Recorded on 10/14/2009, uploaded on 01/17/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Beethoven's thirty-two piano sonatas make full
use of the improving technology of the piano, with its wider range and
possibilities of dynamic contrast. The sonatas also present an interesting set
of variations, with the best-known works having earned themselves affectionate
nicknames, such as the Appassionata, Op. 57. Beethoven considered this work to
be among his best piano sonatas. Its nick-name, although not chosen by the composer,
is an apt one, as this is one of the most passionate and fiery sonatas of the
cycle. The Appassionata was completed in 1805 and published two years later. As with many of Beethoven's piano works, this
sonata provides a fertile source for imaginative speculation about grim specters,
heartfelt emotions, storms of passion, and ominous threats of Fate. Musically,
the first movement allows a full exploration of the resources of the keyboard.
It is followed by the kind of slower melody which reaches for the highest
levels of longing. Beethoven works this
melody into a number of variations which transition directly into the third
movement, introduced by fiercely repeated chords. The
movement climaxes with a faster coda introducing a new theme which in turn
leads into an extended final cadence as the sonata comes to its seemingly tragic
conclusion. Alon Goldstein
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No. 23
in F minor "Appassionata"
The Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, commonly known as the Appassionata,
is considered to be one of the three great piano sonatas of Beethoven's middle
period. The sonata was composed during 1803-05, published in 1807 and dedicated
to Count Franz von Brunswick. The name Appassionata was, like many of
his other sonatas, not given to the work by Beethoven himself. It was actually the
publisher of a four-hand edition that gave the Piano Sonata No. 23 the name it
is most known by today.
Beethoven himself described the work as his most tempestuous
piano sonata prior to the colossal Hammerklavier Sonata composed in
1817-1818. In 1802, Beethoven wrote the famous Heiligenstadt Testament, a
letter of despair to his brothers over his increasing deafness. Beethoven,
however, came to terms with his ailment and determined to fulfill his artistic
destiny no matter his physical circumstances. The compositions that immediately
followed this event include the epic Eroica Symphony, as well as the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas. These works not only mark the beginning of
Beethoven's mature compositions but also herald the forthcoming Romantic
The entire sonata is pervaded by the use of Neapolitan harmonies
(a major triad a half-step above the tonic), a compositional trait it shares
with Johannes Brahms' Piano Quintet in the same key. Immediately following the
initial statement of the first movement's principal theme, it is repeated in
the foreign key of G flat major, being the Neapolitan key to the tonic of F
minor. The movement is another example of Beethoven's expansive sonata forms.
Like the Waldstein before it, the
coda is quite extensive.
The slow movement begins in the key of D flat major, being the
dominant key of G flat major and in a Neapolitan relationship to C, the
dominant of F minor. The theme of the second movement is austere to say the
least, consisting almost entirely of common chords. Yet, what beauty and
ornaments Beethoven is able to bestow upon such a crude theme in the following
variations! Four variations follow the theme, the last of which is a
restatement of the theme itself in different registers of the piano. It
concludes deceptively on a diminished 7th chord that serves as a transition
to the finale.
Like the first movement, the finale makes significant use of
Neapolitan harmonies. It begins with an almost restrained energy with driving
scales and arpeggios in the right hand accompanying a rhythmically volatile
motif in the left. The energy of the finale is unrelenting, pausing only
briefly during the written-out cadenzas and even increases at the faster tempo
coda. Donald Tovey remarked that the Appassionata is one of the few
examples in Beethoven's sonatas that end in tragedy.
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