BEETHOVEN'S PIANO SONATAS
SONATA NO. 2, OP. 2/2
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

In this section, William Kinderman is providing us with his insights:

"The opening Allegro vivace of op. 2 no. 2 offers further testimony to Beethoven's audacity in its extraordinary treatment of the second subject-group. After a brilliant play of scalar figures and falling leaps in the opening theme the music settles mysteriously onto the dominant E minor, with slow tremolos in the left hand and a legato, espressivo phrase in the treble (Ex. 9). 


The lyrical phrase outlines the falling semitones E-D#-D, while the bass rises step by step, facilitating a modulation to G. Sequential intensification of these bars extends the rising bass movement, bringing the music to the remote key of B-flat. Beethoven now exploits his procedure of foreshortening to bring matters to breaking-point: instead of employing a stable thematic configuration, he devises his second subjects as a dramatic series of modulations that are strictly controlled by the long ascent of the bass through a full octave. Once this progression has re-attained
the original pitch an octave higher, the impact of foreshortening has stripped away all but the semitone E-D# in the melody.

Now comes the real crux of the matter: after the virtual disappearance of the second subject, the falling scalar figure of the opening theme returns fortissimo to fill the void! Beethoven adds a touch of the grotesque by juxtaposing the soft, enigmatic high semitone C-D# with the insistent bass figure outlining a tritone. He then swells on the semitone in the high register, pausing on an ambiguous diminished-seventh chord. The silence that follows magnifies the complex quality of this moment, preparing a triumphant reversal of the resolution of the semitone, as the diminished seventh containing D# is finally resolved into cascades of figuration elaborating the long-awaited E major triad.


Dramatically, the entire passage is posited on the notion of a controlled postponement of the dominant key, building suspense that makes the eventual discovery of that goal all the more satisfying. The dynamic thrust so evident in the development of the Allegro of op. 2 no. 1 is transplanted here into the exposition of the sonata form. The idea is original and the execution flawless, demonstrating that by 1795 Beethoven had already transcended an imitative style of composition, at least in this genre" (Kinderman: 36 - 37).

ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS

Here, the German music critic Joachim Kaiser's introductory comments to this sonata are summarized: 

"Eine Expedition in die Höhen und Tiefen, in die genau ausgehörte klangliche Vieldimensionalität des Klaviers. >>Lagenwechsel<< als Mittel räumlicher, im Largo quasi-orchestraler Entfaltung. Horizontale (thematische) Fortspinnung und vertikale (räumliche) Vielschichtigkeit werden ausprobiert und ausgenützt.  Geistreicher, virtuoser Überfluß erscheint im ersten, vor allem aber im letzten Satz als Stoff für improvisatorische Freiheit. Der Klaviersatz profitiert hier, zum ersten Male bei Beethoven, auch von transklavieristischer Anregung. Das Stück glänzt als witzige, unerschütterlich kraftvolle, brilliant-kompositorische Selbstdarstellung. >>Virtuose Wirkungen<< verdanken sich der Wahrheit eines unangefochtenen Lebensgefühls" (Kaiser: 55; --

Kaiser sees in this sonata an expedition into the heights and depths, into the precisely sounded-out multi-dimensionality of the piano, he refers to position changes as a means of spatial orchestral unfolding in the Largo, and to horizontal/thematic development and vertical/spatial multi-layers, to witty, virtuosic abundance, both in the first, but mainly in the last movement, as a means for improvisatory freedom.  For the first time, writes Kaiser, the Beethoven piano movement profits from trans-pianistic inspirations.  He describes the piece as a witty, unshakeably strong, brilliant compositional self portrait and states that virtuosic effects owe their existence to the thruth of an undisputed awareness of life).

He continues as follows, and we have summarized his further comment for you in English:  

"Tonarten sind nicht allgemein charakteristisch. d-Moll hat bei Bach eine andere Funktion als bei Mozart, und bei Mozart wiederum eine andere als bei Beethoven. Doch innerhalb eines Oeuvres scheinen sich -- für einen Komponisten -- mit bestimmten Tonarten auch bestimmte Akkord-Folgen, bestimmte Klang-Reize zu verbinden. Nicht als Regel, wohl aber als Tendenz .

Die Tonart A-Dur führt bei Beethoven oft zu einem Rausch der Helle, zu kraftvoll diesseitiger Virtuosität und optimistisch männlicher Selbstbehauptung. Das gilt für die A-Dur-Sonate opus 2 Nr. 2, für die 7. Symphonie (Opus 92), für die Kreutzer-Sonate (Opus 47), sogar für die heiklen, gleichwohl glänzend virtuosen Wirkungen der A-Dur-Fuge aus der Sonate Opus 101, für weite Strecken (nicht nur des Finales) der Cellosonate Opus 69. Es gilt nicht, oder nur eingeschränkt, für die A-Dur-Violinsonate Opus 30 Nr. 1 und für das Streichquartett in A-Dur Opus 18 Nr. 5. Man kann immerhin sagen, A-Dur verbinde sich bei Beethoven mit der Tendenz zum Brillianten, Hellen, Konzertanten und Tänzerischen -- obschon es kein A-Dur-Konzert aus Beethovens Feder gibt.

War die erst Sonate lakonisch und leidenschaftlich, das Werk eines jungen Jakobiners, der nebenher demonstriert, wie souverän er träumen und komponieren kann, so wirkt die A-Dur-Sonate Opus 2 Nr. 2 nicht nur glanzvoller, heiterer, verbindlicher, sondern auch konventioneller, unbedrohter, selbstverliebter und redseliger. Pracht und Eleganz, das pompös ruhige, leidenschaftliche, >>affirmative<< Schreiten des Largos, der Funke des Scherzos und die kontrastreiche Anmut des Rondo-Finales verraten das Bestreben des jungen Genies, sich in der 2. Klaviersonate von einer neuen Seite zu zeigen:  nämlich zu bezaubern, mit pianistischen Anforderungen zu provozieren, den Jakobiner in Seide zu hüllen und den Wiener Salons des ausgehenden 18. Jahrhunderts zu imponieren, die ja vom napoleonischen Marschtritt noch nicht erschüttert waren.

>>Hell<<, >>rasch<<, >>elegant<<, >>konventionell<<, >>bezaubernd<<, >>provokant<< --verschleiern derartige Charakterisierungen nicht eine Art Schuldbewußtsein des Charakterisierenden? Wäre die Sonate nichts als das, so dürfte man sie >>flach<< oder >>schwach<< nennen: eine Sonate, in der Beethoven entweder nicht allzuviel zu sagen hat oder sagen will. Daß ihr im Gegensatz zu den allermeisten Sonaten-Kompositionen Beethovens (auch Quartetten, Trios, Symphonien) im Kopfsatz die Coda, die abschließende, krönende kurze Schlußdurchführung fehlt, könnte diesen Eindruck des Leichtgewichtigen (wenn auch keineswegs leicht Spielbaren) noch unterstreichen.

Doch auf solche Einschränkungen oder Beschönigungen verfällt man nur, wenn man diese 2. Sonate an der entschlossenen f-Moll-Sonate mißt.   Hier geht es indessen um etwas anderes: nämlich um schwungvolle Eroberung des Klavierraumes, also aller jener späterhin von Beethoven, danach von Liszt, mit immer kühnerer Konsequenz ausgenutzten Lagen- und Lagenwechsel-Techniken des Klaviers. Den >>Geist<< dieser Sonate legt die Höhen-Tiefen-Kurve des ersten Satzes fest. Bereit die ersten acht Takte umspannen, wenn man die Distanz zwischen tiefstem und höchstem Ton betrachtet, drei Oktaven und eine Septime, also nahezu vier Oktaven, fast den ganzen überhaupt verfügbaren Raum. So geht es weiter: kaum irgendeine kurze Entwicklung, die nicht mindestens fünf Oktaven weit ausgreift; kaum eine zusammenhängende Passage, die nicht mindestens zwei Oktaven umfaßt. (Und das dürfte damals noch ambitionierter, noch ausgreifender gewirkt haben als heute, weil Beethovens Instrumente zunächst nur fünfeinhalb bis sechs Oktaven Umfang hatten)" (Kaiser: 55 - 57; -- 

-- Kaiser continues by stating that keys are not generally characteristic and refers to the key of d-minor that, with Bach, serves another function that with Mozart, and with Mozart, it has again another function than with Beethoven.  However, infers Kaiser, within one oeuvre, for one composer, with certain keys, certain chord sequences and certain sound effects appear to be associated, and that, perhaps, not as a rule, but as a tendency.  .

Kaiser writes that the key of A Major, with Beethoven, leads to a indoxitation of brightness, to strong, immanent virtuosity and optimistically-masculine self-assertion.  As examples, Kaiser refers to his A-Major Sonata, op. 2, no. 2, to the 7th Symphony (Opus 92), to the Kreutzer Sonata (Opus 47), and even to the precarious, yet brilliant virtuosic effects of the A-Major fugue of the Sonata, Op. 101, and to vast stretches (not only of the finale) of the Cello Sonata, Op. 69.  Contrary to this, so Kaiser, this does not apply entirely to the A-Major Violin Sonata, Op. 30, No. 1, and to the String Quartet in A-Major Op. 18, No. 5.  At least, states Kaiser, with Beethoven, the key of A-Major is associated with a tendency towards the brilliant, bright, concert-like and dance-like, even though there does not exist an A-Major concerto that Beethoven wrote.   

While Kaiser describes the first sonata as laconic and passionate, almost as the work of a young French Revolutionary who, on the side, demonstrates how sovereign he can dream and compose, he described the second, A-Major Sonata, Opus 2, no. 2 as not only more brilliant, cheerful, engaging, but also more conventional, calm, undisturbed, self-emulated and chatty.  Grandeur and elegance, writes Kaiser, the pompously calm, passionate, affirmative progression of the Largo, the spark of the Scherzo, and the grace of the rondo finale that is full of contrasts reveal, in his opinion, the striving of the young genius to show himself from a new side in the second sonata:  here, he wants to charm us, he wants to provoke us with his pianistic ambitions, he is hiding the French Revolutionary behind silk garments in order to impress the Viennese musical salon of the late 18th century that was--not yet--shaken by Napoleon's arrival.  

Kaiser then lists some of the characteristics with which he has, thus far, described this sonata:  >>bright<<, >>fast<<, >>elegant<<, >>conventional<<, >>charming<<, >>provocative<<, and he asks himself whether these attributes do not also hide a kind of guilty conscience of the person who is characterizing the work.  He argues that, if the sonata were only "that", one could also call it "flat" or "weak", thus a sonata in which Beethoven either did not have much to say or in which he did not want to say much. That it, in contrast to most of his sonata compositions (also quartets, trios, symphonies), it is lacking the coda in the first movement, thus the crowning final development, could even enhance this light-weight impression.  

However, he warns the reader that one only arrives at such limitations or euphemisms if one compares this second sonata to the resolute f-minor sonata, the first sonata.  In doing so, however, one would miss the point that here, something else is at stake, namely the zestful conquering of pianistic range, thus those techniques of changes in position that Beethoven and after him Liszt pursued with increasing boldness.  The >>spirit<< of this sonata, according to Kaiser, is determined by the curve of heights and depths of the first movement.   Already the first eight measures, so Kaiser -- if we consider the distance between the lowest and the highest note -- span three octaves and a seventh, thus nearly four octaves, almost the entire range that is available, and thus, it continues, one can barely find a short development that does not at least reach out across five octaves, barely a continuing passage that does not, at least, span two octaves, which, in Beethoven's days, might have made a much more ambitious effect than today, since the instruments of Beethoven's time, initially, only had a range of five and a half to six octaves).

Kaiser's further discussion of this sonata deals again with interesting insights into its performance by great pianists of the 20th century. 


ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS

In this section, we turn again to 'our' pianist, Anton Kuerti, who, in his introductory comment, describes this second sonata of the Opus No. 2  group as the best of these sonatas.  He writes that the thematic material that Beethoven offers here is extremely simple, as this is often the case with him, and he refers to this as "almost like an arbitrary trying out of a piano"  (Kuerti: 15) and continues by mentioning Sir John Russell's recollection of an event in Beethoven's life according to which one of his patrons tricked him into playing the piano:  This host is described as having stepped to the piano and as having maltreated it with his own feeble attempts at playing until Beethoven's patience was taxed to the utmost so that he stepped to the piano, himself, and struck the right chord. Once he was at the piano, so Kuerti, he withdrew into his own world and began to improvise and thereby deeply move those who were present.  After this charming introduction, Kuerti discusses the individual movements as follows:    

 

Allegro vivace

"The first subject consists of three distinct elements, followed by an abrupt modulation (15) leading to a remarkable second subject in minor (16), which lends a quality of seriousness to a movement that at first promised to be merely amusing" (Kuerti: 15)  However, continues Kuerti, the music seems to feel uneasy in this key and tries, via somewhat stubborn detours, to return to the basic key of E-Major, what Beethoven then does successfully.  

Kuerti describes the development as somewhat student-like in its form, in which the first part of the main theme is elaborated on rather lengthy, followed by a similar excursion in the second part.  However, writes Kuerti, Beethoven, to our delight, does not continue in this vein, so that the naivete of this first part is compensated by the  "fascinating transformation of character which the main theme undergoes" (Kuerti: 15). 

 

Largo appassionato

"The Largo is rather orchestral in conception.  The tune is in itself quite bland, almost awkward in its hymn-like shape; its atmosphere is created mainly by the texture, particularly the pizzicato-like bass notes.  About 2/3 of the way through the movement, we encounter new material of a rather tender character (20), but instead of entering a new key, the new theme remains in the tonic" (Kuerti: 15 - 16).  To to this, writes Kuerti, it rather makes the impression of a coda and looks ahead at Beethoven's later works in which codas would become very important.  After the most important material of the movement has been introduced, the composer has the possibility of elaborating on the preceding or ponder over it.  According to Kuerti, it is often here where the composer can make the greatest impression.  In this coda, the main theme returns stongly in the minor key and ascends to an exhilarating climax.  Thus, a movement that might only have turned out "ordinarily beautiful", turns into something very special.

 

Scherzo: Allegretto und Rondo: Grazioso

"A superbly playful Scherzo is followed by a Rondo which is simply marked "Grazioso", writes Kuerti with respect to the third and fourth movement and, in doing so, he points out that the scherzo is superbly playful, followed by a rondo that Beethoven simply designated as "Grazioso".  The reason for this, writes Kuerti, is its "non-virtuoso" character that does not allow the pianist to display any acrobatic virtuoso talents.  Moreover, the fact that this sonata has a "soft" ending, does not contribute to its possible virtuoso popularity.   "But it is an extraordinary movement, and was a favourite of the composer's.  The theme has a striking downward-swooping interval (22) that sounds like the musical expression of a most tender, sweeping caress, which, alas for poor ugly and awkward Beethoven, he was to bestow mainly on his music and seldom, if ever, on members of the opposite sex" (Kuerti: 16).  [This female Beethoven friend would just like to interject here that Beethoven's outer homeliness and clumsiness could also be overlooked by less superficially inclined 'ladies'!:-)]  

"The first episode (23) is filled with heartfelt romantic longing, and the next (24) is quite athletic and furious, which is often the case in Beethoven's rondos" (Kuerti: 16).  The strong chromatic passages, writes Kuerti, have no direct connection to the rest of the movement, so that one can be sure that the conflict that has begun can not be serious, and, indeed, it dissipates rather quickly.   

In the last section of the Rondo-theme, writes Kuerti, something wonderful occurs:  the "caress" of the theme is transformed into a "blush" in its modulating towards the distant, yet intimate key of F-Major.   To this are added two more unexpected elements:  a short development of the "caress" (of which one could hardly assume that it could still be developed any further) and a brief reminiscence of the chromatic passage of the middle part which lends to this movement, in spite of its informal character, a certain compact feeling.  A last glance at the Rondo-Theme, richly ornamented, but very peaceful, rounds off this exquisite work, very softly.  

With this, Kuerti's comment ends.  Perhaps you have become interested in listening to Kuerti perform?  Below, in addition to a midi file listening sample link, we also offer you a link to a Kuerti listening sample: 

Here, first, the midi listening sample link: 

Kunst der Fuge: Beethoven-Sonaten

And here a link to Analekta/fleurs de lys,
which offers a Kuerti listening sample of this sonata!

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:


Op. 2, Nr. 2 - Search