BEETHOVEN'S PIANO SONATA N0. 15, OP. 28
CREATION HISTORY
AND MUSICAL CONTENT






Beethoven around 1800



INTRODUCTION

This sonata leads us to the end of the first part of our Piano Sonata Pages, and the reason for it will become apparent when you read Beethoven's comment that has been related by Carl Czerny and is featured here at the very end of this page.  First of all, however, we should turn to the creation history of this work.  

CREATION HISTORY 

Unfortunately, we do not have many sources at our disposal in order to arrive at a time frame for the creation of this work.  Thayer (p. 297) relates that the year 1801 that is written on the original manuscript is the only reference to the time of its creation, and his opinion that there are no counter-arguments with respect to this can, at least not yet, be proven otherwise on the basis of further findings by contemporary Beethoven biographers.  

Thayer (p. 297) still reports that very early on, this work has received the nickname "Sonata pastorale" through the Hamburg publisher A. Cranz, and, as Thayer states, not quite unfittingly.  

As we already know from our Biographical Pages, during the summer of this year, Beethoven wrote to his friends Amenda (in the Courland) and Wegeler (in the Rhineland), with respect to his loss of hearing.  From our creation history of the 12th Piano Sonata, Op. 26, we already know that Beethoven spent this summer at Hetzendorf.  

 

ON ITS DEDICATION AND PUBLICATION

 

While Beethoven spent the summer of 1802 at Heiligenstadt, according to Thayer (p. 297), on August 14, 1802, the Industriekontor announced the publication of this sonata in the Wiener Zeitung, with a dedication "A Monsieur Joseph Noble de Sonnenfels, Conseiller aulique et Secretaire perpetuel de l'Academie des Beaux Arts".  Relying on Willibald Nagel's book Beethoven und seine Klaviersonaten, Thayer, with respect to Beethoven's relationship and dedication of this work to Sonnenfels, is of the opinion that Beethoven was not well acquainted with Sonnenfels and that this dedication can only be an expression of his respect for this at that time already 70-year-old champion of Enlightenment.    

 



Joseph von Sonnenfels




Maynard Solomon is still more specific in his comment on this dedication:  

"Beethoven evidently wished to emerge from a period of apparent ideological quiescence.  Perhaps this is one reason why, in the opening years of the nineteenth century, he began a series of apparently disinterested dedication of his works to leading adherents of Enlightened positions.  Thus the revered Austrian-Jewish Aufklärer and Freemason Joseph von Sonnenfels (favorite and adviser to Joseph II) received the dedication of the Piano Sonata in D, op. 28, in 1801" (Solomon: 137).


After our comments on the creation and dedication of this work, we can turn to discussing its musical content.  

 

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

 

In this section, we turn to the three Beethoven researchers and biographers Solomon, Kinderman and Cooper.  Solomon comments on it as follows:  

"With the calm and reflective Sonata, op. 28 (Pastorale), Beethoven reverted, for the last time in his life, to the normal four-movement sonata form, with a traditional distribution of emotional weight and emphasis.  Like so many of Beethoven's works which follow hard upon a dramatic achievement, opus 28 celebrates the peace that comes from the fulfillment of a difficult creative effort and withdraws to a relative traditionalism, from which Beethoven will gain strength for a new creative surge" (Solomon: 106).

"It was Beethoven's tendency, having mastered a genre, to withdraw for a time from a further expansion of the implication of his advance and turn elsewhere.  .  .  .  This may be why several works of this period--such as the two symphonies and the sonatas op. 28 . . . have a somewhat conservative cast when viewed alongside . . . the sonatas, op. 27 . . . " (Solomon: 107).

With respect to the actual description of the musical content of this sonata, William Kinderman writes as follows:  

"The next piano sonata, op. 28 in D major ('Pastoral'), and each of the three violin sonatas of op. 38 are highly individual and polished works. The title 'Pastoral' is not unfitting for op. 28: one can find pedal points in the first and last movements and occasional bagpipe fifths, whereas the cadential theme in the first movement, internal episode of the slow movement, and scherzo are all rustic in character.  The Andante in D minor has a processional, ballade-like atmosphere: the melodic inflections of its main theme seem suggestive of speech.  In the coda Beethoven juxtaposes the first phrases of the main theme with a disturbing, dissonant transformation of the innocent contrasting subject--a glimpse of the abyss, followed by a close in bleak resignation.  In the other movements of op. 28, Beethoven often employs static textures with repetitive figures, yet the development of the opening Allegro is dominated even more than usual by a process of foreshortening.  Appropriately, this developmental passage is set apart from its context:  the music comes firmly to rest on a protracted F# major harmony before phrases drawn from the cadential theme are played in B major and minor to preface the recapitulation.  Beethoven used an identical modulation through the submediant to introduce the climactic ninth variation of the 'Joy' theme in the choral finale of the Ninth Symphony" (Kinderman: 73-74).

Barry Cooper's comment is brief, characteristic and to the point: 

"The next sonata, Op. 28, provides a complete contrast.   It is lengthy, relaxed, totally unheroic, and pastoral in mood, especially in the first and last movements; indeed it acquired the nickname 'Pastoral' not long after publication. Beethoven's ability to produce four such different sonatas so quickly is remarkable, and never again did he write so many piano sonatas in such a short space of time" (Cooper: 108).

 

ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS

Here, let us look at Joachim Kaiser's introductory comment:

"Lebendig-lyrische Charaktere, auf pochend bewegtem Orgelpunktgrund sich entfaltend, von melodischen Nebenstimmen und empfindsamen Episoden bereichert, erfüllen Kopfsatz und Finale der -- von Beethovens Hamburger Verleger A. Cranz nicht unpassend so genannten -- >>Sonate pastorale<<.  Dem vielstimmigen und farbigen Anfangsallegro folgt ein d-Moll-Andante:  kein wilder, sondern ein milder, verhaltener, tänzerisch unterbrochener Trauermarsch.

Scherzo und Finale bestätigen die >>Idee<< des Kopfsatzes:  hier geht es nicht um Exzentrizität, sondern um erfüllte Identität.  Melodisches Selbstbewußtsein, Freiheit, Kunstfertigkeit und kraftvolle Virtuosität machen unentscheidbar, ja zum Scheinproblem, ob in Opus 28 kontrastierende Themen und Sätze den >>Verlauf<< prägen oder ob hier melodisch strömende Musik, in ihre bewegte Stille hineinlauschen, immer neue Charaktere entläßt.

Diese idyllische und großzügige Sonate wird von Anfang an geprägt durch orgelpunktartige Bildungen.  Sie bewirken etwas Doppeltes:  sie stiften Identität (als immer wiederkehrende, feste Modelle) -- und sie motivieren die Weiterbewegung.  Sollten diese beiden Funktionen schwer zusammenzudenken sein, so braucht ein solcher >>Widerspruch<< weder den Analytiker, noch weniger den Pianisten zu erschrecken.  Vielleicht hatte Beethoven es darauf abgesehen, die Spannung dieses Gegensatzes fruchtbar zu machen.  .  .  .

Kopfsatz und Andante dieser D-Dur-Sonate sind -- jeder für sich -- weit länger als Scherzo und Finale zusammen.  Mithin besteht ein beträchtliches Ungleichgewicht zwischen den ersten beiden und den letzten beiden Sätzen.  Die Tendenz zur >>Final-Sonate<<, die sich in Opus 27 Nr. 1 und Nr. 2 andeutete, erscheint hier gestoppt. . . .

Als wolle Beethoven beweisen, wie sehr ihn das Problem der spannungsvoll erfüllten Identität reizt, konstruiert er das Scherzo aus der Wiederholung eines einzigen Tones, beziehungsweise Intervalls. . . .

Es wäre hochtrabend, auch im Rondo das Verhältnis zwischen gegebenem, schließlich strettahaft gesteigertem Ostinato und den notivischen Entwicklungen oder hinzuerfundenen Verzierungen der Rechten zum >>Problem<< hinaufstilisieren zu wollen.  Der Baß kommt in den guten Takkteilen immer auf ein >>D<< zurück, die Spitzennoten darüber bilden eine motivische Linie.  Und diese Linie ist natürlich charakteristischer, auffälliger als der stets wiederholte D-Effekt. .  .  .

In Opus 28 komponierte Beethoven eine heiter bewegte, leicht überschattete, mittlere (gewiß nicht: mittelmäßige) Musik.  Er wagte Gesundheit, sanftes Gesetz.  Er mied Überspannung und bot stattdessen die erfüllte Spannung einer niemals monotonen Identität" (Kaiser:  276 - 289; --

-- He writes that in the first and last movement of this sonata, lively, lyrical characters that unfold on the basis of a lively, hammering pedal point and that are enriched by melodic accompaniment and sensitive episodes and that--not unfittingly--, this sonata has been nicknamed >>Sonata pastorale<< by Beethoven's Hamburg publisher A. Cranz.  The many-part, colorful initial Allegro is followed by a d-minor Andante, which Kaiser refers to as a mild, reserved, funeral march that is interrupted in dance-like fashion, here and there.  

Scherzo and finale, continues Kaiser, confirm the >>idea<< of the first movement, in which the main emphasis is not on eccentricity, but on fulfilled identity.   Melodic self-confidence, freedom, artistry and powerful virtuosity, writes Kaiser, lead to an indecision as to whether contrasting themes characterize the musical >>progress<< or whether flowing music that listens to its own moving silence constantly releases new characteristics.    

Kaiser states that this idyllic and generous sonata is, from the beginning, characterized by pedal point formations that have a double role, creating identity (as constantly recurring, fixed models), on the one hand, and motivating forward movement, on the other hand.  If one might have trouble to unite these functions in one's mind, the this >>contradiction<< should not scare the analyst and the pianist.  Perhaps, writes Kaiser, Beethoven intended to emphasize the tension of this contradiction.   .  .  .

Kaiser writes that the first movement and the Andante of this D-Major sonata, each movement by itself, is far longer than the Scherzo and the Finale, together.  Therefore, there is a considerable imbalance between the first two and the last two movements, and the tendency towards a >>Finale Sonata<< that was hinted at in Opus 27 No. 1 and No. 2, appears stopped here. . . .

As if Beethoven wanted to prove how much he was attracted by the problem of tension-filled identity, continues Kaiser, he constructed the Scherzo out of the repetition of one single note, respectively, interval.  . . .

Kaiser thinks that it would be pretentious to stylize the relationship between the given and then stretto-like intensified Ostinato and the motivic development or the added decorations of the right piano hand into a >>problem<<, as the bass frequently returns to a >>D<<, and the top notes above it form a motivic line, and this line is, of course, more characteristic than the constantly repeated >>D<< effect.  . . . 

Kaiser concludes that with Opus 28, Beethoven composed a cheerful, lively, >>medium<< style music that is certainly not >>mediocre<< and that, for once, he opted for >>health<< and >>mild regularity<<, avoiding over-tension and offering, instead, the filled tention of a never monotonous identity).  


ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS

The active pianist Anton Kuerti provides us with the following overview:

Initially, Kuerti expresses some disappointment with respect to the fact that this sonata is less original than its immediate predecessors.  In spite of this, and perhaps, so Kuerti, due to its fitting nickname, it has become very popular.  He describes its form as entirely conventional and as Beethoven's last piano sonata in which he had applied this conventional form.  

The emotional content, states Kuerti, is also less breathtaking than that of the preceding sonatas, although one should not criticize this sonata for it, since an artist like Beethoven can not limit himself to his intense and temperamental moods, although he is particularly well-known for them.  On occasion, a composer like him also wants to write music that is softer and less expressive.  For this reason, its nickname is very fitting.   (Kuerti: 30).

Allegro 

As Kuerti states, the pastoral character is emphasized by the droning, monotonous bass notes of the introduction, and the movement exudes an expressive brilliance that lets us hope that it wants and has to make a concentrated statement.  However, continues Kuerti, in his search for a second subject, Beethoven was facing a dilemma.  A lyrical theme would not offer enough contrast, and on the other hand, perhaps, a more lively or dramatic theme could disturb the peaceful mood of the work.  Thus, it appears to us that Beethoven is in search of a second theme without ever finding it, and that also the ascending passages into the direction of emphasized chords come too late . . .   

However, writes Kuerti, Beethoven saves himself from this situation through his final theme that is of such a charm and of such an individuality that it really gives life to the exposition.  

The latter, continues Kuerti, eventually splits the main theme up and also cuts off its limbs by removing its first four measures in the beginning, then the next two measures (only leaving the last two), and then the last measure . . .  During this massacre, so Kuerti, intensity and anger increase until we arrive at the remote key of F-sharp Major.   .  .  .  (Kuerti: 30-31).

Andante

Kuerti points out that between the first and the second movement of this sonata, there is little contrast.  Both of these movements are soft, somewhat meandering in character, and both written in D Major.  The very reserved solitude and simplicity of this movement is very moving, and Beethoven has often played it in the company of his friends.   (Kuerti: 31).

Scherzo: Allegro vivace

Kuerti describes this Scherzo with its cheerful introduction as very humorous and points out that the Trio consists of a single line that is repeated over and over and that it is written in the b-flat minor key that Beethoven seldom used.   (Kuerti: 31).

Rondo: Allego, ma non troppo

The pastoral mood of the Rondo, writes Kuerti, can be recognized from the beginning and reminds one of bag pipes playing in the distance.  Its mood is light throughout and in the middle part, one can find a few very fascinating harmonic experiments that Beethoven included while the brilliant finale represents the only "virtuoso" passage of the work in which the tempo is first held back while ending at a fast pace, in the end, which would almost become the rule with Beethoven.  (Kuerti: 31-32).

 

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 28 - Search


A comment of Czerny that is related by Barry Cooper reminds us that in  1802, the year of the publication of this work, Beethoven appeared to be on a "new path":  

"Beethoven had also already been consciously exploring new directions, according to Czerny, who reports that between the composition of the Sonata, Op. 28, and the three of Op. 31 Beethoven said: 'I am not very well satisfied with the work I have thus far done.   From this day on I shall take a new way.'" (Cooper: 122).

When will this "new way" become apparent in his next Piano Sonatas?