BEETHOVEN'S  PIANO SONATA
N0. 26, OP. 81A
CREATION HISTORY AND DISCUSSION OF MUSICAL CONTENT






Beethoven around 1808



INTRODUCTION

For two reasons, the third piano sonata that was completed in1809 (see Thayer, p. 474-475), Op. 81a, is most closely connected with Beethoven's life circumstances during this time.  These reasons will, among other topics, be discussed in our following creation history of this work.  

CREATION HISTORY 

As we already know from our creation history of the 24th Piano Sonata, Op. 78, the Viennese nobility left Vienna at the beginning of May, 1809, retreating from the threat of the French invasion.  With respect to this, Thayer reports:      

". . .  On May 4th, the Empress left Vienna with the Imperial family.  Archduke Rudolph accompanied her, and Beethoven mourned his departure in the well-known first movement of the Sonata, Op. 81a.  Beethoven's manuscript bears these inscriptions in his own hand: "The Farewell, Vienna, May 4, 1809, on the departure of his Imperial Highness the revered Archduke Rudolph" . . .  " (Thayer: 464).

 



Archduke Rudolph


That Archduke Rudolph, as one of the three partners of the annuity contract with Beethoven that had been arrived at in the spring of 1809 would stand out as one of his major patrons during this year, is already known to us from our Biographical Pages.  

As Barry Cooper (p. 184-186) reports, already in his letters of March of this year, Beethoven referred to threats of war.  It was declared on April 9th.  Due to this, reports Cooper, the Viennese nobility prepared for their departure from Vienna, during this month.  

Therefore, it is not surprising that Beethoven was working on the first movement of this sonata, in April.  Barry Cooper (p.184) is of the opinion that Beethoven handed the manuscript of the first movement over to the Archduke, before his departure. 

With respect to Beethoven's plans for further movements to this work, Barry Cooper (p. 184-186) points out that Beethoven might have planned these movement, Abwesenheit (the absence) and Das Wiedersehen (the return) from the beginning, while they, nevertheless, were only written a few months later.  

As we already know, Beethoven's creativity was somewhat hampered by the French occupation (from the night of the bombardement of May 11 - 12, in which Beethoven, according to Ferdinand Ries' report, stayed in the basement of his brother Caspar Carl's house and covered his sensitive ears with pillows, to the truce of July 12th), and also still during the aftermath and slow return to "normal" life.   

On July 26, Beethoven wrote to Breitkopf and Härtel: 

                                                                         "[Wien, 26. Juli 1809]

Mein lieber Herr, sie irren sich wohl, wenn sie mich so wohl glaubten, wir haben in diesem Zeitraum ein recht zusammengedrängtes Elend erlebt,  wenn ich Ihnen sage, daß ich seit dem 4ten May wenig zusammen hängendes auf die Welt gebracht beynahe nur hier oder da ein Bruchstück -- der ganze Hergang Der Sachen hat bey mir auf leib und Seele gewirkt, noch kann ich des Genußes des mir so unentbehrlichen Landlebens, nicht theilhaftig werden --

. . . -- die Kontributionen fangen mit heutigem dato an[4] --  Welch zerstörendes wüstes Leben um mich her nichts als trommeln, Kanonen Menschen Elend in aller Art --"

                                                                        "[Vienna, 26. July 1809]

My dear Sir, you are mistaken if you believed me to be that well, in this time period, we have experienced fairly concentrated misery, when I tell you that since the 4th of May I have brought little coherent [work] into the world only here and there a fragment -- the entire sequence of events has had its effect on my body and soul, I can not yet partake in the enjoyment of country life that is so indispensable to me --

. . . -- the contributions are beginning with today's date[4] -- What a destructive wild life around me nothing but drums canons human misery of all kind -- "

(Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 2, Letter No. 392, p. 71-73)

(Original:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus; to [4}: refers to the monetary contributions Viennese had to make to support the French Military, and new orders had been issued on that date, Beethoven was also directly affected; detail taken from p. 72) 

 

With respect to this period, Cooper quotes a report by Baron de Tremont who visited Beethoven during the French occupation.  On top of everything else, on this particular day, Beethoven, as Cooper reports, had no servants at his disposal: 

"Picture to yourself  the dirtiest, most disorderly place imaginable--blotches of moisture covered the ceiling; an oldish grand piano, on which the dust disputed the place with various pieces of printed and manuscript music; under the piano (I do not exaggerate) an unemptied chamber pot; beside it, a small walnut table accustomed to the frequent overturning of the secretary placed upon it; a quantity of pens encrusted with ink, compared with which the proverbial tavern-pens would shine; then more music.  The chairs, mostly cane-seated, were covered with plates bearing the remains of lat night's supper, and with clothing, etc." (Cooper: 184-186).

Cooper calls this report by Tremont even more extreme than those of other visitors, which can certainly be explained by the particular circumstances during that time.  However, Cooper also points out that Beethoven's sketchbook of that period, Landsberg 5, confirms that his high productivity level of previous years suffered a great deal in 1809.  For this period, this sketchbook shows sketches for the Fifth Piano Concerto and the Lebewohl Sonata, but after that, only a few sketches here and there.

With respect to the completion of the remainder of this sonata, Thayer (p. 474-475) surmises, "We suppose the sonata to have been completed in 1809 and delayed until January 30th", while he also states that the sonata might have been held back until the Archduke's return on January 30, 1810.   

 

ON ITS PUBLICATION AND DEDICATION 

From our creation histories of the 24th and 25th Piano Sonatas we already know that that in his letter of September 19, 1809 to Breitkopf and Härtel, Beethoven spoke of "several sonatas" and that in his letter to the same publisher, of February 4, 1810, he referred to three sonatas that he offered them (see also Kinderman, p. 136).

In this context, we can also refer to our discussion of the English publication of these sonatas by Clementi, in the publication history of the 24th Piano Sonata.  

Thayer points out that Breitkopf and Härtel published the 26th Sonata in 1811.  In this context, we might best take a look at Beethoven's letter of October 9, 1811, to this publisher:  

                                                    "Vien am 9ten 8ber [=Oktober] 1811.

   Von hier aus Tausend Entschuldigungen und Tausend Dank für ihre angenehme Einladung nach leipzig; sehr wehe that es mir meinem innern triebe  dahin und in die Umliegenden pegenden nicht folgen zu können, aber diesesmal war Irrthum an allen Ecken der ungarische Landtag ist, [1] man spricht schon vorher davon daß der Erzherzog primas von Ungarn werden soll, und das Bischofthum Ollmüz zurücklaßen, [2] ich selbst trage mich seiner kaiserl. Hoheit an, die als primas von Ungarn nicht weniger als 3 Millionen Einkünfte haben würden, eine Million für mich jährlich Rein durchzubringen (versteht sich alle Musikalischen guten Geister, die ich dadurch in Bewegung für mich sezen wollte)  in Tepliz erhalte ich keine weitern Nachrichten indem man von meinem Plane weiter zu gehn nichts wußte, ich glaube also bey meiner Reise, die ich vorhabe, bey meiner Anhänglichkeit die ich für ihn hege, zu letzt obschon nicht ohne manchen Unwillen doch der letztern nachgeben zu müßen, um so mehr, da man bey Feierlichkeiten meiner <wart> brauchte, also nachdem das pro <und Contra> erwählt flugs nach Vien, [3] und das erste Donnerwort, was ich höre ist, daß dem gnädigsten Herrn auf einmal alles Pfaffthum und Pfaffthun verschwunden ist, und also die ganze Sache nichts seyn wird. --

   General soll er werden was man ja bald (sie wissen versteht), und ich general<adjutant>quartiermeister bey der Bataille, die ich aber nicht verlieren will -- was sagen Sie dazu? --

   ein anderes Ereigniß waren noch die Ungarn für mich,  indem in meinen Wagen steige Nach Tepliz zu reisen erhalte ich ein Paket von ofen, mit dem ersuchen für die pesther  <Theater> Eröffnung des Neuen Theaters etwas zu schreiben, [4]  nachdem ich 3 Wochen in T.[eplitz] zu gebracht mich leidlich befand, seze ich troz dem Verbot meins Arztes hin, um den Schnurbärten, die mir von Herzen Gut sind, zu helfen, schicke am 13ten September mein paket dorthin ab, [5] in der Meynung daß den 1ten 8ber die Sache vor sich gehn solle, derweil verzieht sich die ganze Sache nun noch über einen ganzen Monath, [6] den Brief, worin mir dieses angedeutet werden sollte, erhalte ich durch Mißverständnisse erst hier, [7] und doch bestimmte mich auch dieses TheaterEreigniß, wieder nach Vien zu gehen -- Unterdessen aufgeschoben ist nicht aufgehoben, ich habe das reisen gekostet und es hat mir sehr wohl <gethan> bekommen, jezt möchte ich schon wieder fort von hier -- eben erhalte ich das Lebe wohl etc ich sehe daß Sie doch auch andere E.[xemplare] Mit französischem Titel [8], warum denn,  lebe wohl ist was ganz anderes als les adieux das erstere sagt man nur einem Herzlich allein, das andere einer ganzen Versammlung ganzen städten [9] -- da sie mich so schändlich recensiren laßen, so sollen sie auch herhalten, viel weniger Platen hätten sie auch gebraucht, und das so sehr jetzt erschwerte Umkehren wäre dadurch erleichtert worden damit Basta -- wie komme aber ums himmels willen zu der Dedikation meiner Fantasie mit orchester and den König von Baiern? [10]  antworten Sie doch sogleich hierüber, wenn sie mir dadurch ein Ehrenvolles Geschenk bereiten wollten, so will ich ihnen dafür danken, sonst ist mir so etwas gar nicht recht,  haben Sie es vielleicht selbst dediziert, wie hängt dieses zusammen,  Ungefragt darf man Königen nicht einmal etwas widmen -- dem Erzherzog war auch das Lebewohl nicht gewidmet,[11]  warum nicht die Jahrzahl tag und datum wie ich's geschrieben [12] abgedruckt,  künftig werden sie schriftlich geben, alle Überschriften <so heran> Unverändert, wie ich sie hinge sezt, beyzubehalten -- das  oratorium lassen sie wie überhaupt alles recensiren durch wen sie wollen, Es ist mir leid ihnen nur ein Wort über die elende R.[ezension] geschrieben zu haben, [13] Wer kann nach solchen R.[ezensionen] fragen, wenn er sieht, wie die elendsten Sudler in die höhe von eben solchen elenden R.[ezensenten] gehoben werden, und wie sie überhaupt am unglimpflichtsten mit Kunstwerken umgehen und durch ihre Ungeschicklichkeit auch müßen, wofür sie nicht gleich den gewöhnlichen Maaßstab, wie der schuster seinen Leisten, finden -- ist etwas bey dem orator. zu berücksichtigen so ist es, daß es mein erstes und frühes Werk dieser Art war in 14 tägen zwischen allem möglichen tumult und andern unangenehme ängstigenden Lebensereignissen (Mein Bruder hatte eben eine Todeskrankheit) geschrieben wurde, [14] -- 

   Rochlitz hat, wenn mir recht ist, schon noch ehe es ihnen zum stechen gegeben nicht günstig von dem Chor der Jünger "wir haben ihn gesehen" (in C dur) gesprochen, [15] er nannte ihn komisch, eine Empfindung, die hier wenigstens Niemand im publikum darüber zeigte, da doch unter meinen Freunden auch Kritiker sind.  Daß ich wohl jetzt ganz anders ein Oratorium schreibe als damals, das ich wohl jezt ganz anders ein oratorium schreibe als damals das ist gewiß -- 

   und nun recensirt solange ihr wollt, ich wünsche euch viel vergnügen; wenns einem auch ein wenig wie ein Mückenstich pact, so ist's ja gleich vorbey und ist der stich vorbey, dann macht's einem einen ganz hübschen spaß re-re-re-re-re-cen-cen-si-si-si-si-sirt-sirt-sirt. -- Nicht bis in alle Ewigkeit, das könnt ihr nicht.  hiermit Gott befohlen -- 

   in dem oratorium war eine stelle wo die Horn sollten im stiche auf zwei linien gebracht werden nemlich das 2te horn hat Baßschlüßel das erste aber violin, [16] leicht wird ihr Korrektor diese stelle finden, muß doch jeder Mensch mehr als einen schlüßel haben, wenn er auch nichts je auf schließt. -- einen Brief an Kotzebue werde ich ihnen schicken, [17] und bitten daß sie ihn an seinen aufenthalts Ort befördern; -- auch wird jemand von Berlin aus, dem ich das Briefporto ersparen <meine> seine Briefe an sie abschicken,[18] daß sie mir dieselben dann hieher wieder gütigst befördern,  nicht wahr sie nehmen mir schon so etwas nicht übel, was das Porto aus macht, werde ich ihnen nach jedesmaliger anzeige gleich abtragen -- der Himmel erhalte sie nun, ich hoffe sie bald zu sehen, zu sprechen, sie sehen daraus meinen festen Vorsaz zu reisen -- den sächsichen und besonders den leizpgier liebhaber alles schöne für ihr wohlwollen für mich, wovon ich manches gehört, so auch vielen Dank den Musikkünstlern, von deren gutem Eifer für mich ich auch gehört.  

 ihr 

                                                                              Ludwig van Beethoven.

Wann erscheint die Messe? [19]

 -- -- der Egmont? [20] 

schicken Sie doch die ganze Partitur meintewegen abgeschrieben auf meine Kosten (die Partitur h.d.) an Göthe,  wie kann ein deutscher erster Verleger gegen den deutschen dichter so unhöfflich, so grob seyn? also geschwinde die Partitur nach Weimar.[21]

  was die Meße so könnte die dedikation verändert werden, das Frauenzimmer ist jetzt geheirathet, und müßte der Name so verändert werden, [22] sie kann also Unterbleiben,  schreiben sie mir nur, wann sie sie heraus geben, und dann wird sich schon der Heilige für dieses Werk finden -- 

An Breitkopf Und Hertel in leipzig."

                                "Vienna on the 9th 8ber [=October] 1811.

   From here a thousand apologies and a thousand thanks for your pleasant invitation to Leipzig; I was very sorry that I could not follow my inner inclination towards there and its environs, but this time, confusion prevailed in all corners, the Hungarian assembly is taking place, [1] and already before that one heard that the Archduke shall be primas of Hungary, and leave behind the bishop's seat of Olmütz [2] I, myself, was about to appeal to his Imperial Highness who, as primas, would receive an income of not less than 3 millions, to spend one million straight, annually, myself (of course, for all good musical spirits that I could set in motion for myself with it), in Teplitz I did not receive any further news in that one did not know anything of my plans to travel on,  thus I believed that in my journey that I had planned, considering how devoted I am to him, I should give in to the latter, even if not without some displeasure, all the more since in the event of festive occasions I would be needed, thus, after weighing the pro's <and con's>, I was hurrying to Vienna, [3] and the first thundering word that I heard was that his most gracious Lord, all of a sudden, has forsaken all priesthood and priestly activities, and that nothing will come of the matter.  --

   General is what he shall become which one will soon [you know, understand] and I will be the general's<aide>quartermaster in the battalion, that I do not want to lose -- what do you say to that?  --

   another event were the Hungarians for me, when I alighted my coach to travel to Teplitz I received a parcel from Ofen, with a request to write something for the Pesth <Theatre> Openin of the New Threater, [4] after I had stayed at Teplitz for 3 weeks and felt rather well there, in spite of my doctor's orders, I sat down in order to help the mustachios whom I am very dear to, sent my parcel off to them on September 13th, [5] in the opinion that the event was to take place on October 1st, meanwhile, the matter would still drag on for another month, [6] the letter in which this is supposed to be indicated to me, I only received here, due to a misunderstanding, [7] and yet, also this theatre event caused me to return to Vienna -- Meanwhile, postponed is not cancelled, I have enjoyed traveling and it did me a great deal of good, now, I would already want to get away from here --  I just received the Lebe wohl etc I see that you also [?] other pieces with French titles [8] why, lebe wohl [fare well] is something quite different from les adieux the first one says to one alone, from the heart, the other to an entire assembly, to entire cities [9] -- since you have them review me so horribly, you shall also suffer for it, you would also have used fewer plates, and the turning-over that has now become so difficult would have been made easier by it, enough of it -- however, for heaven's sake, how did I end up with a dedication of my Fantasy with orchestra to the King of Bavaria?  [10] provide me with an answer to this, right away, if you wanted to surprise me with an honorable gift, then I want to thank you for it, otherwise, something like this is not to my liking, at all, did you, perhaps, dedicated it yourself, how did this come about, Without requesting permission, one can not even dedicate anything to kings -- the Lebewohl was also not dedicated to the Archduke, [11] why [?] not print the year, day and date, as I had written, in future, you will confirm to me in writing to keep unchanged all titles as I have written them -- the oratorio,  have it and, in any event, everything, reviewed by whom you want, I am sorry to even mention a word about the wretched R[eview], [13] Who would want to ask for such R[eviews] when he sees how the most wretched scribblers are praised into high heaven by such equally wretched R[eviewers], and how they, in any event, deal most gingerly with works of art for which they do not immediately have the right measuring stick, as the tailor needs for measuring -- if one should consider something with respect to the orator. then it is that it was my first and early work of this kind and has been written in 14 days in-between all kinds of upheavals and other unpleasant, frightening events (my brother was just suffering from a deadly disease], [14] -- 

   Rochlitz has, if I am informed right, alraedy reported unfavorably of the Chorus of the Disciples,  "wir haben ihn gesehen" (in C Major) when I had not even given it to you for etching, yet, [15] he called it comical, a perception that, at least here, no one in the public showed, since among my friends, there are also critics.  That I would write an oratorio quite different now than then, that is certain -- 

   and now, review as long as you want, I wish you a great deal of pleasure; even if it somewaht stings one like an insect bite, it is over, soon, and once the bite is over, then it is quite some fun,  re-re-re-re-re-view-view. -- Not 'til all eternity, you can not do that.  with this, let's leave the matter unto God -- 

   in the oratorio there was a passage where the horns should be brought onto two lines in the etching, namely the 2nd horn has bass keys, the first, however, a violin, [16] your corrector will find this passage easily, after all, every man has to have more than one key, even if he never opens anything. -- I shall send you a letter to Kotzebue, [17] and ask you to send it to his place of residence; -- also, someone from Berlin for whom I want to save postage fees, will send his letters to you, [18] so that you would kindly send them to me here, you will not be cross with me for that, I hope, and as far as the postage is concerned, I will always pay for it each time I receive notice of it -- heaven may keep you, now, I hope to see you and speak to you soon, from this you can see my firm resolution to travel -- to the Saxon and particularly to the Leipzig friends everything beautiful for their well-meaning towards me, of which I have heard a great deal, thus also thanks to the musicians of whose great efforts on my behalf I have also heard  

 ihr 

                                                                              Ludwig van Beethoven.

When will the Mass appear? [19]

-- -- the Egmont? [20] 

send me the entire score, copied, at my cost (the horn score] to Goethe, how can a foremost German publisher be so unkind and rough towards the foremost German poet? thus, hurry and send the score to Weimar.[21]

  as far as the Mass, the dedication could be changed, the Dame is married now, and the name would thus have to be changes,  [22] thus it can be left off, write to me only when you will be publishing it, and then the Saint for this work will be found -- 

To Breitkopf And Hertel in leipzig."

(Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 2, Letter No. 523, p. 214-218]

(Original: Bonn, Beethoven-Haus; to [1]: refers to the Hungarian Assembly at Preßburg that convened on August 29, 1811 and was in Session until June 1, 1812; to [2]: Archduke Rudolph already became the designated successor for Olmütz in 1805, yet upon the death of Cardinal Colloredo in 1811, he did not yet step in has his successor; to [3]:  according to Teplitz records, Beethoven left this spa town on September 18, 1811, to return to Vienna; to [4]:  refers to Beethoven's incidental music to Kotzebue's plays König Stephan oder Ungarns erste Wohltäter, op. 117, the prelude, and Die Ruinen von Athen, op. 113, postlude; to [5]:  refers to Thayer's notion that Beethoven would have sent the package as late as on Montagy, the 16th of September, 1811, which he bases on Letter no. 525; to [6]: refers to the inittially intended opening of October 4, 1811, the Emperor's Name Day, and its postponement to February 9, 1812; to [7]: refers to the fact that this letter has not been preserved; to [8]: refers to the edition of Op. 81a, for which Beethoven wanted a bilingual title page, see letter no. 499 of May 20, 1811 and to the fact that the publisher's printing the edition with two different titles, one in German, one in French; to [9]: might perhaps refer to 'fashionable' piano music titles of the times such as Les Adieux de Paris or Les Adieux des Londres; to [10]: refers to the fact that the Original edition of Op. 80, the Choral Fantasy, was dedicated to King Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria; to [11]: see letter no. 492 of April 12, 1811; to [12]: refers to the fact that the etching sample of the original edition of Op. 81a has not been preserved and that the autograph of the first movement had been dated by Beethoven as "Vien am 4ten May 1809"; to [13]: refers to the possibility that Beethoven might have reacted to the review of Op. 75 in a letter that has not been preserved; to [14]: refers to the fact that on Op. 85, Beethoven worked for a longer time period; to [15]: refers to No. 4, Chor der Krieger; to [16]: refers to Op. 85, measures 39 - 41 of the introduction; to [17]: see letters no. 546 and 545 of Jan. 28, 1812; to [18]: might refer to Amalie Sebald; to [19]: refers to Op. 86 having been published in October, 1812; to [20]: refers to the fact that the Overture to Op. 84 had already been published in December, 1810; to [21]: refers to Goethe's having noted his receipt of the work in his diary on January 23, 1812; to [22]: refers to the fact that it is not known who might be meant here; details taken from p. 217-218). 

 

As we can see, Beethoven was not very happy with the French "translation" of his German title, and that with good reason.  he was also not happy that the date of May 4, 1809, was not printed, as he had requested and demanded that in future they should strictly adhere to his title instructions.  

In his listing of the publication of this sonata, Thayer also refers to the fact of this work's being listed as Op. 81a:  

" . . .   the distinction of 81a for the sonata and 81b for the sextet was apparently first established by Breitkopf and Härtel in their thematic catalogue of 1851)" (Thayer: 521).

 

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: 


 MUSICOLOGISTS 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. 


MUSICOLOGISTS AND BEETHOVEN RESEARCHERS

Here, we turn again to William Kinderman and Barry Cooper: 

Kinderman describes Op. 81, the 'Lebewohl' as the 'weightiest' of the three piano sonatas that were composed in 1809.  As Op. 78, in its introductory movement, it uses a motto technique.  In this case, writes Kinderman, Beethoven has incorporated the dates of the departure and the arrival of the Archduke into the manuscript and has allowed for the emotional progress of 'farewell-absence-return' to form the basic character of the three movements.   In the first edition, continues Kinderman, Beethoven was irritated by the use of French instead of German titles, and that, in Kinderman's opinion, not only on the basis of the difference between 'Das Lebe Wohl' und 'les adieux', but very likely also due to the relationship of the descending horn motif (G-F-E-flat-Major in the bass) at the beginning of the slow introduction to the vowels 'Le-be-wohl', that he had written above the chords.  

The initial harmonization of this 'Lebewohl' motif in the slow introduction of the first movement, continues Kinderman, does not confirm the E-flat Major of the tonic, but rather, confusingly, leads to the submediant c-minor and then, in the eighth bar, to a continuing harmony of the remote C-sharp-Major sixth.  As Kinderman writes, the first strong appearance of the E-flat-Major tonic triad is thus delayed for six bars until the following Allegro, and the tonal ambiguity of the slow introduction contributes to its suspended, searching character, qualities, that return in the second movement entitled 'Abwesenheit'.  At the same time, continues Kinderman, the 'Lebewohl' motto of a gradually descending third in the Allegro of the first movement that begins with a strong new interpretation of the G-F-E-flat-Major progression over a chromatically descending bass line, gains some importance.    In the development, writes Kinderman, Beethoven further exploits the relationship of this motto to to ambiguous harmonies and thereby leads the music into remote keys; however, the boldness that is so characteristic for this sonata is mainly shown in the coda, where the tonic and the dominant repeatedly appear together.  Here, writes Kinderman, the imitations of the original motto appear to vanish and to thereby hint at the fact that the departure has taken place.  (In many passages, reports Kinderman, the 'Lebewohl' motif is written in whole notes so that its actual duration when being played comes very close to its initial appearance in the Adagio, where it is indicated in quarter-notes.)   

Kinderman describes the character of the movement entitled 'Abwesenheit' (absence) as slow, procession-like, just as the Introduzione of the 'Waldstein' Sonata and states that it leads directly to the finale; although the basic key is c-minor, as he states, the introduction does not remain at the tonic triad but rather on a diminished seventh chord; actually, in a later repetition of the introductory motif, the harmony is intensified in the same register, and immediately thereafter, the motif is shortened and emphasized through accent over a descending bass.  Through a brief transition, this expressive passage, writes Kinderman,  leads to a consoling, cantabile subject in the dominant key, and the entire passage that encompasses these two themes is then repeated, beginning in b-flat minor and by this, we are made to understand that this cyclic repetition of mourning and consolation could go on indefinitely.  

After six bars of a third section, in which the music descends to the seventh-note chord of the dominant E-flat Major, continues Kinderman, the long-awaited event takes place in form of a decisive and jubilant elaboration of this chord in a ten-bar-transition into the finale. This is, of course, the moment of reunion, after which a dancing  Vivacissimimamente in sonata form transforms the 'Lebewohl' motif from the first movement into a sparkling figuration.  Beethoven, writes Kinderman, repeats the symbolic progression from the 'Abwesenheit' (absence) in the 'Wiedersehen' (reunion, return) by transforming hard, sinister, un-harmonized octaves into graceful turns . . . In Kinderman's opinion, this finale does not only contain the end result of the entire progression in all movements, as in the Patethique, but rather, it also forms the dramatic climax of the entire work.  Obviously, writes Kinderman, Beethoven delayed the conclusion of this exuberant finale until such time at which the actual return of the Archduke provided him with the outer occasion for the celebration and immortalisation of their friendship in a work of art.    (Kinderman: 137-138).

In Cooper's brief reference to this sonata, he is of the opinion that this sonata, overall, can be considered Beethoven's only piano sonata with specific autobiographic connections, but in the same manner as the Pastorale it, too, can not be classified as programmatic, as every movement only evokes a mood, and that by means of traditional rhetoric means, while the musical material is developed in a purely abstract manner.  (Cooper: 184-186).

ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS

Here, let us look at what Joachim Kaiser has to say: 

"Beethoven hat dieses Werk in einem Brief an den Verlag Breitkopf & Härtel (vom 2. Juli 1810) als >>charakteristische Sonate<< angekündigt.  Ins Autograph schrieb er den Titel samt Begründung:  >>Das Lebe Wohl /Vien am 4ten May 1809 / bej der Abreise S. Kaiserl. Hoheit - des Verehrten Erzherzogs / Rudolf<<.  Die drei Sätze vertonen drei Phasen einer Beziehung zwischen zwei Menschen:  Abschied, Abwesenheit, Wiedersehen.  Dabei geht es nicht um mehr oder minder verborgene Programmatik.  Die Sonate nennt ihr charakteristisches Programm, führt es buchstäblich aus und heißt nach ihm:  >>Les Adieux<<.  Wenn Beethovens Klaviersonaten Beinamen tragen, ist Vorsicht geboten.  An der Popularität, die sich mit derartigen leicht zitierbaren Bezeichnungen verbindet, kleben fast immer Mißverständnisse.  Sei es, daß diese Beinamen unsinning sind (>>Hammerklaviersonate<<), irreführend (>>Appassionata<<), ablenkend (>>Mondschein-Sonate<<) oder, wie im Falle von Opus 81 a, ärgerlich ungenau, weil Beethoven >>Lebewohl<< meinte, aber auf >>Adieux<< festgelegt wurde.  Es ist nicht ohne Ironie, daß dies ausgerechnet einem literarisch so interessierten und beschlagenen Komponisten widerfuhr, wie Beethoven es war -- durchaus im Gegensatz zu vielen Nur-Musikern vor ihm.  Wie hellhörig Beethoven auch Worte zu wägen wußte, belegt sein tief verärgerter Brief vom 9. Oktober 1811 an Breitkopf & Härtel:  >>Eben erhalte ich das Lebewohl usw.; ich sehe, daß Sie doch auch andere Exemplare mit französischem Titel (herausgeben wollen).  Warum denn?  >>Lebe wohl<< ist etwas ganz anderes als >>les adieux<<.  Das erstere sagt man nur einem herzlich allein, das andere einer ganzen Versammlung, ganzen Städten.<<

Die drei Anfangsakkorde vertonen ausdrücklich und buchstäblich das >>le-be-wohl<<, und auch die drei Sonaten-Sätze haben ein Programm:  Abschied, Abwesenheit, Wiedersehen.  Ohne Mühe lassen sich dabei Schmerz, langsam verschwindendes Pferdegetrappel, das Abschiedswinken und der Wiedersehensjubel aus der Musik herauslesen und heraushören.

Also Programm-Musik?  Diese Frage wird oft dahingehend beantwortet, daß dem Werk zwar ein Programm zugrunde liege, daß man es aber auch ohne jedes Programmn, als >>absolute<< Musik, hören und würdigen könne.

Mit diesem stets plausiblen >>sowohl -- als auch<< brauchen wir uns nicht zufriedengeben.  Denn:  kein äußerer programmatischer Vorgang ordnet hier die vergehende Musikzeit.  Die Verlaufsform der >>Les Adieux<<-Sonate ist durchaus und ohne jeden Abstrich so sonatenhaft wie bei Pathetique oder Kreutzer-Sonate, die ja auch mit langsamer Einleitung anheben.  (Ein echt programmatisches Gegenbeispiel wäre >>Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche<< von Richard Strauss.  Zwar >>Rondo<< genannt, beginnt dies Stück mit dem Auftritt Tills, dann illustriert es nacheinander sein Liebeswerben, seine Enttäuschung, seine Streiche.  Es endet damit, daß Till am Galgen verröchelt, bevor eine Coda sein Thema apotheotisch verklärt. ...)  Die unleugbar existente und charakteristische programmatische Tendenz der >>Les Adieux<<-Sonate bereichert den Sonatenkosmos, setzt ihn indessen nirgendwo außer Kraft.  Abschieds-Unrast, Trennungsschmerz und Wiedersehensjubel sind hier ein Widerstand.  Die Sonate umschließt, und ordnet!, ihr mitkomponiertes Programm:  >>Les Adieux<< steht darum keinen Augenblick auf der Seite der Programm-Musik.

Niemand kann, niemand darf ganz klar entwirren, ganz penibel auseinanderklauben, wann denn nun in der Les Adieux-Sonate die realistische Tonmalerei aufhört und die >>Vergeistigung<< anfängt, wie sich Illustration und Abstraktion zueinander verhalten, wo genau die Grenze liegt zwischen skeletthafter, in altertümlichen >>Pfundnoten<< vorgetragener, das >>Lebewohl<< signalisierender Polyphonie und den impressionistischen, zumindest subtil chromatischen Effekten.  Auch die Les Adieux-Sonate macht -- wie so manches große Kunstwerk -- ein Geheimnis daraus, wann sie ihr Problem, ihr Programm entwickelt oder wann sie sich in die Eigengesetzlichkeit ihrer Spielform verschließt.  Diese beiden Komponenten lassen sich nicht fein säuberlich auseinanderlegen, was keineswegs den Schluß erlaubt, sie seien identisch.  Erst wenn das Lebewohl-Signal und die Lebewohl-Trauer, schmucklose Monotonie und schwungvoller Ernst, expressive Empfindsamkeit und die rauschhaft rasche, namenlose Freude des Finales sich die Waage halten, erst dann offenbart die Les Adieux-Sonate ihre reine Philosophie des Abschieds.  Zumal der erste Satz erfordert eine spirituelle, fast philosophische Interpretationshaltung wie kein anderes Werk Beethovens zuvor" (Kaiser: 441-443; --

-- Kaiser writes that in his letter of July 2, 1810 to Breitkopf & Härtel, Beethoven described this sonata as a >>characteristic<< sonata and that in the autograph, he had written the title and the reason for it,  >>Das Lebe Wohl /Vien am 4ten May 1809 / bej der Abreise S. Kaiserl. Hoheit - des Verehrten Erzherzogs / Rudolf<< (The Farewell/Vienna on the 4th of May 1809 / on the departure of His Imperial Highness - the Revered Archduke Rudolf).  He states that the three movements set to music three phases of a relationship between two men:  farewell, absence, and return respectively reunion, and that this does not refer to more or less hidden program music, rather, the sonata names its characteristic program, literally executes it and is named after it:  >>Les Adieux<<.  Kaiser then states that when Beethoven's piano sonatas bear nick names, then caution is in order.    The popularity with which such easily quotable names are attached to is always also connected to misunderstandings, be it that such nick names are nonsense (>>Hammerklavier Sonata<<), misleading (>>Appassionata<<), distracting (>>Moonlight<< Sonata) or, as in the case of Op. 81 a, annoyingly incorrect, since Beethoven meant for the title to be >>Lebewohl<<, but was tied down to >>Adieux<<, and it is not without irony, continues Kaiser, that a composer who was as interested in literature as he was, was beset with such a problem.  Kaiser then points out that Beethoven had a keen sense of how to weigh words, as is shown in his angry letter to the publisher of October 9, 1811 [writer's note: see our quote of the entire letter above!] . . .  

The three initial chords, writes Kaiser, precisely and literally set to music the  >>le-be-wohl<<, and also the three sonata movements have a program:  Farewell, absence, and return/reunion.  Easily, in them, pain, the slow fading-away of galloping horses, the farewell-wave and the rejoicing at the reunion can be heard in the music.  

Thus, program music, asks Kaiser, and states that this  question is often answered by stating that at the basis of this work, there lies a program, indeed, that one, however, could also hear and treasure it without any program, thus as >>absolute<< music.  

With this always plausible >>this as well as that<<, infers Kaiser, we do not have to be satisfied, since no outer programmatic progression orders the musical time that is passing here. The progession of the >>Les Adieux<< sonata, writes Kaiser, is just as sonata-like as in the Pathetique and in the Kreutzer Sonata, which also begin with a slow introduction.   . . .  The undeniably existing and characteristic programmatic tendency of this sonata, continues Kaiser, enriches the sonata cosmos, and nowhere does it annihilate it.  The restlessness of departure, the pain of separation and the rejoicing at the reunion are a resistance to this.  This sonata, writes Kaiser, encompasses and organizes the program that it includes and therefore, not even for a moment, does >>Les Adieux<< stand at the side of progam music. 

Nobody can, continues Kaiser, nobody may quite clearly define, quite clearly decipher, when precisely, in this sonata, tone painting stops and when spiritualization in it begins, and how illustration and abstraction are related to each other, where exactly the borderline lies between skeleton-like polyphony that presents and signals the >>Lebewohl<< in old >>Pound Notes<<, and the impressionistic, at least subtly chromatic effects, as also this sonata--as many a great work of art--makes a secret out of the fact as to when it develops its problem, its program or when it hides itself behind its own playful laws.  These two components, writes Kaiser, can not be clearly separated, what, by no means, allows for the conclusion that they are identical.   Only when the Lebewohl signal and the Lebewohl grief, unadorned monotony and vibrant seriousness, expressive sensitivity and the orgiastically fast, nameless joy pf the finale find a balance, only then does this sonata revewal its pure philosophy of farewell, and, like in no other Beethoven work, particularly the rendition of the first movement calls for a spiritual, almost philosophical interpretive outlook). 


ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS

The active pianist Anton Kuerti provides us with this overview:  

Kuerti describes Op. 81 a as the last famous work of Beethoven's middle style period and states that it could be considered the high point of this group, and, with respect to its content, the most well-balanced.  Compared to Op. 53 and Op. 57, writes Kuerti, this sonata is shorter, yet it appears as rich in content due to its concentrated expressive power and, while it is pianistically less virtuosic, it is still capable of   impressing us without distracting from its emotional content, and, just a little bit less sparse in the use of its musical material, it appears to us much more generous due to the less fragmented and warmer character of its ideas.  

Only in retrospect, writes Kuerti, and through thorough study, we can find in it some details that point towards the complex style of the late Beethoven, and with respect to those details, Kuerti refers to the mysterious preparation of the introductory Allegro, to the experimental, unusually winding harmonies in the development, and to the extended coda with its almost impressionistic mixture of tonic and dominant.  

Kuerti reports that above the three throughfully descending chords with which this sonata begins, Beethoven had written in German the words, "Lebe wohl", and that, much to his dismay, the publisher, on his own accord, has applied the French title, "Les Adieux" on the title page, and from then on, this title remained with this sonata.  

Kuerti continues that only in two or three other works, namely in the "Pastoral" Symphony, and in the "Battle Symphony" does Beethoven refer to a programmatic content, however, the program of "Les Adieux" does not evoke images such as of a thunderstorm, a peasant dance or a cuckoo call, as this occurs in the Sixth Symphony.  Rather, writes Kuerti,  it expresses three quite distinct moods:  Beethovens grief at the farewell of the Archduke, his friend and patron, who had left Vienna for a longer time period (in the first movement); his loneliness during the Archduke's absence (in the second movement) and his joy at the Archduke's return (in the last movement).  

Adagio; Allegro

The Adagio introduction, writes Kuerti, immediately sets the serious mood of the work.  The unexpected minor mode of the third "Lebe wohl" chord is the first in a sequence of intense harmonic effects, and when the introductory motif is repeated, the third chord is not only unexpected but almost erotically shocking, when it dissolved into the distant C-sharp-Major.   

The astounding harmonies of the third note of the "Lebe wohl" motif, writes Kuerti, chracterize the development and the coda.  These three descending notes also form the second theme (19), and shortly before the end of the movement, they reappear (22) in an echo effect that comes forth through the simultaneous sounding of the tonic and dominant chords.  

Andante espressivo;

The profound, melancholy second movement, writes Kuerti, as many slow movements of this style period, hover at the border between independence and function as an introduction to the last movement.  Its most outstanding moments are those in which it, in the midst of its sadness, becomes immeasurably sweet and, perhaps, resembles a memory of happier moments.   

Vivacissimamente

The last movement, writes Kuerti, displays its joy uninterruptedly up to the coda  (24), where the main them is then developed in a pensive mood, in a slower tempo and perhaps is meant to represent a passing memory of the pain of departure.  

As Kuerti states, only few passages and be interpreted more concretely:  the introductory motif of the sonata might, perhaps, refer to the post horns of the coach that takes the Archduke away; in his opinion, the Allegro theme sounds like the forced, painful separation of two friends; the isolated and unaccompanied passages of 32nd-notes in the Andante are perhaps a symbolic depiction of loneliness, and the explosive outburst at the beginning of the last movement suggests that it depicts Beethoven's sudden vision of the returning Archduke, and the subsequent, hurrying Arpeggios might symbolize the embrace of the friends, followed by a dance of joy.  

Kuerti admits that all extra-musical hints and comparisons might well be fitting, and, although they might be helpful to us in our enjoyment of this sonata, the essence of this sonata does not lie in events, but rather in the general feelings that are connected to it.   (Kuerti: 45-46).

Here again a Link to a midi Sample of this Beethoven Sonata: 

 Kunst der Fuge: Beethoven-Sonatas

Before we send you on your way to your own bibliographical searches by means of our last link, we also want to provide you with our link to an interesting online article on this sonata.  To this, we might note the following (although not very major) bit of information:   Since this article has already been written in 1996, as Beethoven's general motivation, it also includes a reference to Haydn's death on May 31, 1809.  Compared to this, in his book that has been published in 2000, Barry Cooper states that Beethoven handed the first movement of this sonata over to the Archduke on the day of his departure, on May 4, 1809, from which one might conclude that this movement had already been completed.   Here the link to this interesting article:  

Eytan Agmon of the Bar-Ilan University Ramat-Gan in Israel discusses two interepretations of the First Movement of this Sonata in Music Theory Online: The Online Journal of the Society for Music Theory

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 81 a - Search