HISTORY OF THE CLASSICAL PIANO SONATA UP TO BEETHOVEN - A BRIEF OVERVIEW




Mozart at the Piano



 The Sonate as Compositional Genre

Grove reports that the term 'sonata' (derived from Italian, 'suonare' = to sound), at the end of the 16th century, referred to polyphonic instrumental movements, and that in contrast to vocal music; however, from the beginning of the 17th century, the term was used for instrumental works that usually consisted of three or four movements.  In the early development of the sonata, so Grove, one would also refer to the chamber sonata (derived from the Italian term 'sonata da camera') that consisted of dance movements, as compared to the church sonata (derived from the Italian term 'sonata da chiesa') in fugue style, that was comprised of differing form types.  We have already come across these terms in our 'History of the Development of the Symphony up to Beethoven'.  What is also of great importance in this context is the so-called 'sonata form' or 'sonata head movement form' that Grove refers to as having developed in the second half of the 18th century, by which, according to Grove, is meant the musical structure of the first movements of sonatas (also of quartets and symphonies).  This movement would typically be a fast (mostly 'Allegro') movement with two themes (other terms for this:  phrases or periods), which is sometimes preceded by a slow introduction, followed by the exposition, development, recapitulation and perhaps also a coda.  In Viennese classical music, according to Grove, the 'sonata head movement form' became the rule.  With respect to the development of the Piano Sonata, we should now proceed to considering the following issues:

 The Introduction of the Pianoforte in the 18th Century

While we can not discuss the history of the invention and development of the piano at great length here, we should, nevertheless, briefly discuss the introduction of this new instrument in the 18th century.  

Grove reports that only as lat as at the beginning of the 19th century, the Pianoforte was finally able to fully replace its predecessor, the harpsichord.  For example, even Beethoven's Piano Sonatas Nos. 16 - 18, Opp. 31/1-3, although they have explicitly been designated for the Pianoforte by the composer, were still published by his Swiss publisher Nágeli, with the title Repertoire des clavecinistes.  On the other hand, already as early as in 1732, Lodovico Giustini published sonatas for the 'cimbalo di piano e forte'.  Also, Johann Sebastian Bach's playing on Silbermann's new Pianoforte model and his opinion of this instrument pointed, according to Grove, towards the fact that the future would belong to this instrument, while both instruments, the pianoforte and the harpsichord, were still leading a somewhat peaceful co-existence during the second half of the 18th century. 

One of Grove's examples of this peaceful co-existence is Mozart's composition of his Piano Concerto (a commission by a French claveciniste (or harpsichordist) in 1777 for that instrument, and his playing of it in Munich in October of that year on a pianoforte of inferior quality, while soon thereafter, his sister would play it in Salzburg, on a harpsichoard.  Grove also points out that, to the virtuoso and performer, the difference between these instruments was not as significant as it would appear to us today.  After all, so Grove, the early pianoforte instruments had encasings that were very similar to harpsichord encasings and that the pianoforte strings were still very light.  While the Fortepiano promised new possibilities of sound, at the early stages of its development, its sound still reminded very much of that of the harpsichord, which tended to fade away very fast.  

 

Grove further reports that conservative French composers such as A.I. Couperin (1727 - 89) and Jacques Duphly (1716 - 89) continued to write works for the harpsichord, which was still produced by harpsichord builders such as the Flemish harpsichord builder Taskin.  Also in the country of origin of the pianoforte, so Grove, composers such as Piatti and Galuppi wrote works that could be played on both instruments.  Also elsewhere, composers still followed this example as, for instance, in Spain (composers such as Seixas and Blasco de Nebra), Neefe in Bonn or Kozeluch in Vienna.  Others such as Schober and Eckhard in Paris, Hässler in Russia, but also C.P.E. Bach, with his attempt of 1763, expressed their preference for the subtle sound of the clavichord and its "Bebung".  Therefore, many works of the 1760's and 1770's that have been described as 'Clavier-Sonaten', were actually written for this more feminine instrument.  Together with the sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, these works are reported by Grove as having exercised a not unimportant influence on Haydn, who admitted, himself, that he owed much to C.P.E. Bach and that he had studied his works thoroughly.  

Grove further reports that at the beginning of the 1780's, C.P.E. Bach explicitly designated his second series of Sonatas, in addition to a few Rondos ... for connoisseurs and lovers, for the 'fortepiano', which also applies to further editions of his sonatas, including the sixths and last from the year 1787.  In these works, reports Grove, C.P.E. Bach virtually 'basked' in the possibilities of contrast that this instrument offered.  Already his six 'Cembalo' sonatas that he had dedicated to the Duke of Württemberg  and that were published in 1744, made use of simpler dynamic contrasts by means of hardly noticeable changes in the registers, that could only be produced by instruments with two manuals, while the very complex range of 'Kenner- und Liebhaber' editions was almost not reached again, until Beethoven.  However, as late as in 1788, C.P.E. Bach, so Grove, has also still written a Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Pianoforte, that advantageously showcased the tonal beauties of both instruments.

According to Grove, the delight of experimenting that was evoked by the introduction of the pianoforte also found reflection in the variety of musical styles that were en vogue at that time.  The unavoidable dissolution of the high-Baroque style could only effectively and successfully be replaced by the classical structure in the 1780's, so that composers of the so-called empfindsame (sensitive) style had to make do with a variety of smaller dramatic effects that, due to this, also had a rather singular effect in each case and did not actually produce an overall effect.  Accodring to Grove, this also applies to many passages in the piano works of C.P.E. Bach, that fulfilled the minimum requirements of the sonata form, that, however, were 'diluted' by the weakness of their secondary modulation.  However, during this time, only a composer of his calibre was able to consequently continue working on these problems during this period of stylistic change.  His older brother Friedemann who, in many ways, was perhaps even still more talented, was never able to entirely cut himself loose from the style of his great father Johann Sebastian, and their mutual half brother Johann Christian is reported by Grove as having left behind himself this problem area that was fought over by 'North German' composers in order to turn to the galant Italian style.  His sonatas, op. 5 and op. 17 are prime examples of the galant style that lay people could easily practice.  Grove further argues that between J.C. Bach and C.P.E. Bach, actually, all elements came together that would comprise the Viennese Classical style.  Mozart is reported as having expressed this after J.C. Bach's death in 1782, and of C.P.E. Bach he is supposed to have said, "he is the father, we are the children".  Also Beethoven is reported as having written to Breitkopf and Härtel in 1809 that he owned only a few works by Emmanuel Bach, while some of them could certainly provide great joy to every artist, but also an opportunity for study. 

Thee classical Sonata

Mozart

With respect to Mozart, Grove infers that as early as in 1777, he became familiar with a new version of the pianoforte, when he visited Stein's piano manufacture in Augsburg, the advantages of which, namely the even sound, he was able to apply to his own works for this instrument, thereby composing works that, in their development, went beyond the achievements of the Bach sons.  At first, reports Grove, he was very pleasantly surprises how 'exquisite' his already completed work, K284/205b, sounded on this instrument.  Perhaps also inspired by the Mannheim school with its emphasis of contrast, he might have written his two sonatas, K309/284b and K311/284c that, according to Grove, are more expressive and brilliant than his previous works for piano.  In the following summer he is reports as having written his two sonatas in minor, K310/300d that Grove describes as very evocative.  During the course of the next years, and very likely as a direct consequence of the progress in piano manufacture, Mozart is reported as having been able to transform the light three-movement form that he took over from J.C. Bach (whose sonatas he, at the age of nine, arranged as piano concertos) into a remarkable means of expression for his own, highly elaborate works.  

With his move to Vienna, writes Grove, Mozart, through his free-lance activities, had an opportunity of composing a number of master works for the pianoforte, among which his 17 piano concertos might be considered the most outstanding, yet also his ten piano sonatas provide us with a good overview of his compositional development.  Some of these works, as, for example, the  'kleinen Klaviersonaten für Anfänger' (little piano sonatas for beginners), K545, were written for teaching purposes, while the remainder of the sonatas reflect a variety of compositionally mature styles.  The group of four sonatas, K330-33/300b, i. k, 315c (that, as musicologists, according to Grove, were finally able to determine, were not written earlier, but only in Vienna, between 1781 and 1784) serve as evidence for his mastery of all classical forms:  Of the sonata with coda (as in the finale of K332) and without coda (as in the first movement of K333); theme and variations (introduction of K331), two-part form (as in the minuet and trio of K331), three-part form 9as in the Andante of K330), rondo form (as in the finale of K331) and sonata-rondo-form (as in the finale of K333).  The last-mentioned work, with its tutti-solo contrast and with its elaborate cadenzas, serves as an excellent example of how it was influenced by Mozart's simultaneous work on his piano concertos.  His treatment of all of this classical forms is, according to Grove, very seldom superficial; the coda of the final movement of K332 contains a buffa them that is presented in the exposition but very cleverly omitted in the recapitulation.  The Alla turca of K331 is reported as applying the thematic advantages of the pure rondo, while a sophisticated ABCBAB pattern covers its structural simplicity with finesse.  The very elaborate version of the Adagio of K332, published by Artaria in 1784 (and perhaps arranged by Mozart) shows that improvised decorations remained an integral part of Mozart's compositional style, and, according to Grove, it appears to advise modern virtuosos to estimate their own capabilities realistically and to not necessarily equate them to Mozart's capabilities. The sonata for two pianos, K448/375a, written within ten months after Mozart's arrival in Vienna (a commission by his talented piano pupil, Josepha von Auernhammer), is reported as tending towards the display of the virtuosity of the player, while, on the other hand, Mozart's intuitive understanding of the 'orchestral' effect of two pianos shines through.  Mozart's contact with Baron van Swieten and the latter's predilection for the old masters J.S. Bach and Handel is reported as also having had an influence on Mozart's works of this time, namely particularly in his often under-estimated prelude with fugue in C-Major, K394/383a, a work that he is reported as having written on the suggestion of his wife Konstanze.  

Grove argues that Mozart, however, did not get stuck imitating the baroque style, but rather that he displayed its influence on him in his works, here and there, very profoundly, as, for example, in the unique, monophonic and fugue-like introduction of K533, but also in the Rondo of this work, or in the elaborate counterpoint of his D-Major Sonata, K576 that might, perhaps, be considered Mozart's masterwork in this compositional genre.  Grove reports that Baron van Swieten's influence also inspired Mozart's writing of two fantasies, K396/385f and K397/385g, both of which, unfortunately, only remained fragments.   Of these, the second, in d Minor, is still very popular.  The C-Major fantasy, K475, a work of great emotional breadth, is reported as having been published together with the sonata in the same key that had been writte five months prior to the fantasy.  Its influence on Beethoven's fascination with c-Minor works can not be denied, argues Grove.

However, infers Grove, the most important influence on Mozart during this time was his becoming acquainted with Haydn (very likely in the year 1781).  Although Haydn's influence on Mozart is most prevalent in his mature chamber music works, it can also be noticed in his piano works, as, for example, in movements such as the monothematic introductory allegro of K570, or in the bold choice of the lower sub-dominant as second key in the Adagio of K576.  The important period between Mozart's composition of his opera, Le nozze di Figaro and of his opera, Don Giovanni, according to Grove, also saw his composition of four further jewels in the crown of his piano works, including the sonata for piano for four hands, K497, a definite master work, an inspired series of variations for piano for four hands, K501, the chromatically rich a-Minor-Rondo K511, and the very expressive b-Minor-Adagio, K540.  All of these works, Mozart composed for a five-octave-piano against which he is never reported as having made negative remarks.   

Grove further argues that Mozart, in facing limitations through the repetitions of a sonata movement, he felt challenged to overcome these, which, in turn, led to suitable ideas, such as, for example, in the first movements of K333/315c or in the piano concerto K449.  

Haydn

With respect to Haydn  Grove infers that his fame rests much less than that of Mozart on his piano works, and that due to the fact that he, after all, during his decades of service to Prince Esterhazy, had to continually write works in all compositional genres, and that in the field of sacred music, opera music, instrumental music and chamber music.  Therefore it actually appears surprising that he still found time to turn to the composition of piano works.  Of the piano works attributed to him, less than 50 can be considered authentic, and of these, only a handful of original scores of his piano sonatas survived.  Moreover, reports Grove, it is very difficult to determine a definite chronology for the creation of his piano sonatas during the 1750's and 1760's.  Most of his early works, writes Grove, have very likely been written for the purpose of teaching the Prince's children, and it is not very likely that the majority of them have survived.  These works are reported as having mostly been described as 'divertimento' or 'partita' and as having consisted of three movements, of which the fast first and last movements framed in a movement that consisted of a minuet.  Sometimes, reports Grove, Haydn also placed the minuet into the third movement.  Almost all movements that were not comprised of minuets presented a basic sonata for with modest transitions and well-marked sub-groupings.  These sonatas are reported as having been definitely written for the harpsichord and that they still reflected the galant style as it was, for example, still practiced by Wagenseil.  During the course of the 1760's, perhaps inspired by Scarlatti, in Haydn's works, there can be observed a technical refinement, particularly in the group of sonatas that have been recorded as HXVI:45, 19 and 46. The A-flat-Major sonata (no. 46), according to Grove was foreshadowing the irresistible buffa final movements that Haydn would employ so brilliantly in his sonatas, quartets and symphonies of the 1780's and 1790's.  From about 1771, beginning with HXVI:18, 20 and 44, Haydn is reported as having described these works as sonatas, and at that time, into his simple style, there were also inserted more complicated moods,  Grove traces this back to C.P.E. Bach's influence.  While no. 20, when Haydn had just composed it, could still be played on a harpsichord with two manuals, Haydn had rearranged this ground-breking work in such a way for its publication by Artaria (in 1780) that it could only be effectively played on a pianoforte.  The five other sonatas that appeared at the same time (HXVI:35-9) are reported as having been Haydn's last sonatas that he designated as  'per il clavicembalo o il pianoforte'.  Grove describes it as more than a coincidence that Haydn published his next three sonatas (HXVI:40-42) with Bossler in 1784, after he had made Mozart's acquaintance (and was perhaps influenced by him).  In 1788, Haydn is reported as having written to his publisher Artaria that he now had to obtain his own pianoforte so that he could do more justice to his three piano trios (HXV:11-13).

Grove further explains tht Haydn's long life allowed him to incorporate all important achievements of Viennese classicism into his own work.  He describes Haydn's 'mature' sonatas as all the more remarkable due to the variety of stylistic influences that he had been exposed to during the course of his life, before he had arrived at this 'classical maturity'.  The obligatory 'da capo minuet' of earlier days had vanished, by now, reports Grove, and when, in 1789, Haydn had to write one to fill a commission, he 'replied' to this with the writing of is E-flat-Major Sonata (HXVI:49), with a broadly designed 'tempo di minuet', that contained an elaborate reprise.  Grove further explains that the potential boredom of the traditional sequence of the sonata, with a fast first, a slow middle and a fast last movement was avoided by the insertion of at least one movement that was not written in sonata form.  One can observe this in Haydn's sonatas in the first movement of  HXVI:39 and in the final movement of No. 34.  At this time, reports Grove, Haydn was also engaged in writing sonatas with two movements, what Beethoven would later take as point of departure for his own experiments.  Two of Haydn's two-movement sonatas (the one in G Major and the one in D Major) that were published together in 1784 even went as far not featuring any explicit reference to the sonata style.  In the final movement of no. 40 Haydn is reported as having had his own fun with his cadenzas with its jumps in octaves.  In the final movement of his D-Major Sonata one can observe J.S. Bach's influence (perhaps due to Haydn's acquaintance with Baron van Swieten).  What Grove considers equally important is Haydn's tendency towards his cantabile style, as, for example, in his slow movement of his E-flat-Major sonata that he had written for  Marianne von Genzinger. In his free C-Major Fantasy (HVII:4), that was published at about the same time, Haydn is reported as having left two indications for the player to hold the cadenza octave until the sound dissipated.  On a well-tuned modern piano, this could take up to a minute.  The three very individual sonatas that Haydn reported during his second London stay (no. 50-52) are considered as the zenith of his piano works.  In these, the influence of English music can also not be denied, reports Grove.  In his Sonatas, Haydn is reported as having expressed his characteristic compositional elements, namely that of surprise and that of a joy of experimenting, in a lively manner.  Even more than in Mozart's sonatas, concluded Grove, the predilection of his time for the new instrument and for one its characteristics, the still very quickly dissipating sound, is expressed in Haydns piano sonatas.   

Source:

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Second Edition. Edited by Stanley Sadie. Executive Editor John Tyrrell. London: 2001, Macmillan Publishers Limited.