BEETHOVEN'S PIANO SONATA N0. 31, 0P.  110 CREATION HISTORY AND DISCUSSION OF MUSICAL CONTENT






Beethoven 1819



INTRODUCTION

In our publication history of Op. 109, we also looked at Beethoven's March 7, 1821, letter to his Berlin publisher Schlesinger, in which he wrote that in the winter months, he had been suffering from rheumatic infection for six weeks. From our Biographical Pages we also know that this year, due to Beethoven's many illnesses, did not yield a great deal of biographical information. 

Thus, when we now turn to the creation history of Beethoven's 30th Piano Sonata, Op. 110, we have to look for first traces of this work in the midst of Beethoven's health difficulties.  

 

CREATION HISTORY 

With respect to this, William Kinderman (p. 225-226) provides us with an interesting report.  He points out that the first half of 1821 was very unpleasant for Beethoven, that his letters contain reports on his illnesses and that the sketches that have been preserved show a decline in his productivity.  Kinderman even assumes that for stretches of times, Beethoven was too sick to compose, at all and that, after his rheumatic infection of the winter, he was plagued by jaundice, in spring, that, for Kinderman, undoubtedly is a first sign of Beethoven's liver troubles that would finally lead to his death.  

(With respect to the beginning of Beethoven's liver troubles, Kinderman also is of the opinion that his constitution was very weakened and that even a moderat consumption of alcohol would have been detrimental.  In this respect, he refers to a study that, at the time of the publication of his book in 1995, was new, namely Horst Scherf's 'Die Legende vom Trinker Beethoven', and in it particularly to p. 242-6.  In this study, Scherf divided Beethoven's life in two clinical phases that could be separated into them by the occurrence of his incurable disease, in the year 1821.   Kinderman views the last five years of Beethoven's life, 1821 - 1826/7, as his last 'creative period', from a purely biographical vantage point.  However, Kinderman points out that Beethoven's works of the years 1821 - 4 show profound connections to his works that have been written in prior years, and moreover, these works had already been started before 1821, even if their most important symbolic characteristics only emerged in his work on them after his recuperation in September, 1821).

The point that is relevant here with respect to our creation history is the fact of Beethoven's recuperation in September, 1821.  

This agrees again with Barry Cooper's report (p. 286) that some early sketches of this sonata were written at the beginning of September, 1821.  Cooper, however, also mentions that even at the beginning of September, 1821, Beethoven's health had not yet been fully restored, so that, even in his letter of November 12, 1821 to Franz Brentano, he wrote that since 1820, he had been constantly ill:

                                            "Vien am 12ten Novemb. 1821

Verehrter Freund!

   Halten Sie mich ja nicht für einen schuften, oder ein leichtisnniges genie -- Schon seit vorgem Jahr bis jezt war ich immer krank, den Sommer über ebenfalls ward ich mit der Gelbsucht befallen, dies dauerte bis Ende aug., <mit> Stuudenheimers Anordnung zufolge muste ich noch im September nach Baden,[1] da es in der dortigen Gegend bald kalt wurde, ward ich von einem so heftigen Durchfalle überfallen, daß ich die Kur nicht aushalten konnte u. wieder hieher flüchten muste, nun geht es Gottlob beßer u. endlich scheint mich Gesundheit wieder neue beleben zu wollen, um wieder neu auf für meine Kunst zu leben, welches eigentlich seit 2 Jahren nicht der Fall . . . "

                                             "Vienna the 12th Novemb. 1821

Worthy Friend!

   Do not consider me a scoundrel, or a careless genius -- Already since last year, up to now, I have always been ill, and over the summer I have been plagued by jaundice, this lasted until the end of aug., <with> according to Staudenheimer's orders I had to go to Baden in September,[1] and, since in this area it got cold, very soon, I have been suffering from a heavy diarrhea, so that I could not endure my prescribed treatment and had to flee back here, and now, praise God, it is better and finally, my health appears to give me new life, so that I can, anew, live for my art, which had actually not been the case for 2 years . . . "

[Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Gesamtausgabe, Volume 4, Letter No. 1445, p. 453 - 454]

[Original:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus; to [1]: refers to the fact that Beethoven went to Baden on Sept. 9, 1821, and also refers to letter no. 1441 of Sept. 27, 1821; detail taken from p. 454].

However, as we can read, he also wrote that his health had been restored, by now and that he could again stat to live for his art.  As Cooper further reports, Beethoven's manuscripts of that time confirm that his output had increased and that he was able to complete Op. 110 before the end of 1821.  

Both Cooper and Thayer (p. 781) point out that the original score of Op. 110 shows the date of December 25, 1821.  Thayer also mentions that sketches to this sonata can be found after those of the  Agnus Dei of the Missa solemnis.  Cooper mentions that Beethoven had intensively revised the score so that it had become very illegible which made it necessary for him to prepare a clean copy that required few changed prior to publication. 

Both Cooper (p. 286) and Kinderman (p. 225-226) point towards the fact that first drafts of this sonata and Beethoven's work on the canon for Tobias Haslinger were written at the same time.  In this context, Kinderman writes that Beethoven's recuperation allowed for his sense of humor to return to the forefront.  

What is important to Kinderman here is not only the description of his humorous outburst but also what it shows:

"Humour is abundantly evident in Beethoven's canon O Tobias Dominus Haslinger O! O! from September 1821, one of his numerous joking communications to Haslinger, a partner in Steiner's publishing firm.  Beethoven explained the origin of the canon as entwined with a twofold journey:  a trip by carriage from Baden to Vienna, during which he fell asleep; and an ensuing dream-journey to Syria, India, Arabia, and finally Jerusalem.  'The Holy City made my thoughts turn to the sacred books.  So it is no wonder that I then began to think of that fellow Tobias', Beethoven wrote in the letter accompanying the canon that he sent to Haslinger.  According to Beethoven, he forgot the canon upon awakening.  Another journey in the same vehicle the next day allowed him 'in accordance with the law of the association of ideas' to recall the piece and commit it to paper.(19 The letter and canon appear in Anderson, ii, L. 1056)  This story well illustrates Beethoven's delight in the paradoxical joining of the exalted and the commonplace, the sacred and the profane" (Kinderman: 225-226).

In conclusion we can report that also Thayer (p. 782) lists this work as having been completed in 1821.  

 

ON ITS PUBLICATION 



Titlel Page, Op. 110


 

Thayer (p. 781) reports that, althought the sonata remained without a dedication, there exist indications that Beethoven had originally intended to dedicate the last two piano sonatas to Antonie Brentano.  Here, Thayer relies on a note of Beethoven to Schindler that was found among the latter's papers.  Significanly, Beethoven is reported as having noted, "Ries-nichts" ['Ries-nothing']. 

Relying on Kinsky-Halm Thayer (p. 782) reports that Schlesinger very likely received the last movement of Op. 110 at the beginning of 1822, and (p. 816) that Schlesinger published the work in Berlin and Paris without a dedication, during this year.  

Contrary to Beethoven's reported note of  "Ries-nichts", during the year 1823, his former pupil who now lived in London would be very busy on behalf of his former teacher to arrange the English publication of this work for him, even though Schlesinger's publication rights were also supposed to extend to England.  

Thus Beethoven is reported as having written to Ries, in his letter of February 25, 1823, that he hoped for Ries to already have received "both sonatas":

 

                                                      "Vien am 25ten Feb. 1823

Mein lieber werther Ries!

. . . ich hoffe, sie habe[n]* die Beyden Sonaten erhalten . . . "

                                              "Vienna, on the 25th of Feb. 1823

My dear, worthy Ries!

. . . I hope, you have received both of the sonatas . . . "

[Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 5, Letter No. 1580, p. 58-60]

[Original:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus (Sig. H.C. Bodmer Br 200)].

 

On April 25, 1823, he is reported as having come back to them:

 

                                               "[Wien, den 25. April 1823.

Lieber Ries! 

. . . nur sorgen sie, daß die in c moll sogleich gestochen,[6] daß selbe nirgens eher erscheint, dafür stehe ich dem verleger gut,[7] werde ihm auch das Eigenthum's recht für England nöthigenfalls zustellen, jedoch muß sie gleich gestochen werden -- da die andere in As, wenn auch schon in london sie seyn sollte, doch fehlerhaft gestochen ist,[8] so kann er diese, wenn er sie sticht, als correcte [sic] Ausgabe an kündigen,[9] . . . "

                                               "[Vienna, the 25th of April, 1823.

Dear Ries!

. . . only take care that the one in c minor is engraved immediately,[6] that the same will not appear sooner, I will guarantee to the publisher,[7] and I will, if needed, also provide him with the property rights for England, but it must be engraved immediately -- since the other one in A-flat, if it should already be [available] in London, nevertheless, has been printed with errors,[8] so that he can, when he engraves it, announce it as correct edition,[9] . . . "

[Quoted and translated from: Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Volume 5, Letter no. 1636, p. 111-113]

[Original:  Bonn, University Library [Autograph Collection]; to [6]: refers to the English original edition of Op. 111 which was registered on April 25, 1823, in Stationers Hall; to [7]: refers to the French and German original edition of Op. 111 which was published in April/May 1823; to [8]: refers to Op. 110 which had already been published by Schlesinger in Paris, in July, 1822; to [9]: refers to the English original edition of Op. 110 which was registered in Stationers Hall on July 2, 1823; details taken from p. 112-113].   

 

In light of the reassurance of a correct edition of the A-flat Sonata and a guarantee for the first print of the c minor Sonata, Thayer argues that Beethoven must have intended to send Ries manuscript copies of both sonatas.  While Ries was waiting for the copies, he had come to an agreement with Clementi with respect to the fee, as he had also come to an agreement with Boosey with respect to the Variations. 

However, Thayer also reports that at the beginning of May, 1823, Schindler had noted in a conversation book:

"I am surprised that Ries has not mentioned anything abut the sonatas.  Wocher believes that he must have received them."(86 Schünemann, III, p. 222).  

As Thayer further reports, Ries had pointed out in his Notizen that the two sonatas had arrived with the variations, but only in July, 1823.  Grove lists the London edition as having been published in 1823.

 

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  Kinderman and Cooper:   

"This story well illustrates Beethoven's delight in the paradoxical joining of the exalted and the commonplace, the sacred and the profane.

A some what analogous contrast is embedded in the A-flat major Sonata op. 110.  Its second movement serves as a scherzo in form and character, although it bears only the tempo designation Allegro molto, in 2/4 metre.  This movement shows the humorous temper characteristic of Beethoven's scherzos, even though the tonic is minor.  As others have observed, Beethoven alludes to two popular songs, Unsa Katz had Katzln ghabt ('Our cat has had kittens') and Ich bin lüderlich, du bist lüderlich ('I am dissolute, you are dissolute'), in the main section of this movement.(20; Cooper, BeethovenThe Last Decade, pp. 190-1; A.B. Marx, Ludwig van Beethoven:  Leben und Schaffen, ii, p. 416)  The opening phrase, with its use of Unsa Katz had Katzln ghabt, is stated piano before being answered, in Martin Cooper's words, by a 'C major shout', and the sforzandi at cadences contradict the rounded phrase endings normal in Beethoven, and sound comic and parodistic.

One key to the expressive associations of the Allegro molto rests in the text 'I am dissolute, you are dissolute'  . . . The word 'lüderlich' refers to a bedraggled or slovenly individual not fit for polite society.  Beethoven himself was once taken for such around this time when, miserably clothed and having lost his way in Wiener Neustadt, he was seen peering in at the windows of the houses, whereupon the police were summoned.  When arrested, he protested, 'I am Beethoven', to which the policeman replied, 'Well, why not? You're a bum: Beethoven doesn't look like that' ('Warum nit gar? A Lump sind Sie, so sieht der Beethoven nit aus').(21; Thayer-Forbes, p. 778, polishes the language of the Austrian policeman; the colloquialisms are retained in Frimmel, 'Beethovens Spaziergang nach Wiener Neustadt', Beethoven-Forschung: Lose Blätter 9 (1923), p. 7)  But even if there is an autobiographical resonance in this passage, its main artistic significance lies in Beethoven's assimilation of the lowly, droll, and commonplace into the work, where such material proves complementary to the most elevated of sentiments.  Some musicians, such as von Bülow and Martin Cooper, have looked askance at the unsophisticated humour of Ich bin lüderlich, Cooper comments on 'that Dutch vein of humour which reminds us that the composer's forbears may well have been among the peasants whose gross amusements we know from the pictures of the Breughels'.(22 Beethoven: The Last Decade, p. 191)  Yet here, once more, 'a problem may lie hidden', in Goethe's sense.  Important in this connection is Beethoven's apparent allusion to Ich bin lüderlich in a passage much later in the sonata, to be discussed below.

Transcentendal and even religious characteristics surface in the unique finale of op. 110, with its pairing of Arioso dolente and fugue.  As in the Hammerklavier Sonata and in the Ninth Symphony Beethoven incorporates a transition before reaching the finale proper; the music is notated partly without bar lines and with a profusion of tempo and expressive directions.  An explicit recitative emerges in the fourth bar and carries us to A-flat minor, tonic minor and the sonata as a whole.  For some moments the music dwells contemplatively on a high A-?, the recitative then falls in pitch, briefly affirming E major before returning to A-flat minor in the bars immediately preceding the beginning of the great lament.  In a sense, the ensuing Arioso dolente is operatic in character, with a broadly extended but asymmetrical melody supported by poignant harmonies in the repeated chords of the left hand.  The recitative already foreshadows the tragic passion of the lament and prefigures some of its motivic relationships.  There is even a framing cadential gesture at the conclusion of the Arioso dolente that harks back to the end of the passage in recitative (cf. bars 607 and 25-6).

The pairing of the Arioso dolente with the fugue in A-flat major has no precedent in Beethoven's earlier instrumental music; its closest affinity is with the Agnus Dei and 'Dona nobis pacem' of the Missa solemnis, the movements of the Mass that occupied him contemporaneously with the sonata.  The Agnus Dei, in B minor, is burdened by an overwhelming awareness of the sins of humanity and the fallen state of earthly existence; by contrast, the 'Dona nobis pacem' represents the promise of liberation from this endless cycle of suffering and injustice, symbolized by the recurring and ominous approach of bellicose music.  Significantly, Beethoven's setting of the 'Dona nobis pacem', in D major, employs a prominent motif outlining ascending perfect fourths, which are filled in by conjunct motion. The fugue subject of op. 110 consists similarly of three ascending perfect fourths, the last of them filled in by stepwise descending motion, while smooth conjunct motion also characterizes the countersubjects.  The closest stylistic parallels to this exalted fugal idiom in Beethoven's piano music are the D major cantabile fugal episode in the finale of the Hammerklavier Sonata and the superb Fughetta from the Diabelli Variations, written soon thereafter, in early 1823.  Each of these recalls the polyphony of J.S. Bach, assimilating that idiom into the rich context of Beethoven's Kunstvereinigung.

The importance of the fugue subject in op. 110 is underscored by Beethoven's foreshadowing of this theme in the first movement.  Its intervallic structure, with three successive rising fourths (A-flat-D-flat- B-flat-E-flat, C-f) is already latent in the opening four bars.  This initial phrase is set apart from the continuation through its polyphonic texture, fermata, and trill, and functions almost like a motto for the entire sonata.  The later fugal subject represents a kind of intervallic crystallization or even purification of the motto.  The vocal character and harmonic consonance of the fugal subject in op. 110 bear comparison with the 'Dona nobis pacem' of the Missa solemnis, and, in its function within the whole sonata, the fugal subject acts like a symbolic counterpart to the 'Joy' theme of the Ninth Symphony.

Beethoven's later fugues make extensive, sometimes exhaustive use of the devices of inversion, stretto, diminution, and augmentation.  These devices tend to be used not for their own sake but as a means of expressive intensification, especially in the later stages of a work; in op. 110 they are concentrated in the second part of the fugue, beginning in the remote key of G major.  The central idea of this finale consists in the relationship between the earthly pain of the lament and the consolation and inward strength of the fugue.  Initially, however, the fugue cannot be sustained; it is suddenly broken off on a dominant-seventh chord of A-flat major, which is interpreted as a German augmented-sixth chord, resolving to a triad of G minor, and this dark sonority is treated as tonic for the return of the Arioso dolente.  The tonal relationship involved is bold and virtually unprecedented in Beethoven:  the entire lament is restated, in intensified and varied form, in G minor; and the framing cadential gesture brings a shift to the major, which assumes the character of miraculous discovery.  Nine increasingly intense repetitions of this G major sonority follow, and a gradual arpeggiation of that sound leads upwards to the inversion of the fugue subject, which now enters, quietly and una corda, in G major.

The concluding fugue thus begins in the key of the leading-note, to reemerge only later into the tonic, A-flat major, in the triumphant final passages.  This unusual tonal relationship enhances the power of the conclusion; equally striking is Beethoven's treatment of contrapuntal permutations in the transition from G major to A-flat major.  Not only does the subject appear against itself in diminution and augmentation, but it appears in double diminution at the Meno allegro, comprising a decorating motivic cell that soon surrounds the sustained notes of the inverted subject.

Tovey claimed that in this closing fugue Beethoven eschewed an 'organ-like climax' with its ascetic connotations as a 'negation of the world': 'Like all Beethoven's visions this fugue absorbs and transcends the world'.(23 A Companion to Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, pp. 270, 285-6, see also Mellers, Beethoven and the Voice of God, pp. 238-9)  It is significant in this regard that the transitional double-diminution passage  seems to recall the earlier comic allusion in the Allegro molto.  The rhythmic and registral correspondence renders the beginning of the Meno allegro transparent to Ich bin lüderlich, reinforcing Tovey's sense of an absorption of the 'world'; a similarity is clearly audible, in part because Beethoven compresses the fugal subject in diminution, deleting the second of its three rising fourths.  Both motifs stress the fourths spanning A-flat-E-flat and C-G, which are inverted in the fugue, and there is a parallel placement of faster note values.

The import of Beethoven's inscription for the entire transitional passage, 'nach u. nach sich neu belebend' ('gradually coming anew to life'), is embodied in this musical progression.  The abstract contrapuntal matrix beginning with the inverted subject is gradually infused with a new energy, which arises not naturally through traditional fugal procedures but only through an exertion of will that strains those processes to their limits.

The rhythmic developments that point the way out of Beethoven's fugal laryrinth thus distort the subject, compressing it almost beyond recognition, while simultaneously opening a means of connection with the earlier movements through what Carl Dahlhaus calls 'subthematic figuration'.(24 Ludwig van Beethoven, pp. 261-2)  The entry of the original subject in bar 174 is accompanied by sixteenth-note figuration continuing the texture of double diminution, giving the effect of the theme being glorified by its own substance; at the same time this rapid figuration recalls the ethereal passagework from the first movement of the sonata.  The transition from the darkness and pessimism of the Arioso dolente to the light and ecstasy of the fugue is now fully accomplished; and in the final moments Beethoven extends the fugal subject melodically into the high register before it is emphatically resolved, once and for all, into A-flat major sonority five bars before the end.  This structural downbeat represents a goal towards which the whole work seems to have aspired.  Yet the true conclusion lies beyond this chord in a rapport with silence, as (in Brendel's words) the work throws off even 'the chains of music itself'.(25 'Beethoven's New Style', Music Sounded Out, p. 70)" (Kinderman: 226-231). 

"The Sonata in A flat is a highly unusual structure.  A gentle first movement in sonata form is followed by an Allegro Molto and Trio in 2/4 time.  This movement might be called a march, but it is most unlike a normal one, and far too fast, while it is far too serious for its common appellation as a scherzo.  Like the so-called scherzos of the Fifth Symphony and the Quartet, Op. 95, it is simply a fast middle movement in minuet-and-trio form that is neither a minuet nor a scherzo.  What follows is even more unusual: a recitative-like section, a slow 'Arioso dolente', a quick fugal section, a reprise of the Arioso, and a resumption of the fugue.  This cunning structure can be perceived equally as one movement or two: either a slow movement, followed by a finale in which the preceding movement is recalled (as in the Sonata, Op. 27 No. 1 and the Fifth Symphony); or a single movement in five sections in which arioso and fugue alternate.  It has even been treated as a recitative followed by a finale of four sections,(19 Tovey, Companion, 264) but this requires the finale to begin halfway through a bar.  Beethoven's autograph implies a single movement, which is how most modern writers view it, but Schlesinger's original edition sets it out as two separate movements: an Adagio and a Fuga.  Either way, there is a contrasting duality like that of the first movement of Op. 109, and to argue the case for one or other view is to miss the point.  This is one of several late works in which Beethoven creates a hybrid, where a unit is too short or incomplete to be regarded as a separate movement, but too independent to be seen as a mere section of some larger movement.  (Other examples include the opening unit of the Cello Sonata, Op. 102 No. 1, the third and sixth units of the Quartet, Op. 131, and the penultimate unit 'piu allegro', of the Quartet, Op. 132).

The sonata is unified in a number of ways--most notably, perhaps, in its thematic organization.  The main themes of all four movements (if we regard them as four) begin with a phrase covering a range of a sixth . . .  Moreover, the first and fourth have similar contours reaching up to the sixth of the scale (F), while the Arioso theme begins with a direct transformation of the opening of the second movement, both descending gradually from the dominant.  The note F, which forms the peak of the first phrase of the sonata, plays a prominent role in the rest of the work.  It forms the climax of the opening paragraph in bar 11, where it is marked sf; it is the first note of the second subject when the latter finally appears in the tonic key (bar 79); and in the closing theme of the movement, which consists of a series of rising scales each covering, once again, the range of a sixth, the peak is another sforzando F in the recapitulation (bar 90)(20 The theme of the second movement should be heard as an inversion of these rising scales; too much has been made of its chance resemblance to a folksong set by Beethoven in 1820, with which it surely has no intended connection.  The same applies to a motif (bars 17-20) allegedly derived from another folksong; this motif is also related to the thematic structure of the sonata.  It was not Beethoven's habit to borrow themes in this manner, and many of the supposed borrowings can be refuted by reference to his sketches)  There are several other places in the movement where F is prominent, and most of these Fs are supported by subdominant harmony, which helps to heighten the sense of gentleness and loveliness that characterizes the movement. F then becomes the tonic for the second movement, and another high sforzando F begins the Trio section.  The third movement, too, begins with F at the top, and the Fugue theme also peaks on F.

The prominence given to F and to scales rising up to it gives the note G a special, elusive character since it is repeatedly omitted from these patterns.  Thus when yet another rising pattern (first movement, bars 108-10), after reaching the F, goes beyond it to G and A-flat, there is a wondrous sense of achievement and fulfilment.  A similar procedure appears twice in the finale, just before the arioso interruption and just before the end (bars 102 and 201), where the music again bursts through the F barrier in gestures of triumph.

The tonal scheme of the sonata is equally fascinating.  In the first movement the development section strays much less far than usual, just passing through the local keys of F minor, D flat major and B flat minor (another example of Beethoven's predilection at this time for falling 3rds) before returning to the tonic.  After such a limited tonal range, the sudden excursion into E major (the key of the previous sonata) during the recapitulation is totally unexpected, and seems to open up a whole new sound world.  A matching gesture is required for the finale, but what key can be used that has an equally startling effect?  The unlikely, and therefore obvious, answer is the key of G--that elusive note that had been avoided in the first-movement and fugue themes.  Accordingly the Arioso reappears not in its original key but transposed down a semitone to g minor; and the fugue resumes in the totally foreign key of G major before working round through C minor to the tonic.  Here we find extraordinary contrapuntal ingenuity, with the fugue theme inverted, augmented, and diminished, and with parts of it combined in two or more voices at once.  Augmentation and especially diminution are not normally possible in a triple-time fugue such as this, since the accentuation becomes distorted, but Beethoven seems to battle with the laws of music to find ways of forcing the notes to fit into his overall scheme.  Through this sense of struggle, the 'exhausted, lamenting' mood of the G minor Arioso gradually dissolves into a triumphant, fortissimo conclusion" (Cooper: 286-288).

 

ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS

Let us look at what Kaiser has to say to this sonata: 

Kaiser refers to George Bernard Shaw who had described this sonata as the most beautiful of all Beethoven sonatas and to Stravinsky who had praised it thus: >>Die Fuge ist der Gipfel der Sonate.  Ihr großes Wunder liegt in der Substanz des Kontrapunkts und entwindet sich jeder Beschreibung<< [Stravinsky writes that the fugue is the climax of this sonata and that its great miracle lies in the substance of the counterpoint and escapes all description], and also mentions that this sonata has been the source of numerous musicological studies.  In 1909, continues Kaiser, Hermann Wetzel, following Hugo Riemann's traces, explained the construction of this sonata in the Beethoven-Jahrbuch (p. 75 to 154), that in 1914, Heinrich Schenker presented his still valid introduction and description (Universal-Edition), and that in 1919 Arnim Knab published his essay,  >>Die Einheit der Beethovenschen Klaviersonate in As-Dur, op. 110< (reprinted in Knab's "Gesammelten Aufsätze über Musik", >Denken und Tun<, Verlag Merseburger, Berlin 1959).  In 1967, continues Kaiser, Karl Michael Komma, through the Stuttgart Ichtys-Verlag, published two valuable volumes, namely the facsimile, after the autograph, together with an accompanying volume, >Studien zur Geschichte und Gestalt der Handschrift, zum Textvergleich, zur Thematik und Form<, in which one of Komma's theses is, >>Op. 110 steht als ein Hauptwerk an einem Scheitelpunkt der europäischen Musikgeschichte, da es das klassische mit dem Barocken vermählt und mit vielen Zügen auf die Romantik und den romantischen Klassizismus vorausweist<< [Komma writes here that Op. 110 can be considered a major work at the zenith of European music history since it combines the classical with the Baroque, and in many ways, looks ahead at romanticism and the romantic classicism].

Since the main theme of the first movement, continues Kaiser, seems to take off where the variation theme of the finale of Op. 109 has left off, and since Op. 110 can also be described as a >finale sonata<, the relationship between Op. 109 and Op. 110 is often discussed, after all, both sonatas were written in immediate succession. . . . 

However, writes Kaiser, the similarities are superficial and outward and the difference all the more important and profound, as Op. 109 offers, in highly-developed, direct and immediate tonal language, contrasts between an expressive Adagio and a restrained Vivace, interjects an eccentric Pressitimo and then presents the unfolding in variations of an E-Major melody.  Therefore, argues Kaiser, if one could compare Op. 109 to a process that leads, above and beyond all possible allusions and challenges, to a pure, cantabile form, and that at the highest possible developmental and expressive level of compositional technique, then Op. 110 makes the cause of the historical process of the development of compositional technique, from Bach to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven to its own and incorporates the idea of neo-classicism, the idea of a converted presentation of historical, quoted or fictitiously quoted material,  in a completely non-playful, confessing and moving way, into the the realm of great music.  

The first movement, continues Kaiser, appears to present a Mozartean model, the second appears to allude to popular songs, and the third appears to reproduce a Passion Recitative and subsequently the Gamba solo to the Alto aria, >>Es ist vollbracht<< from Bach's St. John's  Passion, after which the fugue begins in Bachian style and ends romantically-enthusiastically.  All these style quotations of the A-flat Sonata that many writers have emphasizes and, on occasion, also denied, writes Kaiser, have nothing to do with the content quotes and the direct approach of Op. 109, as here, the interpretive proglem is to create unity and to exclude historicizing ambiguity. 

Should interpreters, in order to express the special nature of this work, emphasize the Mozartean in the first movement, asks Kaiser, and should they, in the second movement, emphasize allusions to popular songs and the Bachian in the third movement, or are all of these >historical< objects to be presented as already transformed, as vocabulary from an older or different idiom that, nevertheless, here, appear in the tone of a unifying language of the late Beethoven?  Kaiser also raises the question of a third possibility:  Does the combination of historicizing allusions and direct expression create something basically new,  is late-style language being created by means of transforming penetration of invented music history?

Kaiser argues that Op. 110 does not look back at Op. 109 but that it offers, if comparisons are even helpful with respect to definition, rather a late synthesis of all that what had already been touched in Piano Sonatas Op. 31, no. 2 and no. 3, that is far from all irony.  With respect to Op. 31, no. 2, Kaiser refers to the programmatic unity of the main themes of all three movements, and to the recitative as a component of abysmal sonata structure, and with respect to Op. 31, no. 3 to the consciously historicizing disposal of older form models and melody types.  

Opus 110, concludes Kaiser, standing >>am Scheitelpunkt der europäischen Musikgeschichte<< [at the zenith of European music history] and filled with profoundness, glory and structured sequences, surrounded by admiring secondary literature, this sonata, argues Kaiser, is, as a last miracle, remarably short, and its tender immortality fulfills itself in not much more than 15 minutes.  (Kaiser: 582-584).


ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS

The active pianist Pianist Anton Kuerti provides us the following overview with respect to this sonata: 

Moderato cantabile molto espressivo

Kuerti describes Op. 110 as the most accessible and, therfore, also most popular of the 'late' Beethoven sonatas.  Its shamelessly melodic introduction, writes Kuerti, sings us two full songs, a unique phenomenon with Beethoven sonatas that, rare exceptions excluded, begin with ideas, motifs or patterns and not with singable melodies. 

Kuerti then asks himself which of these two exquisite melodies forms the main theme, and he describes the first as brief, casual and unpretentious that one could easily assume that it is only the introduction to its still more enchanting successor.  The question, continues Kuerti, is answered in the development, in which, almost exclusively, the first melody is used and in which it is still supplied with a flowing bass line and somewhat more pathos, and the same melody also forms the introduction of the recapitulation.  If one takes a close look at these two themes, writes Kuerti, one comes to realize that they are actually twins . . .  

With the exception of an amazingly harmonious ascending motion in the recapitulation, that rather creates the impression of a momentary memory lapse, writes Kuerti, all parts of this movement are "normal" (as far as any accomplishment of genius can be described as "normal"), and thinks that they could already have been written earlier, but the noble beauty of the movement, he argues, has so much refinement, peaceful maturity and spiritual farsightedness that one has to come to the conclusion that this is one of Beethoven's late works. 

Allegro molto

Kuerti describes the Allegro molto as a brief, very dramatic movement that serves as a Scherzo  . . .  It third section, writes Kuerti, alludes to a popular song in D Major, but quickly modulates into the minor tonic and thus takes on its seriousness.  In the trio, continues Kuerti, for the first time, we encounter the mysterious, otherworldly regions that we find so often in Beethoven's late works.  A cascading with unforeseeable chromatic aberrations that crosses through its own pointillistic accompaniment creates a penetrating feeling of discomfort and surrealistic confusion.  

Adagio, ma non troppo

Without interruption, writes Kuerti, we move on to the unique combination of slow movement and finale that crown this work, and it begins with an improvising recitative of definitely introductory character, in which harmonies and tempo roam freely, and the vocal character of the finale is confirmed by Beethoven's application of the terms "recitative" and "Arioso dolente".  This is the elegy that begins its song of woe above the constant, plaintive wailing of the accompaniment.  

Fuga: Allegro ma non troppo

The Arioso, continues Kuerti, gives way to a fugue (26) and if one can describe the Arioso as 'vocal', then one can certainly describe the Fugue as 'choral'. With sober curtness, writes Kuerti, its subject gradually rises in an interlocking chain of ascending fourths which the 'detetices of thematic relationships' might, perhaps, relate back to the introduction of the first movement.  The momumental motion, writes Kuerti, remains absolutely constant, while the emotions strive towards a wonderful climax, in which the theme boldly appears in octaves, deep in the bass, and here, it is intensified by means of the extension of the chain of fourths, via the three pairs in the theme and intensified to a full set of six pairs, as if nothing could prevent it from swelling on.  

After a second, massive climax, continues Kuerti, the harmony unexpedtedly descends have a level into the g minor, and we find ourselves again in the Arioso, exhausted and weakened, which he describes as Beethoven's own description of the process.  The rhythms, continues Kuerti, are even more undediced than before, and the sequence closes with a series of massive chords.  These, writes Kuerti, break the sad mood of the Arioso and lead to a new fugue, the theme of which is the reversal of the first fugue theme.  This, continues Kuerti, has a lighter and more innocent character than the theme of the first fugue, since it is located in a higher, less vibrating register of the instrument, and since the descending fourths sound less intentional and formal than ascending fourths.   

A second full-length fugue, writes Kuerti, would lend to this movement a static, academic character to that Beethoven, after each voice has stated the subject, immediately pursues a new goal.  Faster notes, continues Kuerti, are flitting by nervously when one hears the theme in diminution (with which, here, its tempo is increased threefold). A remarkably ambiguous change in tempo slows the pulse, at the same time, doubles the speed of the moving voices, so that here there now six rather than three notes per beat. Further diminution and contraction, writes Kuerti, transform it into an accompaniment with rich texture beneath which the theme returns triumphantly.  From here to the conclusion, the music swells on and stretches heroically, its expression is disarmingly warm and open and invites, as Kuerti continues, all hears to rejoice in its happy fervor.    (Kuerti: 54-55).

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 110 - Search