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:
MUSCIOLOGISTS 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.
MUSCOLOGISTS AND BEETHOVEN RESEARCHERS
William Kinderman's observations with respect to this sonata take up the thread where the end of the first sonata of this work group had left it:
"The second Sonata, in F major, takes its point of departure from the comic strain already present in the finale of op. 10 no. 1. Though a favourite of Beethoven's, the piece has been regarded disapprovingly by some commentators, who have pointed accusingly to the loose, meandering features in the opening Allegro while remaining deaf to their aesthetic quality. Brendel has recently observed how easily such comic music can be spoilt in performance, or misunderstood by listeners 'expecting the celebration of religious rites'.(7) Beethoven felt no such constraints: like Laurence Sterne's character Tristram Shandy, he could revel in the unexpected, the incongruous, and the grotesque, and, as in this movement, exhibit a coyish, good-natured capacity for just getting lost. In comparison with op. 10 no. 1 the form is anti-teleological, the music appears to progress in fits and starts, sometimes driven by feverish outbursts of impatience. One cul-de-sac occurs in the second subject=group after the first cadence in the dominant, C major, in bar 41 (Ex. 12). The ensuing phrase loses its grip on the cadence, and the pianissimo chord in bar 46 suggests raised eyebrows of puzzled confusion. Another such passage is the false recapitulation, which begins innocently enough in D major. Remarkably, it is not the harmonized chords forming the head of the theme but rather its little ornamental turn whose repetitions stabilize the true recapitulation in F, conveying a sense of the tail wagging the dog.
The second movement is an Allegretto with trio in F minor, the focus of gravity in this otherwise lighthearted work. Its seriousness of character stands as complementary to the comic fugal burlesque that forms the presto finale. This relationship can be vividly projected in performance through rhythmic means, if the steady motion in quarter-notes in the Allegretto yields to a subdivision of these beats into eighth-noted in the shorter bars of the presto, thereby giving the effect of an acceleration to double-time in the finale. The beginning of the Presto also reshapes the same registral ascent that had begun the meditative Allegretto, transforming its structural aspects in an atmosphere of unbuttoned wit and musical laughter that 'inverts the sublime', according to one of Jean Paul Richter's insightful definitions of humour" (Kinderman; 39 - 40).
ACKTIVE MUSIC CRITICS
Does 'our' host of this section, Joachim Kaiser, share Kinder'man's opinion? Let us read what he has to say to this work:
"Verhält sich zu Opus 10 Nr. 1 wie die Pastorale zur Schicksalssymphonie: dem c-Moll folgt natürlich strömendes F-Dur. Doch dieser Mangel an Aggressivität und Finsternis schafft keine Harmlosigkeit, sondern erster und zweiter Satz sind erfüllt von sanft hallenden Echoeffekten, schweifend improvisatorischen Freiheiten. Trägt das Anfangsallegro noch den Kontrast zwischen Rokokohaftigkeit und naturmystisch gestimmter Echomagie aus, so überläßt sich der zweite, ein f-Moll-Allegretto, nach vermeintlich strengem Beginn einer frühromantischen, Schubertischen Innigkeit. Der dritte, Presto, ist dann wieder völlig irdisch und arbeitsam, glänzend, zupackend, geistvoll. Fast übermütig stellt diese zwischen Frühklassik und Frühromantik vermittelnde Sonate jene drei Sphären dar, die sieben Jahre später im ersten Satz der Waldstein-Sonate großartig dramatisch zusammengefaßt erscheinen werden. Die F-Dur-Sonate Opus 10 Nr. 2 ist ein Stück phantasievoll schwärmerischer, weltverliebter Musik" (Kaiser: 125; --
-- In his introduction to this sonata, Kaiser writes that this sonata, compared to Op. 10, No. 1, invites the comparison between Beethoven's 'fate' Symphony, the Fifth Symphony and his Sixth Symphony, the 'Pastoral' Symphony, so that, in both cases, c-minor is followed by flowing, streaming F-Major. However, argues Kaiser, this lack of aggressiveness and gloom does not create harmlessness, but rather, the first and second movement of Op. 10, No. 2, are filled with softly-sounding echo effects and flowing, improvisatory liberties. While the introductory Allegro still works out the contrast between rococo style and echo magic that is inspired by nature mysticism, the second, an f-minor-Allegretto, after an apparently stern beginning, moves into an early-romantic-style, Schubertian tenderness and inwardness. The third movement, writes Kaiser, is again very earth-bound and no-nonsense industrious, brilliant, active, spirited. Almost exuberantly, concludes Kaiser in his introduction, this sonata that appears to be negotiating musical waters between early classicism and early romanticism, represents those three spheres that, seven years later, in the Waldstein Sonata, would appear brilliantly put together. Kaiser lastly describes this F-Major Sonata, Op. 10, No. 2, as a piece of worldly music that is full of fantasy and enthusiasm).
Well, both "exuberant" and "enthusiasm" would also come closest to Kinderman's impression of this work. Will Kaiser still elaborate on this approach?
" . . . Was, wieviel oder wie wenig, sagt nun die Sonate Opus 10 Nr. 2? Nicht Strenge und Zurückhaltung kommen diesem Werk bei, sondern vielmehr Jugend, Phantasie, der Mut oder der Übermut zum Schwärmen und zum hallenden Verschweigen. . . . Alles verträgt nämlich diese F-Dur-Sonate eher als steife Seriosität, gemütliche Behäbigkeit, Gönnerhaftigkeit. Das kränkt sie, das verschließt ihr den Mund, macht sie nichtssagend, zipfelmützig, elegisch und etüdig.
Aber es gibt kaum einen besseren Boden für späteren Enthusiasmus als ein negatives Vorurteil, beziehungsweise Nachurteil (nach gedankenarmen Interpretationen). Wer sich, mit einem solchen Vorurteil oder Nachurteil behaftet, auf die Opus 10 Nr. 2 kaum einlassen möchte, dem stehen -- vor allem im ersten Satz -- erstaunliche Entdeckungen bevor, wenn er Daniel Barenboim genau zuhört. Sehr schwer scheint der Anfang ja nicht zu sein, aber er kann Ungeahntes enthalten. . . . " (Kaiser: 125; --
-- . . . Kaiser first asks the question as to how much or how little this sonata has to say and that not strictness and reserve do this work justice but rather youth, fantasy, courage or enthusiasm and also resounding silence, and that this sonata does not agree with stiff seriousness, Biedermeier joviality or pompous generosity, nay, that these characteristics or approaches would, rather, insult it, shut it up, make it expressionless, boring, elegiac and etude-like.
However, continues Kaiser, there is no better soil for later enthusiasm than a negative, rash pre-judgment, respectively post-judgment (after boring, un-inspired performances). Those who, after having gained such a pre-judgment or post-judgment, do not want to deal with this sonata, at all, have--particularly in the first movement--amazing discoveries to make if they would listen to Daniel Barenboim's rendition of this work. The introduction does not appear to be very difficult, yet, it can contain surprises . . . ).
Kaiser's overview then moves to discussing the most important insights by 20th century pianists, while we turn to 'our' active pianist, Anton Kuerti.
ACTIVE, PERFORMING ARTISTS
What will become clear here is that, while musicologists and music critics such as Kinderman and Kaiser, in their roles, might, first and foremost, approach a work either from their study of the score or on the basis of reflected listening, an active pianist such as Anton Kuerti will also approach piano works from his study of the score and from reflected listening, but, above all, 'from the piano' and from his experiences of mastering all difficulties and of bringing forth all of its beauties:
"A hop with mysterious charm; after a pause, a short answer, another hop and answer, and then the extraordinary first theme of Op. 10 No. 2 soars upward in purest song (7). Who can explain why these amazingly diverse elements fit together so perfectly?" (Kuerti: 23).
Kuerti then points out that already the exposition, with its great number of various ideas that are offered within a short period of time, is astonishing, that, however, the development is even more remarkable due to the economy of its material. Here, continues Kuerti, the least noticeable, most common element is being picked up, one, that most composers would have discarded because of its lack of musical content and that Beethoven, like a monarch who does not want to exhaust himself, takes up the material nearest to him, the last three, descending octaves of the exposition that do not pretend that they want to accomplish more than bringing this passage to a timely conclusion, while he, however, takes this material up and proves that he can balance and enrich the most meager, unimportant material and, through his kind of processing it, gives it value. This one motif, writes Kuerti, that appears here, shy, confused and heavy, adorned by groups of quick notes here and there, dominates the development.
After it has exhausted itself, continues Kuerti, a long pause is setting in, followed by the repetition of the main theme, but something does not appear to be in order, since it does not sound like a reprise, rather, it halts again and pretends to have lost its way. Finally, we find out that we have been taken for fools, writes Kuerti, when a graceful and un-obtrusive modulation towards the key of the tonic leads us back . . . and that the real reprise sets in only now, but without the initial hops and answers to them, that have been emphasized so distinctly in the 'false reprise', and, moreover, the charm of these hops consists of the fact that they are surprising, and the only true surprising effect can here only be that, that they are left out.
"The Allegretto stands near the junction of the menuetto and the scherzo. The mood is perhaps too brooding and severe to fit the courtly dance steps of a menuetto, while there is not enough humour and wit in its measured pace for a scherzo" (Kuerti: 24). Hollow and slightly ominous as it is, writes Kuerti, its effect mainly depends of its position within the entire work, and it is, after all, surrounded by cherrful, extrovert outer movements. One could, continues Kuerti, imagine, for example, an amusing person whose sparks are always ignited when being in society, but, as soon as he is alone, he turns back in on himself and only comes back out of his shell as soon as friends and acquaintances surround him.
The Presto, writes Kuerti, is composed in a very abbreviated sonata form, in which the second idea, as in many Haydn works, takes up the main idea of the first theme, since there is not enough time to introduce something entirely new. According to its contrapuntal character, full of canonic imitations, the development is very lengthy and elaborate, since this is the best opportunity in a sonata for a composer to allow his gifts of combination free reign, and thus here, the content forms its form.
"Thus the recapitulation (13), spurred by the excitement, the colour and especially the counterpoint of the development, is triumphant and scintillating. It is expanded dynamically and extended, modulating to a fairly distant key. The second subject, which hitherto had pranced quietly about, suddenly swells (14) and brings the Sonata to a spectacular conclusion" (Kuerti: 25).
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 10, Nr. 2 - Search