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Thread: Ludwig van Beethoven: The 32 sonatas for piano

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    Senior Member Daniel's Avatar
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    Default Ludwig van Beethoven: The 32 sonatas for piano

    Hello dear members of Talk Classical!

    Let's start some new discussions about whole work-cycles and groups. You can write about anything you associate with some works, write about your favourites, special experiences or leave your questions - it is our musical garden!

    Starting point: The piano-sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven

    The 32 sonatas are a kosmos of musical achievements, and reach a climax of form, inspiration and composition, and not only in the last three sonatas. And there we are: Do you agree with the standard listing into "Early, Middle, and Late Periods"? And where to settle them exactly? Any special signs which authorize such a structre? What sonatas did you play yourself? And what sonatas are your favourites?

    Awaiting your answers,
    Daniel

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    I prefer the late sonata's (Nos 30-32). The last one is so often underestimated, which is sad because of its beauty. There are other gems "in the middle," such as No. 23, 12 and 21. The 3rd mov't to the 12th is very nice; it sort of reminds me of the Allegretto movement from Symphony No. 7, with the slowly moving motif....the kind that echoes in your mind night after night (in a good way ).

    Im not a pianist, only a listener, so I cant comment much on the playability.

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    Senior Member ChamberNut's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel View Post
    Let's start some new discussions about whole work-cycles and groups. You can write about anything you associate with some works, write about your favourites, special experiences or leave your questions - it is our musical garden!
    Great idea Daniel! Thanks for starting these up.

    The Appassionata is still my favorite, but there are so many great piano sonatas of his. A close 2nd is the Walstein.

    I have the Barenboim complete set of sonatas. My 2nd major classical music purchase, after Beethoven's complete symphonies!

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    Well the Pathetique seems to be the Eroica of Beethoven's Piano works, the first masterpiece. I have no doubt that all the famous ones are deserving of their status as great works, but I also particularly like No. 17 'The Tempest', along with the little discussed 27th and 28th. My favourite is either Hammerklavier, Appassionata or the last one

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    I really enjoy the Hammerklavier sonata, but it's always sort of struck me as an unusual "alien" sort of sonata for Beethoven. Although traditionally associated with the late sonatas, it seems quite different from the rest of them, except in the use of fugue that was a key hallmark of late Beethoven. Still, the Hammerklavier fugue is such a different sort of composition from the Grosse Fuge, despite sharing the key of B-flat.

    Other late favorites include Op. 101 and 109, both to play and listen to. I love Op. 78 dearly, but for some reason, it is not a sonata I am as happy listening to -- I must play, it instead! Actually, the same holds true for the early Pastorale Sonata, Op. 28, and the sublime E minor sonata, Op. 90.

    I do very much enjoy the more famous nicknamed sonatas: Pathetique, Waldstein, Appassionata -- but for some reason, they do not speak to me as much as these other ones.

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    Senior Member ChamberNut's Avatar
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    I've been in a solo piano mood the last week, upon listening to Schubert's last piano sonata, Schumann's Kinderszenen and some of Chopin's Nocturne's, that I've decided to go through the Beethoven piano sonata cycle.

    Today it's the final 3, Op. 109, 110, 111

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    A rediscovery of sorts. Listening through the Beethoven piano sonata cycle, I've haven't listened to Piano Sonata No. 15 Pastoral in D major Op. 28 in a long time. Such a pleasant, cheerful sonata.

    I should listen to this again on Sunday morning, walking with coffee in hand.

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    Senior Member Hexameron's Avatar
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    Oh yes... Despite all the portraits of a frowning Beethoven, I can picture him smiling when I hear the "Pastoral" sonata. I also find Op. 14 No. 2 (Piano Sonata No. 10) in the same "pleasant, cheerful" league as the Pastoral.

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    I've only heard the Appassionata once, in performance, and it seemed pretty crazy and tempestuous, even for Beethoven. Other than this, the Moonlight sonata is a favourite, particularly the final movement. Overall I haven't heard many of these. Are the final few sonatas anything like Beethoven's late quartets?

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    For me, the ultimate question is where do you draw the lines between each period? I think there may be more distinct divisions than just "early", "middle", and "late".

    If pressed to create a three part separation to group the Sonatas, this is how I would do it:

    Early: Sonatas 1-7 (Op. 2 - Op. 10)

    Middle: Sonatas 8-20 (Op. 13 - Op. 49)

    Late: Sonatas 21-32 (Op. 53 - Op. 111)

    As you can see, all three divisions overlap into another period of Beethoven's life. For instance Op. 13 was composed in 1800-1801. I would consider that to be early in his life, though we know that stylistically, he was already experimenting and this work was one of his more mature pieces of the period.

    The same holds true with what I classified as "Late". The Waldstein and Appassionata Sonatas were definitely ground breaking compositions, but he composed them in the middle of his lifetime, around the same time as the "Eroica" symphony. When compared to the late, late sonatas (Nos. 28-32) their form almost appears to be very straight foward when compared to their later counterparts, even though as far as Sonata form is concerned, they were way ahead of their time.

    So, if I were to group the Sonatas into my own "periods", I personally would divide them into 7:

    Period 1: Sonatas 1-4 (Op. 2 Nos. 1-3 and Op. 7)
    Period 2: Sonatas 5-8 (Op. 10 Nos. 1-3 and Op. 13)
    Period 3: Sonatas 9-14 (Op. 14 Nos. 1-2, Op. 22, Op. 26, Op. 27 Nos. 1-2)
    Period 4: Sonatas 15-20 (Op. 28, Op. 31 Nos. 1-3, Op. 49 Nos. 1-2)
    Period 5: Sonatas 21-23 (Op. 53, Op. 54, Op. 57)
    Period 6: Sonatas 24-27 (Op. 78, Op. 79, Op. 81a, Op. 90)
    Period 7: Sonatas 28-32 (Op. 101, Op. 106, Op. 109, Op. 110, Op. 111)

    For obvious reasons, it is nearly impossible to micro-classify the 32 sonats, mainly due to the fact that many works were written prior to others in the listing, however were published at a later date. For example:

    Op. 14 was written before Op. 13, however it is my understanding that Beethoven wanted to give the "Pathetique" special consideration, therefore it was published seperately ahead of the Op. 14 sonatas. (This same consideration was taken upon publishing the first two piano concerti as well). Another example of piano sonatas published out of written order would be the Op. 49 works which were written in 1795-96.

    So this still poses the question: What is the best way to classify the Sonatas into periods? By the works themselves, or should they be considered as a parallel with the rest of his musical output?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Oneiros View Post
    I've only heard the Appassionata once, in performance, and it seemed pretty crazy and tempestuous, even for Beethoven.
    Beware. Many times pianists speed up at the third movement and the result, despite pyrotechnic, does not sound like that thing Beethoven had in mind. (I'm thinking in Yves Nat while writting this).

    Ever heard Gould in the Presto agitato of the C sharp minor sonata? He runs throught it in about four minutes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cjr3559 View Post
    For me, the ultimate question is where do you draw the lines between each period? I think there may be more distinct divisions than just "early", "middle", and "late".
    I'd rather look at them as individual works, or maybe as part of their opus groups. You can look at them as to where they stand in his overall output but don't lose sight of each piece's individuality with their different aims and character. No30 is one of my big favourites but I can also like (in a different way) nos 19 and 20 his earliest works in this area. I'm not sure if Beethoven himself cared what 'period' he wrote a work in except maybe at the end where he seemed to think his last works were an improvement on what he had done before. But really Beethoven gave his best in this series of works as a whole.

    Quote Originally Posted by Evan Roberts View Post
    Well the Pathetique seems to be the Eroica of Beethoven's Piano works, the first masterpiece. I have no doubt that all the famous ones are deserving of their status as great works, but I also particularly like No. 17 'The Tempest', along with the little discussed 27th and 28th. My favourite is either Hammerklavier, Appassionata or the last one
    Why does there have to an Eroica of the piano sonatas? Yeh you could say some pieces are grander or bigger but I think it's best just to look at them individually as to whether they succeed on their own merit. Beethoven did nice sonatas before the 8th, for example his 2nd.

    My two biggest blind spots in the sonatas have probably been no26 and the last movement of the Hammerklavier, not sure if I've heard a performance that's fully convinced me about them.

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    The Hammerklavier is a lot like his Diabelli Variations - probably his two biggest intellectual achievements in the piano solo genre, but both are rather difficult to grasp for the listener. They are truly two of those pieces that require about 10 listens or so before one starts to appreciate its complexities. Are they as emotionally profound as the Appassionata or Pathetique? Probably not, since that was not his main goal in these pieces. His goal was to stretch the limits of what was possible in the traditional forms of sonata and variations.. and that he did successfully.

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    Don't forget the Andras Schiff Beethoven lectures that are available as a free d/l they cover all the sonatas also a lot more d/l under "recorded music" "free down loads"

    Schiff lectures

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andante View Post
    Don't forget the Andras Schiff Beethoven lectures that are available as a free d/l they cover all the sonatas also a lot more d/l under "recorded music" "free down loads"

    Schiff lectures
    I heard several of the Schiff performances at Disney Hall in LA over the last two seasons.. I thought he played them very well indeed.

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