BEETHOVEN'S PIANO SONATAS
N0. 16, 17 AND 18, OP. 31
CREATION HISTORY






Heiligenstadt

INTRODUCTION

"Was ist überhaupt den Sonaten Opus 31 gemeinsam und was an ihnen neu?  Unabweisbar, wenn auch schwer beweisbar, legen sie den Eindruck nahe, indirekt und direkt etwas vorzuführen, etwas im Schilde zu führen.  Sie scheinen mehr als nur strömender oder improvisatorischer oder passionierter oder stimmungshafter Ausdruck zu sein, sie demonstrieren auch etwas.  Sie wirken, wie auf ein Ziel hin angelegt, auf die Entfaltung eines jeweils bestimmten Problems hin entworfen, wollen offenbar hinaus über bloß unmittelbar >>Charakteristisches<< -- worunter die Musik-Ästhetik der Beethoven-Zeit musikalischen Ausdruck verstand, modifiziert >>einmal durch den Gang und die Bewegung der Töne, und dann durch die Tonart<<", writes Joachim Kaiser (p. 290-291) in his introduction to these sonatas (he is asking what these three sonatas have in common and what is new in them and writes that they create the impression that they are, directly and indirectly, wnat to show us something and that they, although this is difficult to prove, might have "something up their sleeves", and that they appear to be more than merely streaming, improvisatory, passionate, or moody expression, thus, that they also demonstrate something. They appear, continues Kaiser, to be designed to strive towards a goal, towards the unfolding of certain problems, that they want to move beyond the immanently >>characteristic<<--which is what the musical aesthetics of Beethoven's days considered >>musical expression<<, or, to put it in a different way, >>once through the scale and the movement of the tones, and then through the key<<).

Might this have something to do with Beetoven's intention to "walk a new path"?  Perhaps, "our" music critics will provide an answer to that, while we should, first, turn to establishing a time frame for the creation of these works.  

 

ON THEIR CREATION

In this context, Thayer points towards two sketchbooks: first, in connection with the two first sonatas, Op. 31, No. 1 and No. 2:  

"Of the three Piano Sonatas, Op. 31 (G major, D minor, E-flat major), there are sketches for the first two in the Kessler sketchbook, which establishes their dates of origin as 1801-1802 " (Thayer: 318).

Perhaps, here, we can mention that this is the time between Beethoven's writing of his second letter to his friend Wegeler in the Rhineland (in which he reports to him about his 'progress' with respect to his hearing loss, but also about his acquaintance with a 'dear, enchanting girl'), thus November 1801, and his writing of his "Heiligenstadt Will" in the fall of 1802.  

What about the time frame for the creation of the third sonata, Op. 31, No. 3?  Thayer reports as this about it: 

"The third is sketched in the opening pages of the Wielhorsky sketchbook, and may be dated early 1802.  It is noteworthy that none of the three bears a dedication" (Thayer: 318).

Thus, Beethoven worked on these sonatas mainly during the winter of 1801/1802.  More information with respect to his general life circumstances during this period can be found in the appropriate section of our Biographical Pages.

 

ON THEIR PUBLICATION

As already quoted above, these sonatas did not receive a dedication.  Might there, however, have been a commission?  With respect to this, Barry Cooper writes:  

"Work on the two sets, however, was interrupted by a communication from the Swiss firm of Nägeli in Zurich, requesting three new sonatas for their series Repertoire des Clavecinistes" (Cooper: 116).

  


According to Cooper (p. 116)  Beethoven's brother Carl who assisted him during this time as his private secretary, is supposed to have suggested 100 ducats as a fee for these sonatas, what Nägeli reportedly accepted; as is further reported, Carl then tried to sell these works to a Leipzig publisher, for a higher price, what Beethoven refused, however.   With respect to this Thayer, relying on Ferdinand Ries and his Erinnerungen, reports:    

" .  .   .  There were frequent exchanges of words between the brothers on this account because Beethoven, having given his word, wanted to keep it.  When the sonatas (the first two) were about to be sent away Beethoven was living in Heiligenstadt.  During a walk new quarrels arose between the brothers, and finally they came to blows.  The next day he gave me the sonatas to send straight to Zurich, and a letter to his brother enclosed in another to Stephan von Breuning, who was to read it.  A prettier lesson could scarcely have been read by anybody with a good heart than Beethoven read his brother on the subject of his conduct the day before.  He first pointed it out in its true and contemptible character, then he forgave him everything, but predicted a bad future for him unless he mended his ways.  The letter which he wrote to Breuning was also very beautiful" (Thayer: 318).

As Thayer (p. 318) writes, these three sonatas where then published by Nägeli in Volume 5 of the "Repertoire", in the spring of 1803.  

 

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 Thayer has Ries continue his report as follows: 

"When the proof-sheets(27 Kinsky-Halm points out (KHV, p. 79) that Ries was in error in calling these copies "proof-sheets" as shown by a letter from Carl Caspar to Breitkopf and Härtel dated May 21, 1803: " . . .  Please do me the favor in the meanwhile of announcing in your newspaper that the Sonatas by Beethoven, which have just been published in Zurich, have been sent out by mistake without correction and thus there are still many errors therein. . . .") came I found Beethoven writing.  'Play the Sonata through,' he said to me, remaining seated at his writing-desk.  There was an unusual number of errors in the proofs, which fact already made Beethoven impatient.  At the end of the first Allegro in the Sonata in G major, however, Nägeli had introduced four measures--after the fourth measure of the last hold: (Note sample) ... When I played this Beethoven jumped up in a rage, came running to me, half pushed me away from the pianoforte, shouting: 'Where the devil do you find that?'  One can scarcely imagine his amazement and rage when he saw the printed notes.  I received the commission to make a record of all the errors and at once to send the sonatas to Simrock in Bonn, who was to make a reprint and call it Edition tres correcte.  This indication may still be found on the title page.  These extra four measures have been added in some other subsequent editions.  Here belong the following notes from Beethoven to me:

1. 'Be good enough to make a note of the errors and send a record of them at once to Simrock, with the request that he publish it soon--the day after tomorrow I will send him the sonata and the concerto.'

2.  'I must ask you again to do the disagreeable work of making a clear copy of the errors in the Zurich sonatas and sending it to Simrock; you will find the list of the errors at my house in the Wieden.'

3. 'Dear Ries! . . . Not only are the expression marks poorly indicated but there are also false notes in several places--therefore be careful!--or the work will again be in vain. Ch'a detto l'amato bene?"

The closing words of the second note show that the matter was not brought to an end until late in the spring of 1803, after Beethoven had removed into the theatre buildings An-der-Wien"(28; Although Schikaneder had moved from the Theater-an-der-Wieden to the Theater-an-der-Wien in 1801, the old name seems to have been still used through force of habit." (Thayer: 318-319).

 

In his description of these events, Cooper (p. 127-128) does not directly discuss Kinsky-Halm's remark, however, he discusses various possibilities for the "insertion" of the four bars by Nägeli:  

"Perhaps Nägeli composed these bars in a misguided attempt to balance the phrase structure.  More probably,  Beethoven's manuscript was unclear at this point--the sketches show some indecision in this section and do not contain the final version, with or without the four spurious bars.  It seems likely, then, that Beethoven wrote these bars before cancelling them, and that Nägeli misread the manuscript" (Cooper: 127).

Cooper then points out that Breitkopf and Härtel did not publish the requested announcement in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung that the sonatas that were published in Zurich had erroneously been sent out without correction so that they still showed  many errors and that Simrock's "Edition tres Correcte" subsequent edition still continued one or the other mistake that Ries and Beethoven had overlooked.  

With respect to the Nägeli editions, Thayer lists the first two sonatas as having been published in 1803 (p. 343) and the third as having been published in 1804 (p. 362).

With respect to Beethoven's intention of "walking a new path", Cooper still points out the following:  

"The new attitude is also reflected in a letter dated 23 November 1802 from Carl to the publisher Johann Andre, who like other publishers had applied to Beethoven for new compositions:

If you should want three pianoforte sonatas, I could provide them for no less than 900 florins, all according to Vienna standard, and you could not have these all at once, but one every five or six weeks, because my brother does not trouble himself much with such trifles any longer and composes only oratorios, operas etc." (Cooper: 122;).

Before we move on to our sections on the music criticism of these works, in conclusion, we still want to acquaint you with Thayer's further report:  

"After the Sonatas became known in Vienna, Dolezalek asked Beethoven if a certain passage in the D minor Sonata was correct. "Certainly it is correct," replied the composer, "but you are a countryman of Krumpholz--nothing will go into that Bohemian head or yours" (Thayer: 318).