BEETHOVEN'S PIANO SONATA N0. 4, OP. 7
CREATION HISTORY AND MUSIC CRITICISM






View of Vienna in Beethoven's Days



Introduction

If we want to find out more about the creation  and musical content of this sonata, we should perhaps first work at arriving at a time frame within which we can explore further details.  Another question would be as to whether these details can provide us with clues as to what importance this sonata held for Beethoven and his life during the time of its creation.

Creation History

Thayer provides us with a framework insofar, as his somewhat sparse remarks can at least give us a 'jump start' at doing our own work of chronologically incorporating these remarks into an as realistic appraisal as possible of Beethoven's life circumstances during this time. Thayer's remark is taken from the chapter that deals with the year 1797:  

"Prominent among the compositions of this time is the Sonata in E-flat for Pianoforte, Op. 7. The only evidence of the date of its composition is the announcement of its publication by Artaria in the Wiener Zeitung of October 7, 1797. There are sketches for the third movement in the Kafka volume, but they afford no help in fixing a date . . . Inasmuch as the sketches mentioned belong only to the third movement and the sheet contains the remark: "diverse 4 bagatelles de B. inglese Ländler, etc." Nottebohm supposes that the movement was originally intended for one of the Bagatelles and was later incorporated in the Sonata" (Thayer: 198).

The publication date of this Sonata of October 1797 and the uncertainty with respect to its precise time of creation that arises out of the partial sketches contained in the Kafka volume would warrant caution in our setting an as wide time frame as possible for it, and in doing so, we should also look at any helpful indications from Beethoven's biographical data of this time.  What information will come to our aid in this respect? 

From our Biographical Pages we know that, after Beethoven had conquered 'musical' Vienna by storm in the year 1795 and after he had, among other works, also published his Piano Sonatas, Op. 2, in the spring of 1796, he was able to broaden his horizon during his journey to Prague, Leipzig and Dresden, during late winter, spring and early summer of 1796.  

From our Biographical Pages we also know that, during the fall of this year, he stayed in Pressburg and that there, among other activities, he also made his audience acquainted with the new piano of his Vienna piano maker friend, Johann Andreas Streicher, by playing on it in public concerts.  

Thus, the late fall and early winter of 1796/1797 saw him back in Vienna and therefore, the time frame for the possible creation of his fourth piano sonata might stretch from time time on up to the time of its publication by Artaria in October, 1797.  

What do we know with respect to the circumstances of his personal life during this time, in general, and with respect to this sonata, in particular? 

From the section on the years 1800 - 1802/3 of our Biographical Pages, we know that Beethoven, in his correspondence of the year 1801 with his friends Wegeler and Amenda, abut also in his Heiligenstadt Will of October 1802, he referred to the years 1796 - 1798 as the time of the beginning of his loss of hearing.   With respect to this, Thayer's still admirable standard biography that is, nevertheless, in need of some updating, provides us with further speculations as to a possible infection Beethoven might either have suffered from in 1796 or 1797.  All this only suggests that his loss of hearing must have been in its very early stages, at that time, so that he might have been affected by it to some degree, but not yet as strongly as in his 'crisis' years of 1801 - 1802.  

His general life circumstances were still those of a young, increasingly successful composer and piano virtuoso who could rely on the support of his Viennese noble patrons such as Prince Lichnowsky, Baron van Swieten and Prince Lobkowitz, who frequented their salons but also those of other noble houses and, in doing so, also amazed these circles with his gifts as a piano virtuoso and composer and who also gave piano lessons to some young ladies of these circles.  That he, as a teacher, did not always remain emotionally indifferent is also known to us from Beethoven literature.  

In this sense, we can also consider Thayer's remarks with respect to this sonata in the right light:  

"The Sonata is inscribed to the Countess Babette Keglevich, one of Beethoven's pupils, who afterwards married Prince Innocenz Odescalchi in Pressburg. Nottebohm quotes the following from a letter written by a nephew of the Countess: "The Sonata was composed for her when she was still a maiden. It was one of the whims, of which he [Beethoven] had many, that, living as he did vis-a-vis, he came in morning gown, slippers and tasseled cap (Zipfelmütze) to give her lessons"  (Thayer: 198-199).

 



Beethoven around 1800

The reactions to biographical details may be as varied as the beholders' own pre-dispositions and inclinations.   Those of us who strive to form an as realistic image as possible out of all available information will also try to consider the accompanying circumstances of Beethoven's actions from as many angles as possible in order to avoid arriving at an all-too superficial image.   In this spirit, one would hope that readers might also try to see the following, rather anecdotal remarks in the right light: 

" . . . Be it as it may, this much is certain: Beethoven did not marry the Countess Julia Guicciardi; Count Wenzel Robert Gallenberg did.

Once again an affair was ended. . . . Wegeler adds (Notizen, p. 44) "that, so far as I know, every one of his sweethearts belonged to the higher social stations." So, also, friends of Beethoven with whom Jahn conversed in 1852. Thus according to Carl Czerny, he was supposed to have been in love with the Countess Keglevics, and the Sonata in E-flat, Op. 7 (dedicated to her) was called "Die Verliebte" ("The Maiden, or Woman, in Love")" (Thayer: 292).

Do these sparse, partially even trivial, details give us any indication as to what importance the composition of this sonata held for Beethoven and his life during this time?  Perhaps, our consideration of the musical content of this sonata will provide us more helpful clues. 


Music Criticism of this Sonata

Perhaps, two details with respect to this sonata provide us with information as to in what esteem Beethoven, himself, held this work.   Both Solomon (104) and Cooper (70) point out that Beethoven described this work as Grande Sonate. A further indication that he considered this work somewhat important might be the fact that he published it with its own Opus number and not, as he did with the first three sonatas, grouped together with other sonatas under one Opus number.  Solomon also refers to Riezler who considered this sonata as beethoven's first masterwork (in this genre). 

These remarks already lead us into the first section of our three 'music criticism' sections.  

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 can offer you Barry Cooper's insights:  

" .  .  .   In his six previously published piano sonatas (WoO 47 and Op. 2) the length had gradually increased each time, and Op. 7 continued this trend by being on a still larger scale, especially in the first movement.

Like each of the sonatas in Op. 2, the first movement is marked p at the start.  On the rare occasions when Mozart begins a piano sonata with a p marking it signals an unusually gentle, lyrical movement; with Beethoven, however, an initial p is generally associated with a sense of suppressed energy and latent power, as here, where a throbbing accompaniment generated dynamism and urgency.  The initial idea is a two-note motif, and two-note motifs separated by rests penetrate all four movements in some form or other to act as a binding force.  At the start Beethoven makes the figure unstable, sounding strong-weak, to intensify the momentum created by the accompaniment, and he reverses it to weak-strong only at the end of the coda to indicate finality.  After the first subject, the energetic drive is maintained as the music modulates to the dominant, and this key is established with a new theme (bar 41) which might be regarded as the second subject.   This theme is partly based on an idea jotted down during an improvisation session some years earlier,(9) and when it concludes in a cadence (bar 59) one might expect it to be followed simply by a short closing theme to end the exposition.  Instead, the size of the movement suddenly becomes apparent as a new and contrasting theme is heard.  Sonata-form theory and terminology were not well developed at this date, but theorists has recognized that an exposition consisted of a series of subsections, one of which could be expected to be a prominent cantabile theme in the dominant, contrasting with the opening idea.  The theme beginning in bar 59 matches that description; thus in terms of contemporaneous thought and modern terminology this must be considered the true 'second subject', for the previous theme retains the energetic character of the opening material.  Hence, instead of being nearly over by bar 59, the exposition has not yet reached its halfway point.  As this second subject unfolds, it suddenly lands on a 6-4 chord in C major (bar 81), and remains in this key for a while before modulating back to B flat for the rest of the exposition.  C major is not forgotten:  this same chord, in exactly the same register, reappears in root position as the first chord of the slow movement, he ingeniously relates it to the first movement--as in Op. 2 No. 3 but by a different means.

The third movement is a minuet and trio, though titled simply 'Allegro' and 'Minore'.  Originally Beethoven sketched an idea for a trio in A flat major, but he then decided on one in the bizarre key of E flat minor (a key he had already used in a piano quartet as a child, and his A flat idea was instead transferred to the trio of a later sonata (op. 10 No. 3).  The key of E flat minor is cleverly anticipated in the Minuet (bar 51), from where the music modulates briefly into C flat major, a key that was to have great significance for Beethoven in his later music.  The modulation is effected by juxtaposing B flat and C flat in the bass.  This same progression, notated as B flat-B natural, assumes great significance in the sonata-rondo finale (bars 62-3): it introduces the stormy middle section in C minor, where two-note figures again predominate; and it reappears near the end (bars 154-5) to herald a brief excursion to the remote key of E major.  After this excursion the stormy middle section is recalled in the coda, but in the tonic key of E flat and with the two-note figures sounding peacefully over a shimmering left-hand accompaniment, to create a beautifully gentle pianissimo ending.

This sonata has been examined at some length to illustrate something of the complexity of thought with which Beethoven was now operating.  The variety and originality of ideas, and the ingnuity of their interrelationships, are already well-nigh unfathomable.  The whole sonata, utterly different from anything by Haydn or Mozart, comes closest to Clementi, whose piano sonatas Beethoven greatly admired.  But it is much richer in texture and variety of figuration than Clementi's sonatas of a similar date, while the ideas themselves tend to be more striking and memorable.  It also represents the limit in Beethoven's rapid expansion of the sonata.  His subsequent sonatas were more often shorter than longer (only the 'Hammerklavier' and perhaps the "Waldstein' are substantially longer), and he made progress in different directions instead" (Cooper: 70-72).

After these insights by Barry Cooper, let us turn to Joachim Kaiser in our next section.  

ACTIVE MUSIC CRITICS 

Joachim Kaiser has a great deal to say with respect to this sonata, and we summarize his introductory comment as follows:

"Beethovens umfangreichste, am längsten dauernde Klaviersonate -- natürlich abgesehen von der in jeder Weise unvergleichlichen Hammerklaviersonate Opus 106.  Kraftvolle, triumphale Darbietung baumeisterlicher Kunst.  Sich selbst darstellende Sonatenform als leuchtend heller Endzweck.  Die ungemein klare, manchmal bis zur Überleitungspedantierie vorangetriebene Musiksprache der kleinen und kleinsten Übergänge läßt geheimnislose Demonstration allzu selbstsicheren und selbstbewußten Komponisten-Könnens vermuten: nur bedeutende Künstler vermögen diesen (naheliegenden) Irrtum zu berichtigen, in dem sie demonstrieren, daß die von Beethoven selber hoch geschätzte Sonate Opus 7 mehr als bloß beeindruckende >>Meisterstückhaftigkeit<< enthält.  Die reine, pulsierende Kraft des Zugriffs im ersten Satz, das gewaltig rhetorische, unangefochtene C-Dur-Pathos des symphonisch mächtigen Largos und die Empfindsamkeit der letzten beiden Sätze prunken mit bewältigtem Überfluß" (Kaiser: 85; --

Kaiser describes this sonata as Beethoven's longest piano sonata (except, of course, the in all respects exceptional Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106).  Here is how he describes some of Beethoven's achievements of this sonata: Strong, triumphant demonstration of masterful musical architecture, self-portrayal of the sonata form as a brightly shining ultimate purpose. He continues by stating that the incredibly clear musical language that is sometimes carried to a pedantic extreme in the transitions would suggest that we are confronted here by an all too self-assured demonstration of the composer's skills that does not hold back any secrets and that, in interpretation, only the greatest pianists can avoid creating this wrong impression (in the listener) by demonstrating that this sonata, Op. 7, that Beethoven, himself, valued very highly, is more than a demonstrative >>master piece<<.  Kaiser then refers to the pure, pulsating strength of the first movement, the grandiose rhetoric of the C-Majaor pathos of the symphonically powerful largo and the sensitivity of the two last movements and how they (through the perfomance of such great pianists) can be brought to life in this sense).

Also with respect to the individual movements, we were able to "isolate" some of Kaiser's remarks out of his comments on great insights by 20th century pianists: 

"Dreiklänge, ruhiges Passagenwerk, klare, dynamische Gegensätze, synkopische Belebung, chromatisch heraufrauschende Aufschwünge, ein getragenes, verhaltenes, den Kontrast nicht forcierendes Seitenthema, deutliche Akzentuierung des Sonatenschemas: so ließe sich die Exposition das ersten Satzes der Es-Dur-Sonate beschreiben -- und es wäre möglich, analysierend nachzuerzählen, was sich von Takt zu Takt begibt, so wie ja auch manche Pianisten hier mehr oder weniger hurtig vortragen, was die Noten an Oktaven, fließenden Achteln und sehr rasch brausenden Sechzehnteln zu enthalten scheinen.  (Beethoven verlangt hier erstmals im Klaviersonatenkopfsatz ein so rasches Tempo wie Allegro molto e con brio).

Nicht Unklarheit und zersplitterte Verworrenheit sind die Gefahren, die unter Umständen drohen, sondern Überdeutlichkeit und geheimnisloser Akademismus.  Darum wird die lange Sonate relativ selten im Konzert gepsielt.  Zwar kann man auch hier Beethovens kombinatorisches Genie bewundern, kann ableiten, daß die gehaltenen Akkorde der linken Hand, die schon im fünften Takt den Achtelbewegungen entgegengesetzt (siehe Beispiel 35) und dann kontrapunktisch ausgetauscht werden, bereits die Hauptbestandteile des Seitensatzes enthalten.  Und so sweiter . . .  Aber solche Konstruktions-Finessen, gleichviel, ob sie offen zu Tage liegen oder versteckt wirken, bezeugen nur die >>Dichte<< der motivischen Arbeit; sie sind sozusagen noch keine stücktragenden Qualitäten.  Für sich genommen stellen sie also weder absolut notwendige noch absolut zureichende Qualitäten dar.

Trotz aufrichtiger Bemühung um den ersten Satz der Es-Dur-Sonate Opus 7 dürfte mancher Beethoven-Bewunderer hier einen geheimnislosen, wenn auch kraftvollen Akademismus wittern.  Und selbst der subtilste Analytiker kann schwerlich darauf kommen, welche extrem verschiedenen Lösungsmöglichkeiten große Interpreten gerade für dieses anscheinend so offen daliegende Allegro fanden.  Ehrlich hat Edwin Fischer die >>Unbedeutendheit des ersten Themas<< eingestanden und gleich noch festgestellt:  >>Die Durchführung ist etwas kalt<< (in seinem Buch >>Ludwig van Beethovens Klaviersonaten, Insel-Verlag, Seite 32 ff.).  Tatsächlich geht es im Kopfsatz (ob der Komponist das Stück nun, wie der Beiname >>Der Verliebte<< andeutet, im Zustande leidenschaftlicher Entflammtheit geschrieben hat oder nicht . . .) weniger um Stimmungen und Halbschatten als sonst bei Beethoven.  Rhythmische, dynamische und kinetische Energien stellen sich hier selber dar.  Welche Möglichkeiten, mit der anscheinend so >>objektiven<< Es-Dur-Natur dieses Satzes zurechtzukommen, haben nun die Interpreten gefunden?" (Kaiser: 85 - 86; --

-- Kaiser describes the exposition of the first movement of this sonata by listing the following content details:  triads, calm passage work, dynamic contrasts, syncopic liveliness, chromatic ascending, a calm, reserved side theme, distinct accentuation of the sonata form and he mentions that it might be possible to recall the entire movement measure for measure, which some pianists appear to be doing with their precise performances.  . . .

However, writes Kaiser, not ambiguity and confusion are the dangers that might lurk behind this movement but rather too much precision and academic attitude that does not leave any room for mystery or secret.  According to Kaiser, this might be the reason why it is seldom played in concerts.     Kaiser argues that, while one can also admire Beethoven's genius at combination, and while one can discern that the held chords of the left hand . . . already contain the main components of the side theme, and so forth . . . such 'fine points' of musical construction only bear witness to the >>depth<< of the motivic work, these 'fine points' are still not that which carry the piece.  Considered separately, argues Kaiser, they do not constitute absolutely necessary or sufficient qualities.  

Kaiser argues further that, in spite of his or her sincere attempts at coming to grips with the first movement of this sonata, many a Beethoven admirer will suspect that here, an open-ended, strong academic spirit without any musical 'mysteries or secrets' is at work.  And, so he continues, even the most subtle analyst will hardly be able to discern what extremely different solutions great interpreters found for this very 'open' Allegro.   Kaiser reports further that Edwin Fischer has honestly admitted that the first theme, to him, is not important, and that he has also stated that >>Die Durchführung ist etwas kalt<< (this refers to Beethoven's alleged 'cold execution' (in Fischer's book, >>Ludwig van Beethovens Klaviersonaten, Insel-Verlag, p. 32 ff.).  Indeed, argues Kaiser, the head movement--whether the composer might have written this movement in a state of heated passion or not, as its nick name >>Der Verliebte<< (the lover) might indicate--deals less with moods and half-shadows than Beethoven does so in other pieces.  Rhythmic, dynamic and kinetic energies, asks Kaiser further, are self-evident here.  What possibilities have interpreters found of coming to terms with the apparently so >>objective>>  E-flat-Major nature of this movement?).

"Falls für den ersten Satz der Es-Dur-Sonate Opus 7 tatsächlich Vokabeln wie >>diesseitig<<, >>kraftvoll<<, >>energisch<<, >>unangefochten<< angemessen wären, so läge es nun durchaus nahe, dem zweiten Satz, einem großen, vielgerühmten und vielgeliebten Largo, con gran espessione, Eigenschaften zuzusprechen, die sich von alledem deutlich abheben: also das Stück >>eine Musik der Einsamkeit<<, eine ernste, stille Meditation, die durch Tiefen und Aufschwünge in die Ruhe des eigenen Selbst zurückführt<<, zu nennen (Reclams >>Klaviermusik-Führer<<, Seite 645).  Oder schwärmerisch festzustellen:  >>Weihevolle Würde und Hoheit der Empfindung sowie besänftigende Milde und feierlicher Ernst vereinigen sich in diesem Musikstück zu erhebender und beseligender Wirkung<< (Jaques-Gabriel Prod'homme >>Die Klaviersonaten Beethovens<<, Wiesbanden 1948, Seite 59).  Edwin Fischer fühlt sich an das >>herrliche Bild einer Sommerlandschaft<< erinnert.  Paul Bekker (>>Beethvoen<<, bei Schuster und Löffler, Berlin 1912) indessen erspürt:  >>Ein Gesang, von so inniger Beredasmkeit, von so gewaltiger Steigerung aus erhabener Ruhe zu scheidend heftigen Affekten und wieder zurück zu tiefem, wunschlosen Frieden war selbst für Beethoven etwas durchaus Neues.<<

Worte wie >>Einsamkeit<< und >>Meditation<< lassen sich schwerlich vermeiden, wenn man nicht bloß Harmoniefolgen klarstellen oder den Verlauf von Perioden bezeichnen will.  Oder wäre >>Einsamkeit<< bereits darum (in unserem Sonatenzusammenhang) eine lächerliche, sinnlose Vokabel, weil sich das Wort einer handfesten Definition wahrscheinlich entwindet?  Darf man da beim >>geneigten<< Leser nicht auf ein natürliches Vorverständnis bauen?  Was mit einer klagenden, in sich verlorenen monologischen Musik gemeint ist, die aus >>Einsamkeit<< zu kommen scheint -- und was etwa mit einer >>gesellschaftlich-konzertanten Haltung<< gemeint ist, die das steigernde, konversationshafte Miteinander durchaus in ihren Gestus einbezieht, darüber kann man sich doch gewiß verständigen oder zumindest sinnvoll streiten.  Wenigsten so lange, bis jemand mit durchbohrendem Seminaristenblick verlangt:  >>Definiere gefälligst erst einmal!<<

Dieser Ezkurs wurde nötig, weil das große feierlich-orchestrale C-Dur-Largo aus der Es-Dur-Sonate sich mir je länger je mehr -- und das ist nicht abwertend gemeint -- als ein rhetorisches, durchaus extrovertiertes Attektstück darstellt.  >>Einsam<<, >>introvertiert<< wäre viel mehr -- um es mit Hilfe eines Gegenbeispiels zu verdeutlichen -- das zugleich untröstliche und trostlose d-Moll-Largo e mesto aus der D-Dur-Sonate Opus 10 Nr. 3.

Aber unser Stück?  Spürt man nicht, wie Beethoven da ungeheuer sonore Ruhe meisterhaft dargboten hat?  Spürt man nicht das stolze Selbstbewußtsein des reich instrumentierten, weit über die Orchesteranspielungen aus dem Largo der A-Dur-Sonate Opus 2 Nr. 2 hinausgehenden Mittelteils?  Die Welt ist hier nicht nur Bühne, sonderen Tribüne, Podium für große, kontrastreiche Empfindungen, für Kolossales, Mildes, Pompöses und Gewaltiges.  >>Wenn Beethoven gegen Schluß des Largos der Sonate Opus 7 in einer piano-Phrase einen einzigen, noch dazu auf einem unbetonten Takttkeil erklingenden, harmonisch stark hervorgehobenen Baßton mit einem Fortissimo-Akzent versieht, so ist das zwar äußerlich dem Verfahren Philipp Emanuels ähnlich, aber nicht wie bei diesem aus der allgemeinen stilistischen Geltung zu erklären, wie schon die Seltenheit deartiger Effekte bei Beethoven beweist:  Hier ist es, wie wnn sich plötzlich unter der feierlichen Ruhe ein Abgrund des Schreckens öffnete<<, schreift Walter Riezler (Beethoven, Atlantis-Verlag Zürich, Seite 118)

Ich spüre, daß mein Versuch, die rhetorischen und Klavieristisch-orchestral-experimentellen Tendenzen dieses Largos zu charakterisieren, einen unguten Nebenton hat -- so als sollte hier ein großes Musikstück entzaubert werden.  Fragen wir also anders.  Welche Stellung hat dieses Largo in Beethovens Kosmos?  Die Es-Dur-Sonate für Violine und Klavier, Opus 12 Nr. 3, jurz nach Opus 7 komponiert, prunkt auch mit einem feierlichen langsamen C-Dur-Satz >>Adagio von molt'espressione<< im 3/4-Takt; das noch etwas später entstandene Streichquartett Opus 18 Nr. enthält ein C-Dur->>Adagio cantabile<<, gleichfalls im 3/4-Takt, mit raschem Mittelteil allerdings.  All diese Stücke sind erfüllt von einem hymnisch hohen Ton.  Vergleicht man sie mit dem Largo aus Opus 7, dann ist dieser erste, große, langsame C-Dur-Satz Beethovens bei weitem der reichste, spannungsvollste, rhythmisch und dynamisch variabelste.  Auf dem Klavier probierte Beethoven Wirkungen und Steigerungen aus, die er freilich in anderen Gattungen selten und erst viel später anwandte:  man müßte schond ie langsamen Sätze aus der II. und IV. Symphonie oder das Largo aus dem dritten Klavierkonzert zitieren, wenn man ein Gegenstück zu diesem machtvoll sonoren Dur-Agagio nennen wollte" (Kaiser: 91 - 92; -- 

--  In his introduction to the second movement of this sonata, Kaiser argues that, if one can adequately characterize the first movement with adjectives such as >>immanent<<, >>strong<<, >>energetic<<, >>undisputed<<, then it would certainly be possible to distinguish the second movement, a great, famous and much-loved Largo, con gran espressione, by stating that it is a music of loneliness and a serious, quiet meditation, as is done in the Reclam piano guide >>Klaviermusik-Führer>> on p. 645, or one could rave about it as Jacques-Gabriel Prod'homme did in his book >>Die Klaviersonaten Beethovens<<, Wiesbaden 1948, p. 59, when he described it with thus:   >>Weihevolle Würde und Hoheit der Empfindung sowie besänftigende Milde und feierlicher Ernst vereinigen sich in diesem Musikstück zu erhebender und beseligender Wirkung<< (this writer refers to solemn dignity, nobility of emotion and mildness and solemn serious being united in this movement to an uplifting and inspiring effect).  And with respect to Edwin Fischer, Kaiser reports that the latter was reminded of a splendid image of a summer landscape, and that Paul Bekker, in his book >>Beethoven<<, Schuster und Löffler, Berlin 1912, found this in the second movement:  >>Ein Gesang, von so inniger Beredsamkeit, von so gewaltiger Steigerung aus erhabener Ruhe zu scheidend heftigen Affekten und wieder zurück zu tiefem, wunschlosen Frieden war selbst für Beethoven etwas durchaus Neues<< (Bekker writes of a song of such innermost eloquence and of such grandiose elevation from sublime calmness, turning to cuttingly intense affects and back again to a deep peace without any wish left over that, in the writers opinion, was even something new for Beethoven).

Kaiser admits that words such as >>solitude<< and >>meditation<< can hardly be avoided when one does not merely want to clarify the sequence of harmonies or periods.  He then asks as to whether such a term as >>solitude<< would already, in the context of this sonata, have to be considered a ridiculous, meaningless term, since it does not allow for an iron-clad definition, and whether one should not rather count on the >>inclined<< reader's natural understanding.   He continues by arguing that one could certainly either come to an agreement with or argue about what is meant by plaintive, inwardly-contemplative music that  appears to have arisen out of >>solitude<< and what, for example, is meant by a >>socially-concert-style-attitude<< that appears to describe >>musical conversation<<, and that at least up to the point at which some eager scholar might ask:  >>Can you actually define that?<<  

Kaiser apologizes for his discussion by referring to the fact that, to him, the great, solemn, orchestral C-Major-Largo of the E-flat-Major Sonata, and he points out that he does not mean this in a derogatory manner, more and more, appears to be a rhetorical, extrovert piece.  He would rather accord terms such as >>solitude<< and >>introverted<< to the inconsolable and un-consoling d-Minor-Largo e mesto from the D-Major Sonata, Op. 10, no. 3.  

But this movement?, asks Kaiser, and he further asks if one can not feel how Beethoven, in it, is masterfully offering us an image of indredibly sonorous calm, if one can not feel the proud self-consciousness of the richly instrumented middle part that does far beyond the orchestral allusions of the Largo of the A-Major Sonata, Op. 2, No. 2.  Here, argues Kaiser, the world is not only a stage, but rather larger platform or podium for great emotions that are rich in contrast, for the collossal, the mild, the pompous and the grandiose.    Kaiser then quotes Walter Riezler as follows:  >>Wenn Beethoven gegen Schluß des Largos der Sonate Opus 7 in einer piano-Phrase einen einzigen, noch dazu auf einem unbetonten Takttkeil erklingenden, harmonisch stark hervorgehobenen Baßton mit einem Fortissimo-Akzent versieht, so ist das zwar äußerlich dem Verfahren Philipp Emanuels ähnlich, aber nicht wie bei diesem aus der allgemeinen stilistischen Geltung zu erklären, wie schon die Seltenheit deartiger Effekte bei Beethoven beweist:  Hier ist es, wie wenn sich plötzlich unter der feierlichen Ruhe ein Abgrund des Schreckens öffnete<< (Beethoven, Atlantis-Verlag Zürich, Seite 118; -- Riezler writes that, when Beethoven, towards the end of the Largo of the Sonata, Op. 7, in a piano phrase, supplies a single bass tone with a fortissimo accent, then this appears outwardly similar to Phillip Emanuel (Bach's) style, but it can not, as can with the latter, be explained on the basis of its general stylistic import since here it is as if, in the midst of solemn calm, an abyss of horror is opening up).

Kaiser expresses that his attempt of trying to explain the pianistic-orchestral-experimental tendencies of this largo has a somewhat negative undertone, as if he intended to de-mystify a great piece of music.  Perhaps, continues Kaiser, one should phrase one's question differently, as follows:  "What place does this largo have in Beethoven's cosmos?"   He then refers to other works Beethoven composed only somewhat later, as, for example, to the E-flat-Major Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 12, No. 3, that also features a solemn, slow C-Major movement,   >>Adagio von molt'espressione<< and to the String Quartet  Opus 18 No *, which also contains a C-Major >>Adagio cantabile<<, but with a fast middle part.  All these pieces, argues Kaiser, are filled with a hymnically-high tone.  If one compares them to the Largo of Op. 7, then one will find that this Largo is the richest, most suspenseful, and rhythmically and dynamically most variable movement.   Kaiser argues that at the piano, Beethoven tried out effects and escalations that, with respect to other instruments, he applied much later, as one would have to refer to the slow movements of the Second and Third Symphonies or to the Largo from the Third Piano Concerto, if one were to find a counterpart to this powerfully-sonorous Major Adagio).

"Romain Rolland hat für das Rondo der Es-Dur-Sonate -- Poco Allegretto e grazioso -- den graziösen Vergleich gefunden, es spiele >>wie ein Kind, das einem zwischen den Beinen durchläft<< (>>Beethovens Meisterjahre, Insel-Verlag 1930).  Beugt man sich jedoch gönnerhaft hinab, um nach dem reizenden Kleinen zu blicken, dann handelt es sich leider um ein schwer erziehbares Kind.  Die Pianisten haben ihre liebe Not mit ihm.

Und warum?  Zweil zwischen dem, was die Noten an anmutiger Verpsieltheit zu fordern scheinen und den zahlreichen, bewußt gesetzten dynamischen Vorzeichen ein schwer harmonisierbarer Gegensatz besteht.  Dieser Gegensatz läßt sich bei einem verhältnismäßig behaglichen Tempo am leichtesten ausgleichen:  da können die Kontraste zwischen forte und piano dann wirklich pointiert herauskommen, da kann auch der immer neue, geist- udn gefühlvolle Klaviersatz, in dem das Hauptthema sich darstellt, sorgfältig ausgespielt werden.  Doch bei einer solchen, auf Behaglichkeit und Subtilität zielenden, ruhig-heiteren Interpretation wird das Rondo gefährlich lang" (Kaiser: 101; --

-- For the Rondo -- Poco Allegretto e grazioso -- of this Sonata, reports Kaiser, Romain Rolland has found this >>graceful<< comparison, namely that it plays  >>wie ein Kind, das einem zwischen den Beinen durchläuft<< (>>Beethovens Meisterjahre, Insel-Verlag 1930; like a child that runs through one's legs).  However, if one bends down in order to look at the child, then one sees a rather naughty child that is hard to deal with, as pianists have their share of troubles with it.  

And why?, asks Kaiser and refers to the hardly reconcilable discrepancy between the graceful playfulness that the notes appear to demand and the numerous, consciously set dynamic signs.  This discrepancy, argues Kaiser, can best be dealt with if the Rondo is played at a rather slow tempo in which the contrasts between forte and piano can be properly enhanced . . . but in proceeding in such a manner, this movement  tends to grow dangerously long).

After Kaiser's comment, let's move on to 'our' active pianist.  


ACTIVE PIANISTS

In his introduction, Kuerti writes that Beethoven's Fourth Piano Sonata, Op. 7, with its bright colors and its elaborate textures can certainly be described as the most symphonic of Beethoven's piano sonatas and he also refers to the fact that it is the second longest of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas.  With respect to the individual movements, Kuerti comments as follows: 

Allegro molto e con brio

"The orchestral character is already evident at the opening.  The main motive--a repeated call of a descending third--and its scurrying repeated note accompaniment foreshadows the opening of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony.  The richness and diversity of material, the dovetailing of lines, the antiphonal responses and the sumptuousness of design (the second subject alone (1) has three generous and highly characterised themes( all reinforce this impression" (Kuerti: 18).

A wisp of a new theme, writes Kuerti, is introduced shortly before the recapitulation, which makes the latter sound very fresh.  As is often the case, continues Kuerti, the recapitulation is marked  fortissimo, contrary to which the introduction was soft; it is almost, writes Kuerti, as if the music had to first earn the right to shout out loudly, and that it would have been too forthright to start the movement with such force. 

"The recapitulation immediately takes off in a different harmonic direction, thereby adding to the movement's urgency.  Following the reappearance of the impatient syncopated figures of the closing subject (4), Beethoven delivers an inspired stroke of genius.  Instead of closing--as he might have--he modulates most suddenly and dramatically (5), and shows us a hitherto unsuspected relationship between the jagged leaps of the closing subject and the opening "call"" (Kuerti: 18).

Largo con gran espessione

"If in the first movement the symphonic character was entirely an asset, in the slow movement it poses some problems, particularly in regard to the broad rhetorical pauses.  At the piano such long pauses (during the main theme they occupy almost as much space as the notes) may sound static or even artificial.  They work better orchestrally, for it provides a much greater effect if a large number of people are totally silent together than if one lone piano player stops making sounds.  Furthermore, such long sustained notes on the piano tend to sound lifeless, for there is no way in which one can vibrate or modulate the intensity" (Kuerti: 18).

In Kuerti's opinion, Beethoven is trying here to overcome such problems with his inventiveness, and that he even wrote a crescendo on such a sustained chord.  In his music, there are various samples in which he asks for this effect from the pianist, and Kuerti describes it as a physical imposbbility but a spiritiual necessity.  

Allegro

"The third movement has a bit of an identity problem:  it cannot decide whether it wants to be a menuetto or a scherzo.  It has some of the poised, stately qualities of a menuetto, and some of the teasing interruptions which fit better into the scherzo category.  After the friendly beginning, the mood changes to one of great expressive earnest and, in the Trio (6), into one full of dark, explosive rumblings" (Kuerti: 19).

Kuerti describes the return to the minuet as extraordinary with its introduction of a new melody, weak and ghost-like, ending with an open fifth, after which single notes ascend softly and gracefully, solving the unsolved question of the open fifth and cleanly leading us back to the minuet, that, quite innocently, and unaware of the horrible event of the trio, continues on).

Rondo: Poco Allegretto e grazioso

"The Finale is a rondo which abandons the symphonic characteristics of the earlier movements, and does not try to compete with the drama of the first movement or the depth of the second.   It is refreshing and endearing.  Typically, the central episode (8) is furious and aggressive, but we do not take it so seriously because it is only loosely woven into the piece; the lines for the battle it contains have not even been drawn--it is like a rapid summer thunderstorm, which leaves no trace of its fury when it has passed.  Or does it?  Genially, when the movement is almost done with, and the coda is sounding away into the distance, we recognize the frail, interrupted broken octaves (9) as being the same motive that had formed the thunderbolts of the central episode, here sapped of their ferocity.  Perhaps they now represent a few great drops of water, dripping softly in the sun" (Kuerti: 19).

Would you like to listen to a midi sample of this sonata? Our link provides you with an opportunity to do so: 

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:


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