Beethoven 1819


Only a few months after the publication of the great Beethoven Piano Sonata Op. 106 (in September 1819), Beethoven once again succumbed to his fate of having to sit for a portrait.  If we take a look at the Beethoven portrait by the Munich 'Society' painter Carl Josef Stieler, we can see that at this time, Beethoven must have been composing his great Mass, since it shows him with the manuscript of this work in his hands.  While, in our upcoming creation history, we first explore the question as to when Beethoven turned again to the composition of a piano sonata and how this came about, our initial reflections are also accompanied by (framed) quotes from our relevant section of our online biography in order to point towards important events of Beethoven's general life circumstances during this period.   



"The legal proceedings with respect to Carl continued. Beethoven filed a petition with the Court of Appeals on January 7th. He asked for the appointment of a co-guardian because of his "somewhat bad hearing". He suggested Herr Peters, the private tutor of Prince Lobkowitz' children." 


With respect to Beethoven's start of his work on new piano sonatas, both Kinderman (p. 218) and Cooper (p. 279) provide us with some details.  

Kinderman reports that Beethoven's work on this sonata began in the first months of the year 1820, and that already prior to his negitiations with the Berlin music publisher Schlesinger.   Kinderman's Beethoven book that was published in 1995 also reports on new research results that point out that Beethoven had been stimulated to compose this sonata due to an inquiry of his Viennese acquaintance, the musician and editor Friedrich Starke, and that this inquiry led him to interrupt his work on on his Missa solemnis, in April, 1820, and to begin his work on a piece of music which should later become the first movement of this sonata.  

In his Beethvoen book that was published in 2000, Barry Cooper, on the other hand, writes that Beethoven, after he must have realized that his great Mass would not be completed on time for the inauguration of Archduke Rudolph as Archbishop of Olmütz, on March 9, 1820, so that he turned his attention to other works and that Starke's inquiry offered him an opportunity to do so.  With respect to this inquiry, Barry Cooper mentions an entry in one of Beethoven's conversation books, namely on February 6, 1820, according to which Bernard informed Beethoven of Starke's request of him of a small piece of music and of some biographical details for a 'piano school' that he planned to write, for which several well-known composers were asked to make contributions.  Kinderman, again, provides us with the name of this publication, which was published as Wiener Pianoforteschule.  

"On April 8th, the Appellate Court decided in Beethoven's favor and Peters was appointed co-guardian. Johanna's counter-appeal to the Emperor failed. The Magistrate advised all parties of this."

As Cooper further reports, this modest inquiry had far-reaching consequences and indirectly influenced Op. 109 and two new sets of bagatelles.  The 'little piece' that Starke had requested was completed one or two months later.  With respect to this, Cooper reports that Franz Oliva who, in the meantime, had taken on the role of Beethoven's unsalaried private secretary, asked him on April 19th as to whether he would leave this 'little piece' to Starke as a single piece (Cooper's source: 2 BKh, ii, 72).  

Compared to this, Thayer's report, without this new research, is somewhat less precise:  

"In the second Missa Solemnis sketchbook at Bonn there is a start to a "Sonate in E moll," which is not further developed.  At this same time the last three piano sonatas (Op. 109-111) were projected, to which we can return.  Along with sketches to the E major Sonata (Op. 109) there are sketches for the Bagatelles Op. 119, Nos. 7 to 11 inclusive" (Thayer: 761).

As Kinderman (p. 218) reports, Beetoven ultimately gave to Starke the Bagatelles, Op. 119, no. 7 - 11. 

As Cooper (p. 279-280) reports, in the meantime, Beethoven had received a request by the Berlin music publisher Adolf Schlesinger, for several piano sonatas.  Before Beethoven replied to Schlesinger, Oliva suggested to him that the 'little piece' might serve well as a beginning for one of the sonatas that Schlesinger had requested.  (As source for his information, Cooper lists   'Meredith, 'Op. 109' [see also Kinderman, p. 218-219] and 'Marston, Op. 109, 15-31' an).  Obviously, Beethoven took up Oliva's suggestion, since from his sketchbooks one can see that the first movement of his E-Major piano sonata, Op. 109, was written in March and April, thus before Schlesinger's requests, and that this beginning is the 'little piece' that Starke had ordered.  With respect to this sketch, Kinderman comments: 

"Its unusual design suggests a batagelle interrupted by two fantasy-like episodes, and in his draft in the Grasnick 20b manuscript Beethoven even labelled the slow continuation in triple metre, marked Adagio espressivo in the completed work, as a 'Fantasie'.(14; A facsimile and transcription of this draft is contained in my article 'Thematic Contrast and Parenthetical Enclosure in Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, Opp. 109 and iii')  Brandenburg has proposed on the basis of sketches (Grasnick 20b, fol1*) that Beethoven may have at first contemplated a new two-movement E minor Sonata, without the independently conceived first movement.(15; 'Die Skizzen zur Neunten Symphonie', p. 105, not 35)  Some of the movement and the closing set of variations were evidently created or developed only after Beethoven's decision to weld the three movements together as one work" (Kinderman: 218-219).

As Cooper reports, Beethoven then continued to work on his Missa solemnis, and its Credo was completed in June, 1820.  By this time, he reportedly had already come to terms with Schlesinger (we will discuss this matter separately, in our publication history).  Approximately after June 9, 1820, Beethoven is reported as having returned to his work on Op. 109.   Cooper (p. 281-282) argues further that Beethoven had conceptualized the last two movements of this sonata quickly, since already by June 28, he reported to Schlesinger that the Sonata was 'finished'.   Cooper qualifies Beethoven's reference to the 'completed' sonata insofar, as the concept for this sonata must already have been before him, as well as far-reaching drafts that still required to be worked out.   A year later, Beethoven is reported as having mentined in a letter that this sonata had been drafted more thoroughly than usual.  In this context, Cooper mentions the possibility of the existance of a preliminary score that might have been lost.  As he further reports, the completion and the sending of the completed score to Berlin was delayed by a few interruptions, such as, for example, the return of Archduke Rudolph to Vienna, in the summer of this year and his taking up music lessons with Beethoven, again, but also Beethoven's completion and copy of his 25 arrangement of Scottish folk songs, Op. 108, which Thomson published in 1818, and which Beethoven was now able to sell to Schlesinger.  In the meantime, Beethoven is also reported as having been occupied with preliminary negotiations with respect to the sale of his Missa solemnis, which, at that time, he considered nearly completed.  Due to ill health, due to delays in the completion of O. 108, which found its way to Berlin at the end of September, Beethoven is reported as having had time to return to his work on Op. 109, only after this.  On September 20th, Beethoven is reported as having written to Schlesinger that now, the sonata was almost completed, with the exception of a few minor corrections, however, Cooper considers it also possible that the completion of this sonata overlapped into the beginning of 1821.   

In comparison to Cooper's and Kinderman's comments and reports--for understandable reasons--the remainder of Thayer's report (p. 761-762) can, again, not be as precise.  Thus, Thayer-Forbes (1964) refers to Schindler's report that Beethoven, to rumors that, at that time, he had written himself out, that his inventive powers had been exhausted, and that he, like Haydn, was now engaged in arranging Scottish folk songs, reacted in an amused manner and that he pointed out that he would be able to present evidence to the contrary, very soon.   As Schindler reports, in the fall of 1820 Beethoven returned full of new ideas from his summer stay at Mödling  and that he sat down in order, as he is supposed to have expressed in a letter of his to Count Franz v. Brunsvik (who had shown concern with respect to Beethoven's mental state) that he was writing the three piano sonatas, Op. 109, 110 and 111, 'in one breath'.  Even Schindler, however, is reported as having had some doubts with repsect to the 'one breath', in which these sonatas are supposed to have been written, since between the completion of Op. 109 and that of Op. 110 and Op. 111, some time had passed.  With respect to Beethoven's letter to Franz v. Brunsvik, Thayer-Forbes points out that this letter has not been preserved.  Thayer then discusses Beethoven's negotiations with Schlesinger, which we will deal with the next section of this page, and confirms that Op. 109 is definitely to be attributed to the year 1820.  As Thayer further reports, the first theme of the first movement is to be found in a conversation book that was in use in April, 1280.  With respect to Beethoven's further work on this sonata, Thayer reports that parts of it were writen before the Benedictus of the Missa, parts of it during his work on the Credo and the Agnus Dei of the Missa, and during the time of his work on the Bagatelles for Starke.   

Thus we can see that we are confronted here with two different views as to the time frame of the completion of this sonata, with Cooper opting for 'possible at the beginning of 1821' and Thayer for 'belonging to the year 1820'.  


Op. 109, Manuscript Page


In turning to the details of the publication of this sonata, we should return to Cooper's report that in April 1820, Beethoven had received Schlesinger's request for the composition of three piano sonatas, to which Beethoven is reported as having replied on April 30, 1820:


                                                        "Wien den 30 April 1820


. . .

   Ich will Ihnen auch gerne neue Sonaten überlassen,[11] -- diese jedoch nicht anders als um 40# pr. <stück>Sonate also etwa ein Werk von 3 Sonaten zu 120# -- . . . "

                                                        "Vienna the 30th of April 1820


. . .

   I am also willing to let you have new sonatas,[11] -- those, however, at no other price than 40 # per <piece>sonata thus about a group of 3 sonatas for 120# -- . . . "

[Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 4, Letter no. 1388, p. 395 - 397]

[Original: in private hands; to [11]: refers to a possible letter by Schlesinger to Beethoven, of April 11, 1820, in which he would have asked Beethoven for these sonatas; the 'Gesamtausgabe' lists this letter, the original of which is not known, as Letter no. 1381, and it also refers to the fact that at this time, Beethoven is reported as having begun to work on Op. 109; details taken from p. 396 - 397].


On May 31st (see Thayer, p. 763 and Cooper, p. 280) Beethoven has reportedly reached an agreement with Schlesinger to let him have these sonatas within three months, for the price of 90 ducats, yet let us look at the relevant passage in this letter, ourselves:


                                                                                     "[Wien, 31. Mai 1820]


. . . ich sehe daß Sie nebst den Liedern[2] auch 3 Sonaten wünschen und entnehme aus dem bemerkten Preiß von 150# für alles daß Sie mir jede Sonate mit 30 # honoriren wollen;[3] -- dieses kleine Honorar für die Folge könnte nicht bleiben doch für diesen Fall, da bei der Parthie die schottischen [Lieder] inbegriffen sind, und um mit Ihrer Handlung einen Anfang zu machen, überlasse ich Ihnen das verlangte nach Ihrem Wunsch; -- jedoch dergestalt; -- ich liefere Ihnen die Lieder und 1 Sonate baldigst, die 2 andern Sonate[n] aber erst gegen Ende July;[4] -- Sie wollen mir dagegen zur Vereinfachung des Geschäfts ein hiesiges Handels-Haus anzeigen dem ich die Manuskripte übergebe und bei welchem Sie mich accreditiren um dagegen die Beträge erheben zu können, also mit Ihrer Rückantwort 90# für die Lieder & 1 Sonate & im Laufe des Monaths July 60 # für 2 Sonaten; -- dieses ist die Art & Weise wie ich mit allen meinen auswärtigen Abenehmern verkehre. -- 

   Ich erwarte umgehend Ihre Antwort mit der Aufgabe des Handlungs-Hauses bey welchem Sie mich accreditiren, und will um die Herausgabe bey Ihnen nicht zu hindern dann sogleich die Lieder agbeben, die ich unterdessen rein copiren laße; die erste Sonate könnte einige Wochen darauf abgebeben werden;[5] -- auch davon belieben Sie Ihren hiesigen Banker zu unterrichten, um bey der theilweisen Abgabe der Manuscripte und Beziehung des Honorars keine Anstände zu haben. -- . . . "                                                               

                                                                                  "[Vienna, May 31, 1820]


. . .I see that in addition to the songs[2] you also want to have 3 sonatas and from the noted price of 150# I see that you for each sonata you want to pay me a fee of 30#;[3[ -- this small fee could not be kept up in future, but in this case, since in the lot, also the Scottish [songs] are included, and in order to make a beginning with your business, I leave you what you asked for, according to your wish; -- however, in this manner; -- I will send you the songs and the 1st sonata as soon as possible, the other 2 sonatas, however,  only towards the end of July;[4] -- to simplify our business dealings, you would name me a local business to whom I can deliver the manuscripts and with which you accredit me so that I can draw sums from them, thus with your reply 90# for the songs and the 1 sonata & during the course of the month of July 60# for 2 sonatas; -- this is the manner in which deal with all of my clients abroad. -- 

   I expect your early reply with your providing me with the name of a local business with which you will accredit me, and in order not to hinder the publishing of material by you, I will submit the songs, right away; the first sonata could be submitted a few weeks thereafter; [5] -- also of this you may wish to advise your local banker so that there will be no problems with respect to the partial delivery of the scores and receipt of the fee. --  . . . "

[Quoted and translated from:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 4, Letter No. 1393, p. 400-401]

[Original: in private hands; to [2]: refers to Op. 108; to [3]: refers to the fact that in Letter no. 1388 ov April 30, 1820, Beethoven had asked for 40 ducats per sonata; to [4]: the time frame Beethoven set out in this letter was, by no means, adhered to, i.e. the copy for Op. 109 was only sent off in January or February, 1821, while the delivery of Op. 110 and Op. 111 warrants discussion in the relevant pages; details taken from p. 401].


On June 28, Beethoven basically re-iterated some of the content of his previous letter to Schlesinger:


                                                                                    "[Wien, 28. Juni 1820]


   Ich schrieb Ihnen am 31 d. v. Mts.,[1] und sagte Ihnen als Antwort auf Ihren lezten wr [=werten] Brief, daß ich Ihnen die schottischen Lieder[2] und 3 ganz neue Sonaten[3] für den von Ihnen vorgeschlagenen Preiß von 60# für die Lieder und 30# für jede Sonate überlassen wollte; -- jedoch nur um einmahl etwas mit Ihnen zu machen, indem ich für die Folge höhere Preise stipuliren müßte; -- ich ersuchte Sie weiters mir ein hiesiges Haus aufzugeben bey welchem ich die Manuscripte niederlegen könne um dagegen die Beträge des honorars zu erheben, wie es gewöhnlich bey meinem Verkehr mit auswärtigen Verlegern geschieht; -- weiters ersuchte ich Sie noch um eine umgehende Antwort hierüber, -- dieses vermiste ich zu meinem Befremden bis heute noch; -- die Copiatur der schottischen Lieder ließ ich seither besorgen,[4] auch sind mir von anderer Seite Anträge auf die gedachten Stücke gemacht worden,[5] darum wiederhole ich Ihnen hier oben den Inhalt meines Schreibens, welches Ihnen vielleicht nicht zugekommen sein dürfte, und bitte Sie mir mit Rückkehr der Post Ihren Entschluß über diesen Gegenstand anzuzeigen; -- ich wiederhole Ihnen daß ich Ihnen gerne den Vorzug vor Andern gäbe, erwarte aber entgeben wenigstens daß Sie mich durch keine Verzögerung Ihrer Antwort an meinen anderweitigen Auswegen hindern werden. -- darum schreiben Sie gefäll. sogleich; -- Stimmen Sie mit meinen Vorschlägen überein, wie ich nach Ihren Anträgen nicht zweifeln sollte, so schicke ich Ihnen gleich die Lieder nebst einer Sonate welche auch schon fertig liegt,[6] -- die beiden andern Sonaten folgen wie ich Ihnen sagte bis zu Ende des nächsten Monaths;[7] -- Ich wiederhole Ihnen daß Ihre Antwort unvereilt eintreffen müßte, weil ich sowohl der Lieder als Sonaten wegen von dem Verleger der jüngst besprochenen Variationen[8], und von Andern dringend angegangen werde. -- In dieser Erwartung empfehle ich mich Ihnen mit aller Achtung.

Wien den 28 Juny 1820

                                                                                      L. v. Beethoven


An die Schlesinger-sche Kunst - und Buchhandlung in Berlin"

                                                                                "[Vienna, June 28, 1820]


   I wrote to you on the 31st of the last month,[1] and in reply of your last esteemed letter I told you that I agreed to let you have the Scottish songs[2] and 3 entirely new sonatas[3] for the price of 60# suggested by you and 30# for each Sonata; -- however, only so that I could start something with you, so that, for the future, I would have to stipulate higher prices; -- I further asked you to give me the name of a local dealer to whom I could submit the manuscripts in order to draw the amounts of my fee, as this is usually done when I deal with publishers from abroad; -- further, I asked you for an immediate reply with respect to this, -- to my dismay, I am still missing this reply, today-- in the meantime, I have arranged for the Scottish songs to be published,[4], also, by other parties, I have had offers with respect to the mentioned pieces,[5] therefore, above, I am repeating the content of my letter which you might not have received, and I ask you to let me know of your decision, by return mail; -- I repeat that I would like to engage you in preference over others, however, I at least expect that you will not prevent me from pursuing other avenues by your delay, -- therefore, kindly, write to me immediately; -- if you agree with my suggestions, as I should not doubt from your offers,   then I will, right away, send you the songs in addition to a sonata which is also completed, already[6] -- the two other sonatas will follow, as I told you, towards the end of next month;[7] -- I repeat that your reply would have to arrive without delay, since otherwise, I will be approached with respect to the songs and to the sonatas, by the publisher of the Variations[8] that have recently been reviewed, and also by others, urgently. -- In expectiation, I recommend myself to you with all respect.  

Vienna, the 28th of June, 1820

                                                                                      L. v. Beethoven


To the Schlesinger-sche Kunst - und Buchhandlung in Berlin"

[Quoted and translated from:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausabe, Volume 4, Letter no. 1397, p. 405 - 406]

[Original:  Edinburgh, Scottish REcord Office, Ogilvry of Inverquliarity muniments; to [1]: refers to letter no. 1393; to [2]: refers to Op. 108; to [3]: refers to the last Piano Sonatas, Op. 109, Op. 110, and Op. 110; to [4]: refers to this copy's being in possession of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn; to [5]:  refers to the fact that such offers are not known and not very likely, see also Oliva's remark with respect to this; to [6]: refers to Op. 109, which was completed in December, 1820, and sent off to the publisher at the beginning of 1821; to [7]: refers to Op. 110 and Op. 111, and to the fact that these were completed in winter 1821/22; to [8]: refers to Op. 107; details taken from p. 405-406].

On September 20, Beethoven wrote to Schlesinger: 


                                                                                  "Wien den 20 Sept 1820

Herrn Schlesinger in Berlin

. . . Mit den 3 Sonaten wird es schneller gehen; -- die erste ist fast bis zur Correctur ganz fertig,[4] und an den beyden lezten arbeite ich jezt ohne Aufschub;[5] -- . . . "

                                                                          "Vienna the 20th Sept 1820

To Herr Schlesinger in Berlin 

. . . With the 3 sonatas, it will go faster; the first is almost ready up to Correction,[4] and on the two last ones, I am now working without delay;[5] -- . . . "

[Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 4, Letter no. 1410, p. 417 - 418]

[Original:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus, Bodmer Collection; to [4]: refers to Beethoven's mentioning, in letter no. 1397 of June 28, 1820, that the first sonata was already completed, while it was actually only completed in December, 1820; to [5]: refers to Beethoven, by evidence from the sketches, actually having worked on the two last piano sonatas, Op. 110 and Op. 111, in the fall and winter of 1821/1822; details taken from p. 417-418].


However, that Beethoven was not working on the further sonatas without interruptions, is already known to us from Cooper's and Thayer's reports in our creation history.  Coopers inference that the sonata might perhaps have been completed as late as at the beginning of 1821 appears to coincide with the 'further publication progress'.  With respect to this, Thayer-Forbes refers to Beethoven's letter to Schlesinger, of March 7, 1821:


                                                                                     "[Wien, 7. März 1821]

Euer wohlgebohrn!

  Sie mögen wohl nachtheilig von mir denken, allein sie dörften bald davon zurückkommen, wenn ich ihnen sage, daß ich 6 wochen lange an einem starken Rheumatischen Anfall darnieder gelegen bin, doch geht es nun beßer, Sie können denken, daß manches Stocken muste, ich werde alles bald einhohlen -- nun laßen sie mich nur kurz ihnen das nötigste sagen: . . .  -- was aber die Sonate anbelangt, die sie nun schon längst haben müßen, So ersuche sie folgenden Titel nebst dedication beysusezen, nemlich: Sonate für das


                                           verfaßt u.

                                  Dem Fräulein Maximiliana


                                   gewidmet von Ludwig

                                          van Beethoven

                                           109tes Werk.

wollen sie die Jahrzahl noch beyfügen, wie ich es oft gewünscht, aber nie ein verleger hat thun Wollen?[4] . . . "

                                                                                "[Vienna, March 7, 1821]

Noble Sir!

  You might think unfavorably of me, alone you might soon think otherwise when I tell you that for 6 weeks I have been suffering from a severe rheumatic attack, but now I am better, you can imagine that many a matter had to come to a halt, I will soon catch up with everything -- now, let me briefly tell you the most important things: . . .  -- however, with respect to the sonata, which you must certainly have received, by now, I request that you add the following title next to the dedication, namely:  Sonata for the 


                                           written and dedicated 

                                  to Mmlle.Maximiliana


                                              by Ludwig

                                          van Beethoven

                                           109th work.

would you also add the year, as I have often wished but which no publisher has ever wanted to do?[4]  . . . "

[Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 4, Letter No. 1428, p. 436-437]

[Original: in private hands in Switzerland; to [4]: refers to the fact that this edition, as was usual at that time, was published without the printing of the year; detail taken from p. 437].


As Thayer (p. 763 and p. 782)  reports, Schlesinger published this work in November, 1821, with a dedication to Maximiliane Brentano. 


Title Page, Op. 109

With respect to the possible reason for this dedication, Kinderman writes:

"In the dedication Beethoven describes his spiritual bond to the Brentano family as something that 'can never be destroyed by time', and he recaptures his own fond memories of the experiences of a decade earlier.  He was now living in the Landstrasse, in the vicinity of the former Birkenstock mansion, a circumstance that must have helped draw his thoughts to the past, although his financial indebtedness to Franz Brentano may also have played a role in these dedications" (Kinderman: 225).

Maximiliane v. Bittersdorf, nee Brentano

Let us first look at the text of the dedication as Thayer quotes it: 

"A dedication!!!--well this is not one that is misused as in many cases-- It is the spirit which holds together noble and better men on this earth and which can never  be destroyed by time.  This is what is now addressed to you and that recalls you to me as you were in your childhood years, so equally your beloved parents, your admirable and gifted mother, your father filled with truly good and noble qualities, and ever mindful of his children.  Thus at this very moment I am on the Landstrasse--and see all of you before me.  While I am thinking of the excellent qualities of your parents, there are no doubts in my mind that you have been striving to emulate these noble people and are progressing daily-- My memories of a noble family can never fade, may your memories of me be frequent and good--

Affectionately farewell, may heaven always bless you in all your ways--

sincerely and always your friend Beethoven


December 6, 1821" (Thayer: 780-781).

To conclude this section, let us take a look at the original text:


                                                               "[Wien, 6. Dezember 1821]

An Maizimiana V. Brentano --

   Eine Dedikation!!![1] -- nun Es ist keine, wie d.g. in Menge gemißbraucht werden -- Es ist der Geist, der edle u. bessere Menschen auf diesem Erdenrund zusammenält, u. keine Zeit den zerstören kann, dieser ist es, der jezt zu ihnen spricht, u. der Sie mir noch in ihren Kinderjahren gegenwärtig <erhalte> zeigt, eben so ihre geliebte Eltern, ihre So vortreffliche geistvolle Mutter, ihren So von wahrhaft guten u. edlen Eigenschaften beseelten vater, <dem> stets <das>dem wohl seiner Kinder Eingedenk, u. so bin ich in dem Augenblick auf der Landstraße[2] -- u. sehe sie vor mir, u. indem ich an die vortrefflichen Eigenschaften ihrer Eltern denke, läßt es mich gar nicht zweifeln, daß Sie nicht zu Edler Nachahmung sollten begeistert worden seyn, u. täglich werden -- nie kann das andenken einer edlen Familie in mir erlöschen, mögen Sie meiner manchmal in güte gedenken --

    leben sie Herzlich wohl, der Himmel segne für immer ihr u. ihrer aller daseyn. --

Herzlich u. allzeit ihr Freund


vien am 6ten Decemb. 1821

An Fräulein Maximiliana v. BrentanoI"

[Source: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 4, Letter no. 1449, p. 462]

[Original:  in private hands, in Switzerland; to [1]: refers to Op. 109; to [2]: refers to the Brentano's living, from 1810 - 1812, in the Birkenstock House at the Erdberger Hauptstraße in the Landstraße suburb; when Beethoven wrote these lines, he lived in house no. 244 at the Landstraßer Hauptstraße; details taken from p. 462].


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: 




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. 



Hier wenden wir uns an die zwei Beethovenforscher- und Biographen   Kinderman und Cooper:   

"The first movement of op. 109 reflects Beethoven's intense interest at this time with parenthetical structures that enclose musical passages within contrasting sections.  His use of such procedures assumes more and more importance in the last sonatas and sees to have increased as a result of his labours on the Credo of the Missa solemnis during the first half of 1820, when he devised an immense parenthetical structure separating the musical setting of the events on earth (from the 'et incarnatus est' to the 'Resurrexit') from the remainder of the movement; here, an abrupt interruption of the cadence at 'descendit de coelis' prepares a later resumption of the music at 'ascendit in coelum'.(16 See chapter 10, pp. 241/4)  The opening movement of the sonata was composed at about the same time, and its unique formal design is evidently the product of similar techniques of parenthetical enclosure.  The opening Vivace material is interrupted after only eight bars, as it reaches the threshold of a cadence in the dominant of E major.  The cadence is not granted but evaded in the ensuing fantasy-like Adagio passage, whose elaborate arpeggiations make a striking contrast with the initial Vivace material, with its uniformity of rhythm and texture.  Yet, when the music finally arrives firmly on a dominant cadence (bar 15), this is timed to coincide with the resumption of the Vivace music in the very same register as before.  The entire Adagio section is thus positioned at the moment of the interrupted cadence, and the resulting parenthetical structure gives the effect of a suspension of time in the contrasting section, or the enclosure of one time within another.

Awareness of this parenthetical structure is essential to a proper understanding of the formal design of the movement, which has resisted the schematic categorization so often advanced by analysts.  Charles Rosen and others have suggested that the 'second subject' is found already in bar 9, at the beginning of a second subject-group, is delayed here until the beginning of the development section based on the Vivace material.  The central idea of the exposition consists precisely in the interdependence of the two contrasting thematic complexes, in which the parenthetical structure plays an essential role.  The bold and unpredictable quality of this design is sustained by Beethoven's avoidance of literal recapitulation in later stages of the movement, such as at the point of recapitulation (bar 48), where the music penetrates the highest register, or the return of the Adagio (bars 58 ff.), which is no mere transposition of the exposition  but a reinterpretation of it, carrying the music emphatically and climactically into the remote key of C major.  It remains for the coda to synthesize the contrasting themes and bring them into a new and closer relationship.  These elements of continuing development and reinterpretation represent a paradoxical assertion of Beethoven's fidelity to Classical principles:  since the initial material had involved an astonishing and abrupt contrast, a predictability of design involving literal transpositions in the recapitulation would be out of keeping with the unpredictable, exploratory character established at the outset.

Beethoven's coda actually does more than synthesize aspects of the two contrasting themes, since it simultaneously prepared the movements to come.  Its melodic crux lies in the falling tone C(subscript #)-B, which occurs twice in the cordal legato passage and then repeatedly in both the minor (with C-?) and major in the following bars, where the original texture of the Vivace is restored.  This melodic emphasis on the descent from C(subscript #) provides a direct link to the second half of the theme of the finale.  Later, in the penultimate bar of the coda, a sudden dislocation in register and rhythm emphasizes the closing E major chord and sets up the surprising plunge into the ensuing Prestissimo in E minor.  As in opp. 110 and 111 Beethoven builds a bridge to the following music into the conclusion of the opening movement, which seems in its yearning incompleteness to hint at more than it can encompass.  A similar narrative thread, whereby the coda of a first movement acts simultaneously as a reminiscence and a foreshadowing, can be observed in both the following sonatas.

The Prestissimo is in 6/8 metre and takes on much of the character of as scherzo, though it is in sonata form and lacks a trio.  Like the first movement it employs a stepwise falling bass, and the mtoivic relationship C-B, or C(subscript #)-B, from the end of the Vivace again assumes considerable importance.  The second subject begins on the supertonic, F(subscript #), by replacing the motive step C-B by C(subscript #)-B, whereas in the development a prominent bass pedal rises from B to C.  The driven, agitated character of the music relents at the end of the brief contrapuntal development, leading to an una corda passage so devised as to slow and then virtually suspend all sense of forward motion after the fermata effect by introducing a melodic and rhythmic retrograde of the basic thematic cell, whose treble line E-F(subscript #)-G-E-F(subscript #) and rhythmic pattern long-long-short-short-long is turned back on itself in the following bars, with their melodic pattern E-G-F(subscript #) and rhythmic pattern shart-short-long.  At the centre of this mirroring retrograde effect is a renewed stress on the supertonic F(subscript #); thus it is the dominant not of the tonic E minor but of the dominant B minor--the 'wrong' key--that leads into the reprise.  The remote quality of this retrograde gesture arises not only though tonal means but also through the spareness of texture and the extremely soft dynamic level, pianissimo and una corda, in contrast with fortissimo and tutti le corde at the recapitulation.  Consequently, the music is wrenched violently into the recapitulation, overthrowing harmonic conventions.  Yet the stroke seems fully convincing in context, after the still moment of introspection that ends the development.  Here again, as in the coda of the first movement, the music transcends itself and seems to look beyond its immediate context as in an act of clairvoyance, distantly foreshadowing the serene inwardness of the finale before the reassertion of the agitated character of the movement as a whole.

Some parallels with these special procedures are found in the faster movements of both opp. 110 and 111.  In the scherzo-like Allegro molto op. 110 the music slows in tempo just before a brusque reassertion of the basic character leads to the cadence of the main section in F minor.  The thematic contour of this prominent repeated gesture is later developed in the 'coda' of the movement, which acts as a bridge to the weighty finale.  In op. 111, on the other hand, the contrasting lyrical theme in A-flat major in the exposition of the turbulent Allegro con brio ed appassionato is presented parenthetically, slowing the tempo and transforming the prevailing character.  And although this theme is cut off abruptly in the exposition by a resumption of the tempestuous music of the Allegro, its return in the recapitulation is developed at greater length in C major, preparing the remarkable transition in the coda to the ensuing Arietta movement.  In each of the last three sonatas, thematic contrast in the faster movement thus serves the larger function of foreshadowing the spiritualized final movements; the narrative significance of this procedure is subtly but unmistakable.

Like the slow variation theme of the Archduke Trio op. 97, the theme of the variations that close op. 109 resembles a sarabande, a dignified Baroque dance type whose rhythm stresses the second beat of each bar of triple metre.  its reflective character results in part from a meditative dwelling on the tonic note E, which is approached at first from the third above and then from more expressive, distant intervals above and below.  The pervasive descending bass motion familiar from the earlier movements is reversed here: the bass ascends one and a half octaves in the first two bars, forming an effective counterpoint to the melody in the treble, whose falling thirds similarly invert the texture of rising thirds from the beginning of the sonata.  Beethoven's indication Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung underscores the sublime lyricism that characterizes the whole, culminating in the extraordinary sixth variation and the following, closing da capo of the original theme.

As with the op. 111 Arietta movement, Beethoven's manuscripts for these variations reveal a rigorous process of selection, with many sketched variations left unused and a number of early ideas combined in some of the finished variations. In the completed work the first variation maintains the tempo of the theme, while expanding its register in an unfolding of passionate melody of an almost operatic character (see Plates 17 and 18).  The more flowing second variation has a tripartite structure in each half with varied structural repetitions: while the first and last sections somewhat resemble the texture of the Vivace in the first movement, the beginning of the second section elaborates the lower pitch of each falling third in expressive trills.  The other variations bring metrical changes and increased density of counterpoint:  Variation 3 suggests a two-voice Bachian invention in invertible counterpoint; Variation 4 introduces four imitative voices; and variation 5 develops a complex fugal web infused with intense rhythmic energy.  The climactic quality of this fifth variation even motivated Beethoven to include an extra, more subdued repetition of the second half of the thematic structure; this passage acts as a transition to the final variation, with its initial restoration of the tempo and basic character of the original theme.

Several of the variations are directly connected by subtle transitions in sonority, thus enchanting the unity of the whole.  The strong contrast between the swift Allegro vivace in 2/4 time and the more gentle, contrapuntal fourth variation, with its spacious bars of 9/8 metre in a tempo slower than the theme, is bridged through a common tied note, for instance.  A direct harmonic transition links the fugal Allegro, ma non troppo of variation 5 with the last variation, since the last chord of the former is left on the dominant and resolved to the tonic only at the outset of the ensuing reprise of the head of the original theme.  An even more telling cadential overlap latter connects the end of the ethereal sixth variation with the closing da capo of the entire theme.

After the striking contrasts of the preceding variations, the sixth at first seems to bring us full circle, with a return of the sarabande in its original register; but Beethoven now explores the theme by developing the dominant pedal from the beginning of each half.  This pedal is prolonged and soon elaborated as a slow trill; after a total of five progressive rhythmic diminutions, it grows into an unmeasured pulsation of fast trills sounded in both hands.  At this point Beethoven continues the process of rhythmic intensification by increasing the motion of the melodic voices first to triplet-eighths and then to thirty-second-notes, as the trill on the dominant drops into the lowest register.  yet another stage of transformation is reached at the repetition of the second half of the thematic structure, where the original contour of the theme appears in syncopation in the highest register, above the trill in the middle register and rapid thirty-second note figuration in the left hand.  Thus, through a rigorous process of rhythmic acceleration and registral expansion, the slow cantabile theme virtually explodes from within, yielding, through a kind of radioactive break-up, a fantastically elaborate texture of shimmering, vibrating sounds.

This ecstatic moment in the final variation reaffirms in the celestial upper register the progression leading to the melodic peak on C(subscript #) that derives from the theme itself, three bars from the conclusion of the sarabande. It is this gesture that was foreshadowed in the coda of the first movement and stressed at the fortissimo climax of the fourth variation, among other passages; but perhaps nowhere else is the expressive impact of the dissonant major ninth chord supporting C(subscript #) so striking as here. After this climax a gradual diminuendo on the protracted dominant eventually resolves to the slightly varied da capo of the theme, which now seems transfigured by the experience we have undergone in re-approaching it.

In a sense, then the variations concluding op. 109 embody two cycles of transformation: the first five variations recast the theme and develop its structure and character in a variety of expressive contexts, while the sixth initiates a new series of changes compressed into a single continuous process that is guided by the logical unfolding of rhythmic development.  In the final variation an urgent will to overcome the inevitable passing of time and sound seems to fill up the spaces of the slow theme with a virtually unprecedented density of material, challenging the physical limits of execution and hearing.  This idea, in turn, was to be greatly expanded by Beethoven into the controlling framework of the variations of the Arietta that conclude op. 111, the last movement of his last sonata" (Kinderman:  219-225).

"The origins of the first movement of Op. 109 as a separate contribution for a piano tutor may partly explain its very unusual structure, although this is no more original than several of his other first movements.  Its most striking feature is its fantasia-like alternation between vivace and adagio sections, with three flowing vivaces interspersed with two adagios that differ from them not only in tempo but in almost every other way: a contrast between 2/4 and 3/4, dynamism and stasis, regular and irregular rhythm--suggesting images of action set against thought, dance against oratory, Martha against Mary, time against timelessness.  Yet this contrast, perhaps designed to provide learners with a double challenge within a single piece, takes place within a more or less conventional sonata form: the first adagio, in the dominant, functions as the second group in the exposition, and reappears in modified form in the tonic in the recapitulation.  The adagios, however, also function as interruptions to what would be a continuous movement in perpetuum mobile style.  The structure has even been described as 'parenthetical',(5 Kinderman, Beethoven, 219-20) although this is inexact: with a true paranthesis, the material on either side could be joined without any change register or dislocation of metre, but this does not happen here . . .  Moreover the structure of the vivace sections joined together would not be properly balanced, whereas it should be if the adagios were truly parenthetical.

Nevertheless, the structure of the movement is more complex than just a plain sonata form with a second subject in contrasting metre.  The first subject is unusually short in proportion to the rest of the movement, and the second group is not announced by the usual strong cadence and affirmation of the new tonic.  Both these features had already appeared in the first movement of the Sonata, Op. 101, another highly original structure, but combining them with adagio interruptions creates an even more abnormal design for Op. 109.  This technique of re-using original ideas in a new way is very characteristic of Beethoven, who often made artistic progress by a series of small, cumulative steps.  In Op. 109, then, the second group enters not merely in a different meter but with a disruptive diminished 7th replacing the expected B major chord, which is postponed to bar 15.  . . .  Thus the whole of this adagio section can be viewed on several different levels, and its quality of continual disruption of metre, register, tonality, dynamic level, rhythm, and texture sets up a diametric opposition to the smooth continuum of the vivace.  Such bipolarity is a common feature in late Beethoven, although it is rarely as prominent as here.

For the remaining two movements Beethoven expanded the element of contrast: the second movement is a Prestissimo in E minor and the third a set of variations on a slow, sarabande-like theme" (Cooper: 280-282). 



Let us again take a look at Joachim Kaiser's comment:  

Kaiser writes that this sonata is dedicated to Maximiliane Brentano, the daughter of Beethoven's friends Franz and Antonie Brentano, and that >>Maxe<< had already received a dedication from Beethoven when she was a little girl, so that Beethoven's dedicatory message sounded rather cheerful and uncle-like, >>Für meine kleine Freundin, Maxe Brentano zu Ihrer Aufmunterung im Klavierspielen<< [>>for my little friend, Maxe Brentano, for her encouragement in piano playing<<], but seven years later, Beethoven wrote to the 19-year-old a very sincere dedicatory letter [website author's note: see our quote from Thayer, above] and, as Kaiser further reports, Beethoven even wrote to her father,  >>Ich war vorlaut, ohne anzufragen, indem ich Ihrer Nichte Maxi ein Werk von mir widmete; möchten Sie dieses als ein Zeichen meiner immerwährenden Ergebenheit für Sie und Ihre ganze Familie aufnehmen.  Geben Sie aber dieser Dedikation keine üble Deutung auf irgendein Interesse oder gar auf Belohnung.  Dies würde mich kränken<< [>>I was forward to dedicate a work to your nice without asking first; may you accept it as a sign of my eternal devotion to you and your entire family.  However, do not attach any evil interpretation with respect to any interest or desire for reward to this dedication.  This would hurt me<<] . . .

Kaiser certainly picks up on Beethoven's amazing error of turning Brentano's daughter into a >>niece<< and asks himself if this confusion, as well as the dedicatory letter to Maximiliane, might even suggest that the by now fifty-two-year-old composer had a crush on the highly musical young friend?  This, admits Kaiser, would certainly not be a bad guess, continues Kaiser, and if that were the case, then it might also be clear as to whether the rather interesting musical quotes in the first movement of this sonata, namely from >>Fidelio<< (>>Ich bin ja bald des Grabes Beute<< [>>I will soon be destined for the grave<<], note sample 439(and with respect to a more vague quote from the >>Magic Flute<< (>>Warum bis du mit uns so spröde<< [>>why are you so coy with me?<<, note sample 441) --, are meant as cheerfully intentional or only accidental allusions.  

In this sonata, continues Kaiser, that is filled with great melodies, Beethoven continually calls for espressivo or dolce, and the most weighty movement, the variation finale, is supposed to be played >>mit innigster Empfindung<< [>>with innermost sentiment<<].  Kaiser asks himself if the eruptions of the Hammerklavier Sonata are thus followed by an almost unchallenged lyrical confession that is hardly troubled by tart passages or polyphonous extremes, and whether Op. 109 makes up for the tension that, in Op. 101, still existed between endless melody and an intense cult of resolution.  

Sensitive interpreters, writes Kaiser, turn this E-Major Sonata into a symbol of an ever more intense, sublime and boundless melodic bliss and even the sternly anti-hermeneutic Heinrich Schenker, in his analysis (Universal-Edition, Vienna, 1914) is mild and soft when he interprets the finale of the sonata thus, weich,  >>An Körper gleichsam schattenhafter und mit friedlich geläuterter Seele nimmt das Thema Abschied von uns und entschwebt in jenes Traumland zurück, aus dem es für eine Weile herniederstieg, um uns an seinen Wandlungen und Schicksalsprüfungen teilnehmen zu lassen<< (Schenker writes that the theme takes its leave from us with a peacefully-redeemed soul and flies into that dreamland out of which it descended for a while in order to allow us to take part in its changes and fateful tests). 

Kaiser is not surprised that Op. 109 belongs to the most popular of Beethoven's late piano sonatas and certainly to those that are played, most often, and, he continues, after the Vivace-Adagio beginning, the Prestissimo intermezzo appears to intervene more passionately and melodically than anarchically and destructively, and also the contrapuntally sophisticated variations, by no means, offer those orientational difficulties as they can be found in the finale of Op. 101, in the >>Allegro fugato<< of the Cello Sonata Op. 102 No. 2 and, above all, in the fugue of the Hammerklavier Sonata.   

Jürgen Uhde, writes Kaiser, has summarized that in Op. 109, most forms are based on a single melodic sequence, and already in the first movement and after that, in the Prestissimo, the variation theme is foreshadowed.  In the event, continues Kaiser, that the most important motifs of the three movements should, indeed, be derived from one single melodic form, then this would not say much as to how these themes and characters that have been derived from a single melodic sequence relate to each other.  Kaiser then refers to Phillip Barford who discussed the possibilities of a structural and analytical brightening of Beethoven sonatas, in >>The Beethoven Companion<< (London, 1971 and 1973, p. 126 ff.).  Barford, writes Kaiser, refers to insights by  Josef Rufer, Rudolf Reti, Donald Mitchell and others and he deals with the question of the >>basic forms<< that he is able to convincingly draw out of the last sonatas without, however, turning the principles of strucutral analysis into absolutes, and Kaiser also refers to Carl Dahlhaus who, in >Analyse und Werturteil<, has outlined the impact, historical import and boundaries of these methods. 

Kaiser concludes that in Op. 109, on aside from of possible identities and basic forms, a compositional duality principle can be heard, as Vivace and Adagio relate to each other in a contrasting manner, in the first movement, and also within the two-part, slow variations, dualisms can be discovered, and that the apparent three-movement sonata has a tendency towards a hidden two-part shape, since the first movement and the immediately following Prestissimo form a unit, as the two pieces are not really separated, but rather connected by means of a constantly pedal-held last chord, both in the first movement and in the beginning of the Prestissimo.    The antithesis to this two-part sonata beginning, writes Kaiser, is the unity of the variations that is equally rich in contrasts.   (Kaiser: 558-560).


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

In his introduction, Kuerti writes that, within such a short time span, not many works leave such a powerful impression as does Op. 109, in which each movement is like a sonnet that does not waste one word, but expresses important thoughts, and the emotions that are expressed here are of epic proportions, yet rest completely in their modest framework. 

Vivace ma non troppo; Adagio espressivo

In the first movement, writes Kuerti, Beethoven delivers us his best combination of his formal and his improvisatory styles that here are welded together in a very intense sonata form.  The main theme, continues Kuerti, exudes a warm, expressive informality and leads directly into the second theme, whereby the tempo changes abruptly into  Adagio espressivo and here, be become witnesses to the improvisation of the master that he renders on the basis of very simple material, mainly arpeggios and, indeed, writes Kuerti,  the virtuoso has to imagine for himself Beethoven, improvising at the piano--particulalry in the recapitulation where some of the harmonies would otherwise assume an awkward, almost too simple character.  

The development, continues Kuerti, is entirely based on the first subject and consists of a wonderful crescendo that leads into one of the most electrifying transformation of Beethoven's music:  the friendly, unassuming, smooth main theme is now elaborated on in a fiery manner, namely two octaves higher than in the introduction, in the highest register of the piano of Beethoven's days, where every note has an intense impact on us.  As in most of his late works, writes Kuerti, here, Beethoven introduces a wisp of the theme in the coda, like a comment that is made by another voice and that approaches us from afar.    


The stormy Prestissimo, writes Kuerti, is also a kind of sonata form in which each element is reduced to a terse minimum, and the strict bass line from the introductory theme is here a main component of the development, and after the initial anger has dissipated, it is used in a flowing, lyrical manner, yet, it still behaves in a threatening manner, so that, when the introduction returns with doubled intensity, we are alarmed but not surprised. 

Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung

Kuerti describes the effect of the heavenly theme of the last movement as a pleasant feeling after a preceding storm, and all turmoil is behind us, we are enveloped by a serene but also powerful music.  The treatment of the subsequent variations, continues Kuerti, is entirely free and uses, in interchanging manner, some fragments of the melody, harmony and the rhythm of the theme, and of particular importance is the descending third at the beginning of the theme, that appears twice and is then eloquently extended . . .   

In the first variation, writes Kuerti, the theme is set free so that it can rise up, and it does so into ever higher tonal regions, is rhythmically more lively and generally less constricted.  The second variation, so Kuerti, is actually a combination of two distinctly different variations; at first, we hear a transparent, delicate skeleton of the theme, is dissolved into mysterious drops and instead of a repetition, each half makes room for its second ego which is transformed into the descending third of the theme.     

The next variation, continues Kuerti, brings with it a surprisingly lively change of mood; the descending third is reverse and produces ascending thirds that are towered on top of each other and that culminates in a chiseled, contracted version of the second half of the theme.  

The flowing lines of the fourth variation, writes Kuerti, are incomparably elegant and softly flow into each other and envelop each other gracefully and contentedly, and the purely idyllic flow does not prepare us for the wonderfully esoteric colors and the ecstatic, passionate outbursts that shake the second half of the variations.  

Variation V, continues Kuerti, is a vibrating and relentless Fugato, relentlessly piling entries of its motifs on top of each other and storming from one end of the keyboard to the other, and its last phrase suddenly becomes soft and as if repeated from afar, so that our perspective has suddenly been broadened, and we virtually 'fall' into the last variation.   

Kuerti writes that it is difficult to find a more moving and noble moment in music than the climax of the last variation offers us.  Slowly and inescabably, continues Kuerti, the motion and the tension is heightened from the very beginning, is increased by constant use of trills until all dams break, in a heaven-storming passage that rages up and down in great pain.  This passage can be seen both as a free variation within the second half of the theme and as a cadenza, and, perhaps it is both.    

The entire meaning of the sonata appears to be gloriously illuminated by these extraordinary moments, and when the lights slowly burn out, the meaning remains and even gains in intensity when the theme is repeated.  Kuerti points out how amazingly different these notes now sound, after the variations, and he describes this as the difference between the opening and closing of a door, a door through which Beethoven has led us, in the meantime.   (Kuerti: 52-54).

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 109 - Search