar of the Adagio that was to be inserted, delayed for months, he would ask Ries, disarmingly cheerful, >>Verzeihen Sie die Konfusionen.  Wenn Sie meine Lage kennten, würden Sie sich nicht darüber wundern, vielmehr über das, was ich hierbei noch leiste<< [>>forgive the confusion.  If you would know my situation, you would not be surprised about it, but rather about that, what I can still do in the midst of it<<].  Yet, continues Kaiser, Beethoven also summarized bitterly,   >>Die Sonate ist in drangvollen Umständen geschrieben; denn es ist hart, beinahe um des Brotes zu schreiben; so weit habe ich es nun gebracht!>> [>>The sonata has been written in dire circumstances, for it is hard to almost write for your bread, thus far I have come, in the meantime!<<].  (Kaiser: 502-504).

Kaiser's "Introduction" to the Introduction of his discussion of this sonata is so filled with sensitive understanding for the composer, that the featuring here of the description of its musical contents that follows would almost appear >>disruptive<< here.  Therefore, let us leave that part to Anton Kuerti, in our next section.   

 


ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS

The active pianist Anton Kuerti provides us with the following overview:  

In his introductory remarks, Kuerti describes this sonata as the longest, richest and perhaps greatest of Beethoven's 32 Piano Sonatas, and, continues Kuerti, no other sonata can match the heroic ecstasy of its first movement, or the depth and the pain that finds expression in the Adagio, or in the dizzying complexity of the last fugue movement.   This sonata, writes Kuerti, leads the instrument and the interpreter to the outermost boundaries of their capabilities--and perhaps even beyond . . . 

Kuerti then briefly discusses the German term "Hammerklavier", but he also points out that, ironically, an English piano, the Broadwood Piano that Beethoven had received from London, would have been closer in doing justice to this challenge.  . . .   

Kuerti states that, with respect to appropriate tempi, the choice of the pianist, with respect to this sonata, is not a clear matter, since this is the only sonata for which Beethoven provided metronome markings.  As Kuerti writes, some interpreters try to follow these, however, this appears to him as if one were to try to play the 'Minute Waltz' in precisely 60 seconds, as the music simply does not want to move along as fast, and as it is impossible to hear the wonderful details . . . 

Allegro

In the introductory Allegro, writes Kuerti, the thundering introductory theme collects all forces at its disposal for this heroic epos.  It main characteristic, continues Kuerti, is a daring ascending leap, followed by a "heralding" rhtym, after which the music becomes exquisitely contrapuntal, and the utterly chromatic nature of the line lends all a wonderfully expressive power, and almost Chopin-like arabesques jump up and down with such emphasized chromaticism that here, the borderline between beauty and cruelty is reached. . . .  

The development, writes Kuerti, is characterized by a fugue-style treatment of the main motif, and few passages in music equal the ecstatic fire of this polyphonous feast, each voice is driven very independently and by overwhelming expressive force.  After the recapitulation (14), continues Kuerti, a brief coda (15) surrealistically reflects the main subject.  

Scherzo: Assai vivace

Kuerti finds it remarkable that Beethoven's longest slow movement contains one of his briefest Scherzos and states that this motif is related to the subject of the first movement.  . .  .   Up to the Trio of this Scherzo (16), nothing in this sonata could be viewed as bizarre, and only in the Trio, writes Kuerti, such things are introduced, and the music takes on a frightening, supernatural character and a wild cadenza brings us back to a lightly changed version of the main part of the Scherzo whose slightly nervous good-natured character seems to negate all undercurrents of the Trio.  The movement ends in a 6-4 chord, which Kuerti describes as perhaps the first time that a movement does not end in the tonic, in the bass.  

Adagio sostenuto

Kuerti describes the incomparable Adagio as one of the longest slow movements that exist, yet, it does not appear as long, since it appears to suspend time and almost negate its existence.  The main subject, continues Kuerti, moves in the F-sharp-Major range, with such lonely sorrow and grief, that almost appears frozen and thereby tangible.  In the midst of this loneliness, there appears a small ray of hope, writes Kuerti, when the music briefly moves towards G-Major, in a heavenly manner.  In the transitional scheme, writes Kuerti, the lonely mood is suspended, and in doing so, Beethoven creates one of the most impressive contrasts in his piano works:  the sound becomes brilliant, they rhythm begins to flow, and the melody rises up and pulsates with a very effective spontaneity.   

Compared to the grandiose proportions of the movement, the development is surprisingly brief and mainly consists of a long series of strongly emphasized descending thirds, continues Kuerti.  However, writes Kuerti, in the recapitulation, the main subject is so richly decorated with improvising 'embroidery', that it appears as if it was a continuation of the development and its own introduction, what Kuerti describes as bold and utterly necessary, here.   

Here, states Kuerti, the first subject bids us farewell with a long  ritardando and decrescendo, and the second theme moves towards F-sharp-Major, which changes the meaning of the entire movement, when the 'frozen' impression of the F-sharp-minor introduction finally appears to thaw.   

Just then, when one would assume that the music moves toward the end of this movement, Beethoven, writes Kuerti, appears to say that he wants to say everything once more, yet in another manner.  One is almost tempted to become impatient here, since this action can hardly be drawn out any further, unless it has something essentially new to offer, which it then actually does.  Only here, continues Kuerti, Beethoven first takes up the calm second theme and fills it with unrest and uproar, which leads to a painful climax, and after a brief, quiet repetition of the main subject, Beethoven inserts seven additional bars that are not thematically related to anything else in the work, which, however, conclude this movement in a noble manner.  Kuerti states that this might, perhaps, be the greatest moment in this sonata.  

Largo; Allegro risoluto

After this extraordinary Adagio, the change in mood, continues Kuerti, has to occur very softly in order not to confront the listener too abruptly with the dizzying fugue.  Here, very subtly, a breathtaking improvisation sets in . . .  

Various distant keys are tried out, writes Kuerti, first softly, then brusquely, and finally obstinately.  Soon, a new pattern develops, very mysteriously and rhythmically eccentric.  It sounds, states Kuerti, like a ticking bomb that will explode soon and will release all suppressed energy in the great fugue.  

Kuerti describes the fugue as one of the most complicated and dissonant pieces of music that were written in the 19th century, obsessed by demons, obstinately pursuing certain motifs, a prime example of Beethoven's obsession, and the force that is raging here, continues Kuerti, is hardly bearable, except that it is combined with expressive warmth in the utterly contrapuntal lines.  This combination is calming and moving at the same time, states Kuerti.  

The fugue subject, states Kuerti, contains three of Beethoven's favorite elements:  a large leap, a trill and scale-like passages, and he points towards two potential sources of confusion that could undermine the recognition of the re-occurrence of the subject.  One of these sources is the fact that the subject is not as long as it appears, since its last measures are only an 'appendix', which heightens the drama of the appearance of the second voice.  The other source, continues Kuerti, is Beethoven's constant use of the initial leaps and trill, quiste aside from its repetition in the theme; these fragments, states Kuerti, contribute a great deal to ensure continuity, but they also tend to mask the real appearances of the subject, of which there are amazingly few, only ten, regardless of the changed appearances and the stretto appearances which Kuerti mentions subsequently.  

In the course of this sonata, writes Kuerti, Beethoven presents us with an entire catalogue of contrapuntal techniques that can change a fugue subject, beginning with the enlargement of the time values, which means that the length of each note is doubled.  Kuerti describes this effect as difficult and awkward, just as if something is worked on on an anvil.  A second of these appearances begins, yet, is dropped again, and the music again dissolves in an avalanche of trills.    

The next technique, writes Kuerti, is "retrograde", whereby the first notes of the themes become the last notes, and the last notes the first notes (as in heaven, Kuerti asks).  While this, continues Kuerti, might be plausible in other worlds, in music, there is no logical possibility of reversing the direction of time, except one were to play a tape backwards.   

This problem, continues Kuerti, is best illustrated by the question as to how one can play a single note "backwards"? One would have to begin with the end of the note and end with its beginning, not an easy task!  Kuerti admits that this question and its theoretical answer might be described as pedantry, except if one considers that the rhythmic position depends solely on its beginning! . . .   

The next technique, continues Kuerti, is inversion that one can easily recognize by the fact that the trill leaps down to the theme instead of up.  Now, writes Kuerti, we reach one of the most exciting moments of this work:  for almost an entire page of the score, almost every measure has a trill, which leads to an almost apocalyptic battle of leaps and trills that are hurled like lightning, followed by a grandiose A-Major cadenza.  

Almost the entire fugue is anrily marked with f or ff, writes Kuerti, with numerous sforzatos, but here, we enjoy a moving moment, a soft, tender oasis, a little fugue, in itself (37).  While this miniature fugue flows on, the main subject is quietly re-introduced (38).  However, as Kuerti writes, ultimately the lamb can not survive next to the lion and, instead of being devoured by it, it takes on the character of its suppressor (which also happens none too seldom in history); within a few measures, writes Kuerti, this previously soft theme sounds as loudly in the bass  as it can (39), which Kuerti describes as a wonderful dramatic transformation.  

The last technique that we are encountering, continues Kuerti, is "stretto", whereby two entries of the subject overlap and the second begins only one or two measures after the first (40).  This increases the tension greatly, continues Kuerti, and we can feel that we are close to the end in this movement.  Two further normal entries, of which the last is the highest in the piece, and we find ourselves in a descending cadenza in the tonic, followed by a fantasy-like coda, in which arpeggios, leaps and trills abound until they lose their fiery energy and slowly dissipate.   

A few notes of the main theme, concludes Kuerti, are able to revive the dying colossos, and with superhuman effort, it regains its stormy force, repeats the initial leap and trill obstinately, until both of this becomes unbearable and the music defiantly moves towards the end.   (Kuerti: 48-52).

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:


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