Here, we want to 'remedy' the fact of this sonata's leading somewhat of a shadow existence, in our creation history.
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
Maynard Solomon comments on the importance of Op. 27, as follows:
"The Sonata, op. 26, initiates this development with its opening Andante con variazioni movement, but fails thereafter to pursue its architectural implications; it remained for the opus 27 Sonatas to bring it to fruition. Each work begins with a slow introductory movement which has the character of a dreamlike improvisation, followed by a scherzo interlude (and, in opus 27 no. 1, a lyrical Adagio movement); and each closes with a climactic fast movement" (p. 105-106).
Also Barry Cooper discusses the role of these two sonatas:
"In his next two sonatas, Op. 27, Beethoven moved even further from the conventional sonata pattern--so far, in fact, that he labelled each of them 'Sonata quasi una Fantasia'. The first is based on the conventional four-movement structure, but the movements are to be played without a break, and the first movement inserts an Allegro in C between two Andante sections in E flat. The third movement, an expressive Adagio, is somewhat short, and part of it reappears just before the end of the finale--a device reminiscent of the recall of 'La Malinconia' in the finale of the Quartet, Op. 18 No. 6" (p. 107).
ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS
After the Beethoven biographer Solomon and after the musicologist and Beethoven biographer Cooper, Joachim Kaiser offers us again a different look at the problematic of Op. 27, No. 1:
"Sonata quasi una Fantasia--like a fantasy--, begins Kaiser, is that a reference to certain liberties that this sonata is taken with respect to the sonata form, and he asks if the accent lies on >>sonata<< or whether >>quasi una Fantasia<< refers to something more radical, namely to a fantasy sonata piece that has been composed in a different way and that should be understood in a different way than other sonatas.
On the one hand, continues Kaiser, even terms such as >>Pathetique<< or >>Appassionata<< are declamatorily vague compared to the important terms and references such as quasi una Fantasia that, above all, has been formed by Beethoven and that is not merely the addition of a sentimental or business-minded publisher. For the purpose of merely excusing some altogether not even particularly serious digressions from an ideally typical sonata form, this title appears to be somewhat too important, writes Kaiser, since only the first movement does not fit into the >>scheme<<, while the Scherzo/Adagio/Finale sequence certainly does, and if the question were only that of some disregarded rules of movement sequence, then Opus 26 or Opus 14 No. 2 should also have been named quasi una Fantasia.
On the other hand, argues Kaiser, the piece is not called a Fantasia with occasional sonata references, but Sonata quasi.... and asks as to whether we are dealing here with a Fantasia whose various sections that flow into each other freely still end up as something that can be considered sonata-like.
No pianist, continues Kaiser, may avoid an answer to this question (the question as to whether one is dealing here either with a sonata with fantasy-style liberties or with a fantasia with a sonata synthesis), since the >>crime<< of indecision will, as happens very often, be followed by the punishment of triviality, and according to what answer is provided, the first movement is viewed as a through-composed Andante in >>lied<< form >>dessen Mittelteil sich dem tiefer Eindringenden als Verfeinerung der beiden Außenteile enthüllt<< (whose middle part reveals itself to the more dedicated listener as a refinement of the two outer parts) or as a just-developing day dream, a mixture of fantasy and improvisation. Kaiser then asks if the second movement is either a curiously formless Scherzo, devoid of ideas, with a clear modulation scheme, or a nocturnal piece that moves through levels and moods in a fantastic-archaic, vague and wild manner. Also the >>as such<< obvious Adagio, argues Kaiser, will be evaluated differently, depending on whether its hymn-like balance is set against two free movements that could >>actually<< not be considered as movements or whether it fulfills the function of an Adagio that serves as an introduction to the last movement, in a more ore less regular sonata context. Even the development of the concluding Allegro vivace-- continues Kaiser and states that Op. 27, No. 1 is Beethoven's first piano sonata whose finale can be viewed as a weighty part of the work--can be interpreted in different ways, depending on whether one is of the opinion that the melodies are created quasi bar for bar, out of the fantasizing motion, or on whether one is of the opinion that they are a result of architectural planning.
. . . Kaiser then raises the question as to with what this sonata justifies its title and to what extent the notes allow the interpreter some freedom for fantasy.
Before moving on to this discussion, Kaiser refers to a quote from Paul Bekker's Beethoven book and relates that when he started to deal with these sonatas and with their secondary literature, he was fascinated by Paul Bekker's, as Kaiser admits, from today's viewpoint perhaps impermissibly hermeneutic, >>expressionistic<<, all too >>poetic<< statement on Opus 27, No. 1, and that perhaps more than by the sonata itself that leaves one often so dissatisfied in recitals. Kaiser then quotes from Paul Bekker's Beetoven book, (Schuster & Loeffler, Berlin 1912, p. 141 ff.), >>Weit auffälliger als in der As-Dur-Sonate gelangt die Traumstimmung der Improvisation in dem nächstfolgenden Werk: der Es-Dur-Sonate Opus 27,1 zum Ausdruck. Scheinbar willenlos berührt der Tondichter die Tasten. Die Rechte intoniert eine einfache Melodie, ein schmuckloses Lied von anspruchslosester Naivität in Harmonie und Rhythmus. Die Linke fügt eine lose hingeworfene Begleitstimme hinzu. Das Ganze, zum Lied gerundet, wiederholt sich. Es müßte unbedeutend erscheinen, wäre es nicht geträumt. Nun scheint die Phantasie des Künstlers sich zu regen. Sie saugt sich an dem Eingangsrhythmus fest, verdichtet ihn zu einer immer noch einfach volkstümlichen, aber klanglich reicher untermalten Melodie. Doch nur kurze Zeit dauert diese lebhaftere Anteilnahme. Wieder sinkt der Spieler in die Anfangsstimmung zurück, nur die Finger schmücken das kleine Lied mit leichten Verzierungen. Da -- mit plötzlichem Ruck richtet sich der Improvisator auf. Er scheint auch jetzt noch zu präludieren, aber in festen Akkordgängen stürmen die Hände über die Tasten. Energische Akkorde pochen, ein anstürmender Lauf, auf fragendem Septimenakkord endigend, scheint den Traunmebel zerreißen zu wollen. Umsonst. Die schattenhaften Gestalten des Anfangs kehren wieder. Noch tiefer versinkt der Spieler in vage Träume. Die Hände greifen nur noch einzelne Akkorde. Auch diese verklingen wie aus weiter Ferne. Nur noch ein fast unhörbar hallendes Es-Dur -- die Wirklichkeit ist vergessen, das Reich der Phantastik hat seine Pforten leise geöffnet und nimmt uns auf. Spukhafte Schemen schweben heran. Es ist wieder die Stimmung des Scherzos der c-Moll-Symphonie, die des f-moll-Allegrettos Opus 10, II, aber noch wesenloser, phantastischer steigen hier die Tongestalten auf, wiegen und jagen sich...<< [Bekker writes here that, much more noticeably than in the A-flat-Major Sonata, the dreamy mood, improvisatory mood comes to the fore in the next work, the E-flat-Major Sonata, Op. 27, No. 1, in which the tone poet touches the keys apparently without will and the right hand intonates a simple melody, an unardorned lied of most unassuming naivetee in harmony and rhythm, while the left hand adds a loosely dropped accompaniment, and the whole, formed into a lied, is repeated. It would have to appear unimportant, continues Bekker, were it not dreamed-up. Now, the fantasy of the artist appears to come alive, it attaches itself to the opening rhythm, compresses it to a still folk-like, but more richly adorned melody. However, continues Bekker, this active involvement only lasts for a short while, again, the player sinks back into his initial mood, only the fingers adorn the lied with light decorations. There--with a sudden move, the improvising pianist is raising rising up and even now still appears to be only playing a prelude, but his hands move over the keyboard in firm chord sequence. Energetic chords appear to be knocking, a stormy passage, ending on a questioning seventh-note chord appears to be willing to push the dreamy fogs aside, but in vain, as the shadow-like creatures of the beginning return, and the player sinks back deeper into vague dreaming. His hands now play only a few chords here and there, and also these fade away in the far distance...what remains is an almost inaudible E-flat Major--reality is forgotten, the realm of fantasy has quietly opened its gates and receives us. Ghost-like shapes approach us. This, concludes Bekker, is again the mood of the Scherzo of the c-minor Symphony, of the f-minor Allegretto of Op. 10, No. 2, but even more shapeless, more fantastic do the tonal shaes rise up, dance and chase each other...]
Certainly, admits Kasier, some details of this poetic recollecation can not be supported: Did already Op. 26 express a dreamy mood? Might it not be misleading to >>find<< the mood of the Scherzo from the Fifth Symphony, that was written later, here >>again<<? Kaiser relates that Richard Rosenberg was also puzzled by the expression >>dream<<. Haft a century later, in his book on Beethoven's piano sonatas, (Urs Graf Verlag, Olten und Lausanne, on p. 169), he criticises: >>Bekker verteidigt zwar den Anfang der Sonate, aber auf sonderbare Weise: das Thema, meinte er, müsse unbedeutend erscheinen, wäre es nicht geträumt. Wichtiger wäre es wohl gewesen, wenn man sich mehr darüber gewundert und darauf aufmerksam gemacht hätte, was aus den >>so gering scheinenden harmlosen Linien alles hervorgeht.<< (Rosenberg writes that, while Bekker defends the beginning of the sonata, he does so in a peculiar manner by stating that the theme would have to appear unimportant if it were not dreamed up and argues that it might have been more important if one would have wondered and pointed out what all emerges out of the apparently unimportant, harmless lines).
. . . As Kaiser then relates, also Edwin Fischer, in his booklet on Beethoven's piano sonatas, (p. 66 ff.) reports of difficulties with this beginning. Kaiser then states that Fischer was helped by an Italian travel experience: When Fischer wanted to practive before a concert, the following happened: >>Ein kleines Mädchen, etwa vierzehn Jahre alt, öffnete mir den Flügel. Mein Blick streifte ein zartes Gesichtchen von elfenbeinfarbenem Teint mit tiefen, dunklen Augen. Als sie an den Flügel gelehnt, ohne mich anzuschauen, meinen Akkorden lauschte, fragte ich, ob sie selbst musiziere, und als sie bejahte, bat ich sie, etwas zu spielen. Ohne Worte setzte sie sich in einfachster Weise hin und begann mit Opus 27 Nr. 1. Es war von einer Natürlichkeit, Zartheit und von einem Ebenmaß, von einer liebevollen Wehmut, als gäbe ihr ein Gott diesen musikalischen Einfall ein, zu sagen, was sie leidet. Sie wußte nichts von >auftaktigen< Themen, von Metronomzahlen der verschiedenen Herausgeber, aber in ihr schlug das Herz jenes Beethoven, der diese Sonate schuf. In diesem Augenblick, bewegt im Gemüte, hatte ich nun die Lösung gefunden.<< [Fischer relates that a little girl, about 14 years of age, opened the piano for him, and he looked at her tender face with its ivy complexion and its deep, dark eyes, and while she, leaning against the piano without looking at him, was listening to his chords, he asked her if she played music, herself, which she answered with a "yes". He then asked her to play something, and without wasting any words, she simply sat down and began to play Op. 27, No. 1, and that so naturally, tenderly and evenly, with a tender melancholy, as if God had inspired her to tell of her suffering. She knew nothing of >ascending< themes, of the metronome markings of different editions, but in her, there beat the heart of that Beethoven who created this sonata. In this moment, relates Fischer, deeply moved, he had found the solution.] Then, relates Kaiser, Edwin Fischer quotes from Goethe's >Tasso<, after a Mignon-like creature had revealed the simplicity of Opus 27 No. 1 to him. Kaiser then regrets that he never had the change to hear this sonata played by Edwin Fischer, and he also knows of no recording of Fischer's interpretation.
. . . Kaiser then asks what those pianist do under whose hands this sonata does not only come alive but turns into a miracle.
Then he points out that >>Quasi una Fantasia<< certainly does not mean that bizarre shapes are following each other in a contrary and >>fantastic<< manner, but rather that the >>peculiarity<< or >>extra-ordinary character<< of sequences has to be brought to the fore and that the difference in urgency between meditating melody and trivial, arbitrarily added accompaniment must become clear, but also the so-to-say unresolved listening >>into himself<< of the interpreter who leaves the music in suspension, without any apparent >>goal<<, and who develops such simple changes of simple melodies out of himself that one can feel how they arise, quasi, incidentally, without any effort of articulation. This, continues Kaiser, does not mean that everything has to be offset from the preceding in an >>unlogical<< or >>garish<< manner, and that, under certain circumstances, paradoxically, the logic of a fantasy that is less based on will than on improvisation, can be tighter than the dialogue-style and dialectically contrast free sonata form..." (Kaiser: 238 - 243).
ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS
How difficult it might be for an active pianist to 'separate' the individual movements of this sonata from each other is shown in Kuerti's overview:
In his introduction, Kuerti discusses that, as the title of the sonata already indicates, in it, Beethoven left behind most of the traditional concepts of form in order to compose a work whose individual parts are inseparably connected to each other so that it is difficult, indeed, to decide of how many movements this sonata actually consists. (Kuerti: 28)
Of the first movement, Kuerti writes that it begins with one of those colorless melodies that only Beethoven would take up as a main theme and, if we would see it in one of his sketchbooks, we might, perhaps, release a sigh of relief that he never used it and say, "just look how clumsy he is when he writes a melody down for the first time." However, continues Kuerti, Beethoven's sketch books give us few hints with respect to harmony, texture or, what would be most important in this case, of the accompaniment. If we could only imagine these accompaniments in their executed form, then already the sketches would undeniably show that they have been written by this master.
Op. 27 No. 1, continues Kuerti, gives a new meaning to the entire musical texture, every note is an integral part of the entire musical process, and less important or arbitrary accompaniments become increasingly rare. The accompaniment of the main theme is, writes Kuerti, at least as important as the melody, and when one hears them together, one will understand its magical serenity. The music is formally settling down in the E-flat-Major and feels at home there, like an animal in hibernation, without giving any indication of relenting. This static, timeless mood is still enhanced by the indication of pp and, as Kuerti states, is repeated six times on the first page. When one finds oneself in this sweet soup, one is, all of a sudden, almost overcome by a feeling of displeasure, as with a hypocritical person who can not stop uttering vain compliments.
In this manner, writes Kuerti, Beethoven is preparing us for a pleasant shock in form of a daring, colorful chord. The effect of this C-Major chord is sensual, almost seductive, but due to the fact that it vanishes, soon, it is not enough in order to draw us away from the E-flat-Major; we leave the chord behind us, while we return to the E-flat Major.
Just when the repetition of the introductory material begins to be enerving, writes Kuerti, we are plunged head-long into a new section: loud, bubbly and playful, and the only thing that this section has in common with the previous one is the key of the "interim chord".
However, states Kuerti, this clever interlude passes by too fast in order for it to be considered an independent movement, and we return to the pensive introductory mood as if nothing had happened. (Kuerti: 28 - 29).
Allegro molto e vivace
As Kuerti states, the lack of dramatic excitement is made up for by the terse, energetic Allegro molto e vivace. (Kuerti: 29).
Adagio con expressione; Allegro vivace
This, continues Kuerti, is followed by a wonderful, noble Adagio, but just then when it moves on to the second subject, it is also interrupted, like the first movement. A cadenza-like passage then leads us to a cheerful Rondo and disappoints our hopes for a full-length Adagio. The resolute Rondo middle part is organically based on the rest of the movement, a fugato that is derived from the first three notes of the main theme.
As Kuerti states, a triumphant climax announced the ensuing end of the Rondo, but again, an interruption occurs and again the beautiful Adagio begins that was much too personal in order to merely serve as an introduction to the Rondo, but it is too short in order to stand alone as a separate movement. However, writes Kuerti, it does not return in its original key, but in the tonic of the sonata. One can imagine that this change makes a different impression, and it does not carry with itself the ope for a full Adagio, but rather, it makes the impression of a brief reminiscence. A brief, but fierty Presto leads us back to the Rondo material and serves ad a sparkling coda for the entire work.
If one reflects on the complicated process of this sonata, one will notice, points out Kuerti, how short it is in comparison to the events depicted in it. This process, states Kuerti, is, Beethoven's late sonatas aside, one of the best examples of Beethoven's talent to shape concentrated music out of a minimum of time and material and to leave behind a deep impression. (Kuerti: 29).
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:
Opus 27/1 - Search