Classical Music | Piano Music

Ludwig van Beethoven

Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, "Appassionata"  Play

Luca Buratto Piano

Recorded on 12/14/2016, uploaded on 07/04/2017

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

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 period.


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.     Joseph DuBose



Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata” (25’)                                  Beethoven


The fraught agenda of Beethoven's 'Appassionata' is evident from the very first phrase and its revolutionary aspects are perhaps not so surprising when you think that it was written between the Third and Fifth Symphonies. Beethoven had recently taken delivery of an Érard piano and among its attributes was an extended range that went down to a bottom F—a note that features in the very first phrase of this sonata.  


There's tremendous economy in the way the material is used, the simplest of ideas attaining extraordinary potency. We hear this right at the outset: an arpeggio, pianissimo, the hands two octaves apart, is repeated a semitone higher. This semitonal relationship proves to be very important, not least in the 'fate' motif (the four-note rhythmic motif that was to find fame in the Fifth Symphony) that answers the opening phrases; vital, too, is Beethoven's exploitation of extremes in dynamics and textures. The tautness of the writing is such that even the second theme, in the major, echoes the rhythm of the opening arpeggio. From these few elements Beethoven builds a movement of tremendous power and momentum, the mood of savage terror maintained right up to the hectic coda, which sinks back into the abyss, landing once more on that low F, pianissimo.


Balm comes from the unflappable Andante con moto. In a radiant D-flat major, its sonorous chordal sequence forms the basis for four variations in which the note values get progressively smaller (at least until the final variation), giving the sense of increased momentum without actually changing the tempo. This movement leads straight into the finale, and we're thrown back into the tumult and angst of the Allegro assai with a whirling moto perpetuo that is again all about extremes—of dynamic, register and tempo—and which culminates in a coruscating Presto coda.               Notes by Harriet Smith