PIANO SONATA N0. 12, OP. 26
The Hetzendorf Palais
This sonata provides us with an opportunity to consider a wide stretch of Beethoven's life, from the time of its creation and beyond, while our look at its musical content again attempts to feature varied opinions. With all of this, we wish you a great deal of reading enjoyment.
With respect to the time frame of the creation of this work, we should mainly turn to Cooper, since Thayer only notes that:
"Among the compositions completed in 1801 were the Sonatas for Pianoforte and Violin, Op. 23 and 24; the Pianoforte Sonatas in A-flat, Op. 26; E-flat, Op. 27, No. 1; and C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2; and D major, Op. 28 . . . " (Thayer: 296).
"The compositions for the year were: . . . 1801 . . . Sonata for Pianoforte, Op. 26" (Thayer: 298).
Cooper (p.106), on the other hand, provides us with more details which we summarize as follows:
1. Beethoven had begun to draft his first sketches of this sonata already before his composition of his tte seine ersten Entwürfe zu dieser Sonate bereits vor der Komposition des Prometheus ballet;
2. The title above the first draft (with respect to this, Cooper refers to Landsberg 7, p. 56), 'Sonate pour M.--' might point to the possibility that this work had been commissioned by someone whose name was not referred to, in full;
3. This sketch, according to Cooper, consisted of a first movement with variations, a minuet or march, followed by a movement in 2/4 time, with running sixteenth;
4. Overall, however, Beethoven's progress with this work is hard to follow in the year 1801, since the sketch book of this time, the so-called Sauer sketchbook, has only been preserved in fragments;
5. Cooper considers it possible, however, that Beethoven worked on the piano sonatas of the year 1801 that also Thayer refers to in the order of their Opus numbers, and that mainly after his completion of the Prometheus, and that this work stretched over the summer.
When we turn back to Thayer, we can, already from his listing of Beethoven residences and summer residences, on p. 1109, discern that during the summer of the year 1801, Beethoven stayed in Hetzendorf.
The relevant section of our Biographical Pages discusses Beethoven's correspondence of this summer with his friends Carl Friedrich Amenda in Courland and Franz Gerhard Wegeler in the Rhineland, whom we wrote about his loss of hearing and asked them to keep this information confidential. In the case of Wegeler, he even asked his friend to keep this information from his bride, Eleonore von Breuning. Those of you who want to trace this information again, will find it in our Biographical Pages.
ON ITS DEDICATION AND PUBLICATION
While Thayer (p. 323) reports that this work was published by Cappi in Vienna, in 1802, Maynard Solomon mentions that "in return for his patronage, Lichnowsky received the dedications . . . of the Sonata, op. 26" (p. 61).
Here, we also want to refer to
Beethoven's letter to Wegeler of June 29, 1801, in which he wrote:
". . . . von meiner Lage willst Du was wissen, nun, sie wäre eben so schlecht nicht, seit vorigem Jahr hat mir Lichnowski (2), der, so unglaublich es dir auch ist, wenn ich dir sage, immer mein wärmster Freund war und geblieben, (kleine Mißhelligkeiten gab's ja auch unter uns), (und haben nicht eben diese unsere Freundschaft mehr befestigt?) eine sichere Summe von 600 fl. ausgeworfen, die ich, so lang ich keine für mich passende Anstellung finde, ziehen kann . . . " ( . . . you want to know something of my situation, well, it is not that bad, at all, since last year, Lichnowski, who, as incredible as it may be to you, when I tell you, has always been and remained my warmest friend, (little misunderstandings also occured between us), (and have they not solidified our friendship even more?) has set out a secure some of 600 fl. for me that I can draw as long as I don't find a suitable position for me)(Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 1, Letter 65, p. 78-81; to (2): refers to Prince Lichnowsky, detail taken from p. 81).
From Volume 1 of the Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe (Letter no. 93, p. 113) can still be derived that on June 19, 1802, Hoffmeister and Kühnel wrote from Leipzig to their Vienna office, Hoffmeister & Comp., mainly with respect to the fact that he would receive his Septet within a week, and as a consolation prize they offered him a 'gute Auflage von Op. 26 en Comis. Bur. de Mus.' (a good edition of Op. 26 by commision from the Bureau de Mus.), which means that Hoffmeister in Leipzig re-printed this Sonata due to a commission by the 'Bureau de Musique' in Vienna).
ON THE FURTHER FATE OF THIS SONATA DURING BEETHOVEN'S LIFE TIME -- AND SHORTLY THEREAFTER
After having taken a look at the creation, dedication and publication of this work, we are still not quite ready to move on to its musical content, since we still have a few further reports to discuss.
Both Maynard Solomon (p. 226) and Barry Cooper (p. 234-235) point out that, at the beginning of 1815, during the Congress of Vienna, Beethoven wrote one last work for this political event with his music to Friedrich Duncker's tragedy, Leonore Prohaska. (As Cooper relates, Duncker arrived in Vienna as part of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. of Prussia's delegation). According to Cooper, this work consists of three short pieces and an orchestra version of the funeral march from Op. 26 that was transposed into b-flat minor. However, as Solomon reports, this work was not staged since difficulties arose with the censorship authorities.
Solomon offers us a further interesting detail:
"Of course, public performances were not a wholly accurate index of a composer's popularity, for public concerts featuring solo keyboard and chamber music were then in their infancy. Such music was usually performed in salons and at private concerts. Thus it is not really surprising that there were only two known public performances of Beethoven piano sonatas during his lifetime--of opus 90 or opus 101 in Vienna in 1816 and of the Funeral March Sonata, op. 26, in Boston in 1819.(8; Newman, Sonata in the Classic Era, p. 528, citing Schindler Biographie (1860), I, 240; H. Earle Johnson, Musical Interludes in Boston, 1795 - 1830 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1943), p. 144; see Hanslick, Geschichte, p. 278).
This report on the 1819 Boston performance of this sonata is what we can offer you with respect to its further fate during Beethoven's life time.
The last section of our Biographical Pages also deals with Beethoven's funeral that took place on March 29, 1827. With respect to it, Thayer reports:
"When the procession turned into the Alsergasse [into the direction of the Dreifaltigkeitskirche der Minoriten [Holy Trinity Church of the Minorites] in the Alsergasse], a brass band played the 'Marcia funebre' from Op. 26'" (Thayer: 1054).
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
Here, we turn again to the three Beethoven researchers Solomon, Kindkerman and Cooper. In his biography, Solomon comments on this work here and there, as follows:
"The death of the hero--a theme which was to become a prime component of Beethoven's musical vocabulary--was central to the subject matter of Revolutionary music. This theme, which we will meet in the slow movement of the Piano Sonata, op. 26 (Funeral March on the Death of a Hero); Christ on the Mount of Olives, op. 85; the Eroica Sympony ("Composed to Celebrate the Memory of a Great Man"); Fidelio; and the Incidental Music to Goethe's Egmont, makes its first major appearance in Beethoven's funeral cantata" (Solomon: 51).
"Meanwhile, in slow movements of sonata-cycle works such as the Trio, op. 1 no. 3; the String Quartet, op. 18 no. 5; the Septet, op. 20; the Sonata, op. 14 no. 2; and the first movement of the Sonata, op. 26, Beethoven was progressing from the external variation manner to more complex and imaginative principles of variation technique" (Solomon: 98).
"With the next group of sonatas, opus 26 (Funeral March) and opus 27 nos. 1 and 2 (Moonlight), Beethoven appeared to take leave of the traditional sonata-cycle form in favor of a more flexible construction--the "fantasy sonata"--which permitted the freer expression of improvisatory ideas and displaced the climax of the cycle to the final movement" (Solomon: 105).
"The influence of French Revolutionary music upon Beethoven was no secret to his contemporaries and early admirers. . . . He documents the clear use of French material in such works as Beethoven's First, Fifth, and Seventh Symphonies, the Egmont and Leonore overtures, the Funeral March Sonata, op. 26 . . . " (Solomon: 138).
Also William Kinderman offers us two comments:
"The Sonata in A-flat op. 26 begins with a variation movement (as had Mozart's A major Sonata K331) and dispenses entirely with movements in sonata form" (Kinderman: 73).
"Beethoven was particularly drawn to the genre of the Marcia funebre during the transitional period that gave rise to his 'new path'; other examples besides the slow movement of the Eroica include the C minor variation in op. 34 and the funeral march 'on the death of a hero' in the A-flat Piano Sonata op. 26, from 1801" (Kinderman: 93).
Barry Cooper discusses the musical content of this sonata in two comments:
"This initial sketch indicates a first movement consisting of variations, then a minuet or march, and finally a movement in 2/4 with running semiquavers. Thus the sonata was to have an unusual structure, somewhat reminiscent of Mozart's A major sonata (K. 331). Eventually Beethoven decided on a minuet (or rather a scherzo as well as a march, before a 2/4 finale that is said by Czerny to imitate the style of J.B. Cramer, who had visited Vienna in 1799" (Cooper: 106).
"The most original movement is the third, a profound funeral march in A flat minor (a key already used for the third variation in the first movement). Headed 'Funeral march on the death of a hero', it shows that Beethoven had been captivated by the idea of expressing heroism in music, and needed more than just a couple of movements in a heroic ballet to explore the concept. The return of war heroes from the campaign against Napoleon may have intensified his interest, for he had taken part in a charity concert in aid of the war wounded in January 1801. Structurally the movement is very simple: a ternary form (major-minor-major) with a short coda, but there are extraordinary innovations in melodic writing and texture. The main theme begins with a repeated note played no fewer than thirty-four times, challenging all conventional definitions of the word 'melody', although the shifting harmonies provide a kind of countermelody. The music then modulates to the relative major (C flat), before plunging into the minor mode of this key, notated as B minor rather than an absurd C flat minor. An enharmonic diminished 7th eventually brings the music back to the tonic for a brief reprise. Here the melody, which had till now been relatively quiet and low-pitched fortissimo climax. This contrast in dynamic and register is then used as a prime ingredient of the middle section (Ex. 7.2); but the most striking feature here is the recurring combination of tremolando and crescendo. Beethoven may have derived the idea of tremolandos from Daniel Steibelt, whose use of them at the famous contest between him and Beethoven the previous years was said to have been entirely new. But Beethoven's use of the device is surely far more artistic, for he develops it thematically (a common feature of his style is to develop thematically an idea that appears to be purely ornamental). The rapid repeated notes inherent in a tremolando also recall the repeated notes of the first section, while the pedal is used to intensify the sound, which by hinting at drum rolls subtly conveys the mood of a grant military or state funeral. In this highly compressed middle section of only eight bars, Beethoven's uses of register, theme, sonority, and musical rhetoric are combined with utmost ingenuity" (Cooper: 106 - 107).
ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS
In this section, Joachim Kaiser has this to contribute with respect to Op. 26:
"Diese Beethovensche >>Trauermarsch<<-Sonate gilt als populär -- aber bei wem ist sie es eigentlich? In Hunderten von Klavierabenden, Beethoven-Recitals have ich, möglicherweise zufällig, gerade die As-Dur Sonate nur wenige Male gehört. (Bloß wenn alle 32 Sonaten im Zyklus vorgetragen werden, kommt natürlich auch Opus 26 dran.) Ob die Empfindsamkeit, die Eleganz und die Buntheit der Ecksätze zusammen mit der Direktheit des Trauermarsches zwar >>früher<< die Beliebtheit dieses Werkes bewirkten, heute aber seine relative Vernachlässigung?
Der erste Satz -- Charaktervariationen, die sich um so deutlicher vom Thema abheben, als sie es nie ganz aus dem Auge verlieren--erscheint zugleich als Konfiguration eines Vorganges und eines Glückes. Der zweite entfaltet Auftaktenergie zu einem blendend brillanten Scherzo, das dem Thema und den Variationen nicht ferner steht als die sechste (Allegro-)Variation aus Mozarts A-Dur-Sonate (KV 331) den Andante Grazioso-Variationen. Der Trauermarsch, schweres Schreiten, Trommelwirbel und Salven darbietend, ist ein dankbares Objekt für Pianisten und Biographen -- doch die Beziehung des dann folgenden brillant-perlenden und kontrapunktische Meisterschaft wie nebenher vorführenden Allegro-Finales zu diesem Marsch bereitet einige Interpretationsverlegenheit. >>Und neues Leben blüht aus Etüden<<: daran bekennt kein Pianist schuld zu sein. Um diese Verlegenheit nicht aufkommen zu lassen, sind bemerkenswerte Interpretationsvorschläge zur (Stileinheits-)Güte gemacht worden.
So sicher jeder Beethoven-Spieler und-Hörer auch des Gefühls oder der Überzeugung sein mag, mit der As-Dur-Sonate Opus 26 hebe etwas Neues an, so schwer läßt sich dieses Gefühl auf eine Formel bringen. Die Argumente, die den Unterschied zwischen den ersten elf und den dann folgenden Sonaten begründen, scheinen widersprüchlich. Am nächsten liegt es natürlich, davon auszugehen, daß Beethoven tatsächlich plötzlich so vieles >>anders<< macht: daß also die Sonate Opus 26 (unkonventionell) mit einem Variationssatz beginnt und dann, als dritten Satz, etwas so Markantes wie einen Trauermarsch folgen läßt. Daß Beethoven die Sonaten Opus 27 >>Quasi una Fantasia<< nennt und bei den drei Sonaten Opus 31 spezifische Stilprozeduren darbietet. Kann man daraus folgern, Beethoven habe zwischen Opus 2 und Opus 22 sozusagen der von ihm belebten konventionellen Sonatenform vertraut, während er nun eine ganz bestimmte Idee, eine Einheits- oder Leitvorstellung mit dem von ihm höchst abwechslungsreich benutzten Schema kombiniert?
Die Folgerung scheint plausibel, aber sie gewährt keine zwingende Unterscheidung. So ließe sich, wenn man bei Beziehungen zwischen Motiven und Sätzen das Gras wachsen hören wollte, ziemlich mühelos dartun, inwiefern schon die Sonate Opus 22 -- weit über das hinaus, was Interpreten zwingend hörbar machen können und was wir bei der Behandlung dieser 11. Sonate an Analogien zwischen erstem, zweitem und viertem Satz zu erkennen glaubten -- gleichfalls voller hineinkomponierter vereinheitlichender Geheimnisse war. Beruhte es nur auf Zufall, daß die Menuett-Melodie mit einem d, der Terz von B-Dur, als Auftakt begann und auf eins beim f ankam, genauso wie der Beginn des Kopfsatzes: Folgte Beethoven einer genauen Struktur-Vorstellung, als er den zweiten Teil des Menuetts mit genau jenen Sekund-Reibungen beginnen ließ, die schon im Allegro con brio so charakteristisch für die Farbe des Klaviersatzes gewesen waren? Ich stelle diese Frage nicht, um hier rasch noch eine Aufstellung jener motivischen Verwandschaften in der B-Dur-Sonate Opus 22 nachzuliefern, für die Jürgen Uhde in seinem mehrbändigen Kommentar zu Beethovens Klaviermusik (Reclam 1970, Bd. 2, S. 275 ff.) noch mindestens ein Dutzend mehr oder weniger zwingender, nie völlig abwegiger Belege anführt. Sondern ich will nur darauf aumerksam machen, warum man nicht ohne weiteres unterstellen darf, die Sonaten ab Opus 26 seien >>einheitlicher<< als die Vorgänger. Auch der Umstand, daß nun die Namen häufiger werden: >>Mondschein<<-Sonate, >>Sturm<<-Sonate, >>Appassionata<<, beweist wenig: die >>Pathetique<< hat es schließlich schon vorher gegeben, und was das mehr oder weniger konkrete >>innere Programm<< betrifft, so hat Beethoven sich über Opus 14 genauso verbindlich-unverbindlich geäußert wie über Opus 90.
Mit positivistischen Kriterien kommt man, wenn es sich um Phasen-Abgrenzungen handelt, nicht recht weiter -- oder nur zu rasch zu weit in alle möglichen Richtungen. Mindestens so plausibel wie die Arbeitshypothese einer gesteigerten Werk->>Einheit<< wäre -- ohne allzu große Überspitzung -- auch die Theorie einer immer heftigeren Kontrast-Breite vorzuführen. Die vier Sätze von Opus 26 streben von einander weg: es ist, als habe Beethoven die relative Einheitlichkeit von Opus 2, 7, 10 Nr. 2, 22 bewußt gemieden" (Kaiser: 217 - 219; --
-- Kaiser writes that this >>funeral march<< sonata is touted as popular, but he asks himself, with whom and states that he, himself, in hundreds of piano recitals, has heard this sonata only a few times, while this sonata will, of course, be played when the entire cycle is being played. He asks himself if the sensivity, the elegance and the colorful character of the outer movements have contributed to the >>earlier<< popularity of this sonata, while they might contribute to its being neglected, today.
The first movement, continues Kaiser, which he describes as consisting of character variations that are set off all the more distinctly from the them as it never lose sight of it, entirely, appears to him, at the same time, as the configuration of a process and of a kind of happiness. The second movement, writes Kaiser, unfolds its initial energy into a brilliant Scherzo that is not farther removed from the theme and the variations than the sixth (Allegro) variation of Mozart's A-Major Sonata (K331) is removed from its Andante Grazioso variations. The funeral march, continues Kaiser, which features slow, heavy marching, drum whirls and salvoes, has a great deal to offer to both pianists and biographers, yet, its relationship or connection to the brilliant, contrapuntally masterful Allegro finale provides some difficulty to its interpreter. >>And new life springs from Etudes<<, writes Kaiser, is something no pianists wants to be blamed for, and in order to avoid this awkwardness, some remarkable suggestions have been made.
As certain as every Beethoven player and listener might be that with this Sonata, something new is beginning, as uncertain might they be in describing what this 'newness' consists of, continues Kaiser and writes that the arguments on which explanations for the difference between the first twelve Beethoven piano sonatas and the sonatas following them are based, appear to be contradicting each other. The explanation that is closest on hand might be that in this sonata, Beethoven is actually doing many things >>differently<<, since this sonata, quite unconventionally, begins with a variation movement and then, in its third movement, features something as pronounced as a funeral march, and since, right after this sonata, he called his next sonatas, those of Opus 27, >>Quasi una Fantasia<<, and in his three sonatas, Op. 31, he presents quite specific stylistic procedures. Does this mean, asks Kaiser, that one should conclude from it that between Op. 2 and Op. 22, Beethoven relied on the conventional sonata form that he merely >>enlivened<<, while now, he combines a very specific idea, a unified concept, with a scheme that he uses in a highly diversified manner?
This conclusion, writes Kaiser, appears plausible, yet, it does not offer a convincing differentiation. If one, continues Kaiser, really thinks that one is especially in tune with all relationships between motifs and movements, one could also argue as to what extent already his Sonata, Op. 22--and that far beyond what interpreters can make us hear and what he, in his discussion of this 11th Sonata believes to have recognized in form of analogies between the first, second and fourth movements of this work--also was full of compositional and unifying secrets. Was it only coincidence, asks Kaiser, that the minuet melody that began with a d minor, the third of B-flat Major, arrived at the f-minor, as did the beginning of the first movement, did Beethoven follow a precise structural concept? . . . Kaiser states that he is not raising this point in order to add some more details with respect to the motivic inter-relationships of Op. 22 of which Jürgen Uhde, in his comment on Beethoven's piano music, even mentioned at least a dozen more, and all of them more or less convincing and never quite 'off'. Rather, continues Kaiser, he wants to point out why one can not simply state that from Op. 26 on, Beethoven's sonatas are more >>unified<< than their predecessors. Also, writes Kaiser, the circumstance that Beethoven's sonatas, from then on, bear names more often than before, such as >>Moonlight<< Sonata, >>Storm<< Sonata, >>Appassionata<<, does not prove much, since even before, there was his >>Pathetique<<, and with respect to a more or less concrete >>inner program/agenda<<, Beethoven's comments with respect to Opus 14 are just as non-committal or committal as those on Opus 90.
Kaiser concludes that with 'positivistic' criteria, as far as phase distinctions are concerned, one is not getting very far, or, on the other hand, too far and too fast in all kinds of directions. As plausible as this working hypothesis might also be the theory of an increased breadth of contrasts, as the four movements of Op. 26 appear to be moving away from each other and it appears as if Beethoven was deliberately trying to avoid the >>unity<< of Opus 2, 7, 10, No. 2, and Op. 22).
ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS
The active pianist Anton Kuerti provides us with the following overview:
In his introduction, Kuerti describes this work as one of the most tender Beethoven Sonatas and that it brings with it his farewell to the conventional sonata structure. The most essential difference, continues Kuerti, is here that the first movement is composed in variation form, what is very rare in Beethoven. Yet, this alone is not ground-breaking, since already Haydn and Mozart began many of their sonatas with a variation form movement. (Kuerti: 21).
Andante con Variazioni
However, continues Kuerti, with Beethoven, this different approach appears much more noticeable since his music is often based on the dramatic contrast between two themes and tonalities, on his creativity in the development, what could be much better expressed in sonata form.
Together with its basic tenderness, the theme conveys a feeling of longing that is created by one of Beethoven's most favorite techniques, that one might perhaps describe as "Beethoven Squeeze" . This "squeeze", writes Kuerti, consists of a Crescendo that just then when it becomes most expressive, suddenly becomes tender. As Kuerti states, the theme has several such "squeezes".
The difference between the conventional and the inventive approach in variations can easily be observed in Op. 26, continues Kuerti; while the first two variations merely embellish the theme and repeat it with minor decorations, . . . the melody almost vanishes in the third variation and is replaced by the development of a single motif which has been derived from an ascending fourth at the beginning of the theme. While our attention focuses on this motif, the theme, as a whole, has not been forgotten. Its basic, actual structure, writes Kuerti, remains, i.e. the number of its measures and their sequence . . .
The fact that the third variation is settled in the minor key lends it further significance, states Kuerti, and makes it stand out in a dark fashion, as a dark statement, and it interrupts the serenity of the movement in the same way in which the funeral march of the third movement interrupts the lovable character of the entire work. . . .
The terse and fine texture of the fourth variation, continued Kuerti, creates an irrational, suspended atmosphere that almost sounds like the "late" Beethoven, while the last variation returns to a simpler variation technique . . . . (Kuerti: 21 - 22).
Scherzo: Allegro molto
Kuerti writes that the brief, energetic Scherzo begins rather puckish, but that it ends after several angry outbursts after which the listener is presented with some of the stormiest moments of the sonata. The unusual design of the sonata, continues Kuerti, is ehnanced by the fact that the Scherzo precedes the slow movement instead of following it. Here, he refers to the famous >>funeral march on the death of a hero<< and writes that it is not certain as to whether Beethoven had a certain hero in mind. In any event, concedes Kuerti, Beethoven was able to express profound and painful emotions. (Kuerti: 22).
Marcia funebre sulla morte d'un Eroe
In this march, writes Kuerti, a hypnotic effect is enhanced by the dotted ostinato rhythm . . . and that again and again, the same note is struck, creating an impressive effect. This, continues Kuerti, is interrupted by a melody fragment and then by dramatic, piercing, suddenly ascending chords. The middle section (of the keyboard), states Kuerti, is representing the drum whirl and the salvoes that one hears at state funerals, and the brief, ethereal coda introduces the unexpected brilliance of the D-Major key, yet, writes Kuerti, this is not a "hopeful Major", but rather one that appears to be exhausted from despair. (Kuerti: 22).
Rightfully, Kuerti points out that such a funeral march can hardly be surpassed in the last movement, as a playful Rondo might appear vulgar, while it would be tiring to continue with the tragic mood. Instead, concludes Kuerti, Beethoven has written a tender, throughtful, but brief Rondo. . . . (Kuerti: 22).
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: