Title Page of Opus 10
(the appropriate passage from the score is featured here)
In order to approach the--in the humble opinion of this website writer--multi-faceted topic of these three works, we might best start by establishing a time frame for their creation.
With respect to this, Thayer refers to Nottebohm, first with respect to Op. 10, No. 1:
"Sketches for the first movement of the first Sonata are mixed with sketches for the soprano air for Umlauf's Schusterin which have been attributed to 1796, and the Variations for three Wind-Instruments which were played in 1797" (Thayer: 213),
and secondly, with respect to Op. 10, No. 3:
"Sketches for the third Sonata are found among notes for the Sextet for Wind-Instruments (composed about 1796) and also for the Concerto in C minor, which, therefore, was begun thus early, and for one of the seven country dances which appeared in 1799, or perhaps earlier. The sketches for the last movement of No. 3 are associated alone with sketches for a cadenza of the C major Concerto which Beethoven played in Prague in 1798, and may therefore be placed in this year" (Thayer: 213).
Therefore, both Thayer and we can conclude from this that:
"The sketching for them had begun in 1796, as appears from Nottebohm's statement, and Beethoven worked on the three simultaneously. . . . It follows that the three sonatas were developed gradually in 1796 - 98, and completed in 1798" (Thayer: 213).
Barry Cooper has this to say with respect to the time frame of the creation of these sonatas:
"The three Piano Sonatas, Op. 10 were probably begun as early as 1795, but the set took a long time to complete and was overtaken by both Op. 7 and the two Op. 49 Sonatas, with most of the sketching apparently being done in 1797" (Cooper: 73).
All of this, as with Op. 7, refers us to the period that spans from the end of 1796 to the beginning of 1798, a period in which Beethoven would enjoy and return from his journeys to Prague and Berlin and Pressburg of the year 1796, followed by his returning to work in Vienna, in the fall of 1796, and which also saw, on the one hand, his early successes as a young composer and piano virtuoso and, on the other hand, the possibility of the onset of his hearing loss.
Thayer provides us with further details with respect to Beethoven's sketches to these sonatas and also with respect to Beethoven's handwriteen notes in other sketches:
"From the sketches and the accompanying memoranda (14: among the sketches for the second movement of the Quintet, Op. 16, Beethoven wrote: "For the new sonatas very short minuets. The Presto remains for that in C minor." And in another sketch he writes: "Intermezzo for the sonata in C minor."--Nottebohm, ff Beeth., 32, 479) we learn, furthermore, that for the first Sonata, which now has three movements, a fourth, an Intermezzo, was planned on which Beethoven several times made a beginning but permitted to fall. Two of these movements became known afterwards as "Bagatelles." (15) We learn also that the last movement of the first Sonata, and the second movement of the second, were originally laid out on a larger scale" Thayer: 213).
After we have, on the one hand, arrived at a time frame for the compostion of these works, and, on the other hand, have briefly touched the topic of Beethoven's life circumstances of this period, we should turn to details with respect to the publication of these works, with respect to which Thayer reports the following:
"Eder, the publisher, opened a subscription for them by an advertisement in the Wiener Zeitung, July 5, 1798" (Thayer: 213).
Who did Beethoven dedicate these works to? Perhaps, Maynard Solomon can provide us with an answer:
"The Count von Browne-Camus, descended from an old Irish family, was in the Russian Imperial Service at Vienna. Though extremely wealthy from landholdings in Livonia, he squandered his income, as did many others of Beethoven's patrons. His generosity toward Beethoven between 1797-98 and 1803 was rewarded by Beethoven's dedication to him of the String Trios, op. 9 (which Beethoven referred to in 1798 as "la meilleure des [mes] oeuvres"), the Sonata in B-flat major, op. 22, and the six Gellert Lieder, op. 48. In addition, Beethoven dedicated to the Countess Browne the three Sonatas, op. 10, and the Variations for Piano on a Russian Dance, WoO 71. In his dedication of the String Trios, Beethoven called Browne "the foremost Maecenas of my muse" (Solomon: 61).
Since we already know from our Biographical Pages that during this period, Beethoven could already count on Prince Lichnowsky and Baron van Swieten as patrons, his dedications to a further patron points to the fact that at this time, he was already very successful as a composer. Alo Barry Cooper confirms this as follows: "By now he had become so successful as a composer that most of his works were being written in response to commissions" (Cooper: 72).
Contemporary Criticism of these Sonatas
Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that on October 9, 1799, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Leipzig, in spite of all still existing reservations, evaluated these works not entirely unfriendly:
"Trois Sonates pour le Clavecin ou Pianoforte, comp. et dediee a Mad. la Comtesse de Browne nee de Vietinghoff par Louis van Beethoven. Oeuv. 10. a Vienne chez Jos. Eder. (3 Fl. 30 Xr.)
It can not be denied that Mr. v. B. is a man of genius who has originality and who certainly goes his own way. Moreover, his unusual thoroughness in the higher art of writing and his own, extraordinary power on the instrument for which he writes, secure him the rank of one of the best composers of piano music and of one of the best pianists of our time. However, his wealth of ideas, which his rising genius can usually not let go as soon as it gets hold of a topic it considers worthy of elaborating on, often causes him to pile thoughts and ideas upon each other in wild fashion and to, at times, group them in a somewhat bizarre manner in such a way that through it, not very seldom, a dark artificiality is produced that lends itself rather to the disadvantage than to the advantage of the whole. Imagination, such as B e e t h o v e n has it in a not common fashion, and that supported by such thorough knowledge, is something very valuable and actually something indispensable for a composer who feels in himself the calling to becoming a great artist and who refuses to write superficial and overly popular works but who, rather, wants to create something that has a strong inner life and that would even invite the connoisseur to play it more often. Alas, in all forms of art, there can occur an over-burdening that is caused by an urge to create a certain effect too often and also by an urge to display learnedness, as much as there is a kind of clarity and grace that, in spite of all thoroughness and variety of composition (this word is to be taken in its general artistic meaning) that can certainly hold its own. Rev., who, after having become more accustomed to Hr. v. B e e t h o v e n 's manner, is beginning to value him more than in the beginning, can, therefore, not refrain from expressing the wish--and the work at hand which is much clearer and also more beautiful than other sonatas and piano works by him, although it is not missing anything in thoroughness, reaffirms this wish in him, all the more--that it may please this imaginative and inventive composer, to always let himself be guided by a certain economy in his works, which is always more satisfactory than the opposite. There are few artists to whom one has to call out: use your treasures more sparingly and economically!, for, not many of them have an over-abundance of ideas and a skill of combining them! Therefore, this is less meant as direct criticism addressed at Hr. v. B., but rather as a well-meaning encouragement that, if it admonishes, on the one hand, also contains something honorable, on the other hand.
As already indicated, this tenth collection, to the rev., appears to be worthy of much praise. Good invention, serious, manly style (which, as far as the emotional basis is concerned, has some similarity to the emotional character expressed in Phil. Em. Bach's works, if one disregards the peculiar mannerisms of the day which is evading Bach's chopped style to a great degree), ideas that are well-connected, in an orderly fashion, in each part, a well-maintained character, difficulties that are not carried to the extreme, an entertaining management of harmony--raise these sonatas above many. However, Hr. v. B. has to take care to avoid his, in part, too free writing style, the occurrence of unprepared intervals and his often harsh transitory notes (as, for example, on p. 3 and 43, which only a fast pace can make bearable), and he also should see to it that his movements do not, at times, remind one of organ works.
However, the rev. wants to point out a beautiful idea that is contained in this work which has brought him a great deal of joy. After the bass, in the last, very unique Rondo, has brilliantly accompanied a bound passage with sixteenths, this passage arrives in the seventh of A. The bass takes up the echo of the previous phrase, canonically,
(the appropriate passage from the score is featured here)
and now, the following important harmony is carried out in syncopated movement, briefly, quietly and very pleasantly: (for clarity, the C (Major) key is listed here)
after which the finale is carried out with a somewhat rough force, in sixteenths, in chromatic style, down and up, and in other figures, while the bass still remains with the previous, short phrases with which the rondo began."
With this, our consideration and discussion of the creation of these works and of their reception during Beethoven's lifetime ends.
General Criticism of these Sonatas
Before we discuss the musical content of each sonata on a separate web page, we want to provide you with some general comments by Beethoven researchers and biographers, and that in chronological order of the publication date of the works from which these comments have been taken:
"The first two of the set of three Sonatas, op. 10, are filled with imaginative ideas, but are overshadowed by the particularly important third sonata (also designated "Grande" by the composer), with its eloquent and sombre Largo e mesto, which forecasts the disintegrating passage at the close of the Eroica funeral march" (Solomon: 104 - 105).
" . . . But many other aspects of his art can be properly appreciated only in the broader context of an entire piece or opus. To that end, we turn for an example to the remarkable trilogy of piano sonatas in C minor, F major, and D major that Beethoven published three years later, in 1798, as op. 10.
The sharply profiled individuality of the op. 10 sonatas nevertheless admits some common features among them, such as the presence of comic music abounding in sudden contrasts and unexpected turns. A whimsical, unpredictable humour surfaces in the finales of all three pieces, and most strikingly in the opening Allegro of the second sonata, in F major. The sonatas are nonetheless admirably contrasted in character, particularly in their first movements: the terse, dramatic idiom of the C minor Sonata sets into relief the relaxed, mischievous spirit of the F major, whereas the dynamic brilliance of the third sonata, in D major, expands the formal design from within. Like Beethoven's four earlier sonatas, op. 10 no. 3 also has four movements, incorporating a minuet before the finale. The first two sonatas of op. 10 employ the more usual Classical design of three movements, with a slower movement sandwiched between an opening Allegro and a finale in a still faster tempo.
Op. 10 no. 1 marks the appearance in the piano sonatas of Beethoven's celebrated 'C minor mood', the tempestuous, strife-ridden character reflected in pieces such as the string trio op. 9 no. 3, the Pathethique Sonata, the Fifth Symphony, and the very last sonata, op. 111. This idiom was forged by Bach. Mozart's piano works in this key, such as the Sonata K457 and the Concerto K491, particularly impressed Beethoven: he reportedly commented to J.B. Cramer about the concerto that 'we shall never be able to do anything like that!" The rhetorical contrasts of these works often juxtapose a forceful, dramatic expression invested with rhythmic tension and dissonance on the one hand, with the emergence of a plaintive or lyrical voice on the other. Mozart's C minor pieces, such as K491, frequently project a sense of fatalistic resignation that arises through the objective, even impersonal character of their pathetic chromaticism, implying a subordination of subjectivity to objectivity; Beethoven, by contrast, tends to subsume such contrasts into an all-encompassing subjective dynamic" (Kinderman: 36 - 37).
"When writing a set of three works Beethoven customarily chose contrasting keys, and normally ones he had not recently used in the genre. Accordingly he chose C minor, F major, and D major for Op. 10, none of which he had previously used for a piano sonata. Having used a gradually increasing size in his previous piano sonatas, he at last reined back the expansion, especially in the first two of Op. 10, which have only three movements. The finale of No. 1 is particularly concise, with an extremely short development section and a compressed energy and intensity that foreshadow the first movement of the Fifth Symphony. The movement ends with leanings towards the subdominant that leaves it sounding strangely inconclusive, with the final C major chord suggesting it might be the dominant of F rather than a true tonic. This sense is confirmed when No. 2 is played immediately afterwards, for it provides a perfect sequel to No. 1. Thus Beethoven is here exploring the concept of the hyper-work, where not only a movement but now a whole sonata is related to something outside itself, while being fully self-contained. He could not, of course, repeat the same trick between No. 2 and No. 3, but instead he foreshadowed the D major tonic of No. 3 by using this key prominently in both the first and last movements of No. 2. The three sonatas therefore form a triptych, thoroughly contrasted in character yet integrated by subtle interrelationships, with No. 3 forming a satisfying culmination by being the longest and most sophisticated in the set" (Cooper: 73 - 74).