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I have been listening to Beethoven for many years and I am familiar with his piano sonatas. Recently I have been listening to the recital/lectures by Andras Schiff on the Op 31 piano sonatas. He describes the Op 31 no 2 sonata as a great tragic work. I would like to agree with this, but I find the work to be difficult to connect with in this sense when compared to such masterpieces as the Op 106 sonata's slow movement. Could the forum give some explanation and guidance concerning the Op 31 no 2? What am I missing in this sonata?
 

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It may be that you will never like it as much as your favorites, and I doubt that I could say anything about this sonata that will make you like it more and be more insightful than Schiff! No. 17 is not one of my 1st-tier favorites, but it has grown on me. Great musicians like A. Schiff are going to get more out of a piece than most of us. Keep listening. (btw, I watched his lecture on no. 26 and really liked it, and I am thoroughly enjoying his complete cyle on ECM)
 

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"...the [Tempest] sonata was not given this title by Beethoven, or indeed referred to as such during his lifetime. The name comes from a claim by his associate Anton Schindler that the sonata was inspired by the Shakespeare play. However, much of Schindler's information is distrusted by classical music scholars." (Wiki)

Looking for the meaning of this abstract music in Shakespeare, or in Beethoven's external life or internal struggles, or in other works written years later -- none are likely to be helpful. What it is it is, and it's right there in the music.
 

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Even though it's not Beethoven's name, "Tempest" is nevertheless a good name for the sonata. The first movement in particular conjures up to me dramatic images of being buffeted about as if by a storm, rage, defiance and finally exhaustion. I wouldn't try to compare it to late Beethoven, which is more given to introspection and reexamination of form. Rather, it has more in common with other similarly dramatic works such as the Coriolan Overture, the Fifth Symphony and the Appassionata Sonata. There's a palpable sense of fury and rebellion at fate and the world, and a fatal--yes, tragic--determination to reshape it, which is doomed to failure--sometimes ending in quiet desperation, such as the Tempest and Appassionata, and sometimes going down with bombast and guns blazing as the Fifth. Although Beethoven himself wasn't keen on Romanticism, these works seem to me to be smack within the Romantic milieu and mindset.

Maybe that appeals to you, maybe it doesn't.
 

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Beethoven's Sonata Op. 31#2 is seen as a landmark work in Beethoven's oeuvre, marking the beginning of his mature or middle period, in part because of this statement of his student, Carl Czerny:

"About the year 1800, when Beethoven had composed his Opus 28 he said to his intimate friend, Krumpholz: 'I am far from satisfied with my past works: from today on I shall take a new way.' Shortly after this appeared his three sonatas Opus 31, in which one may see that he had partially carried out his resolve."

Ludwig Misch* took up this quotation and argued that this new path was exemplified in "The Tempest" as a dramatic approach to thematic processes, a "battle of two principles," one embodied in the slow opening arpeggio in the first movement, the second in the frenetic response that follows. Philip G. Downs and Carl Dahlhaus made similar arguments.°

Anyway, I really like this sonata. It defies so many expectations of the classical sonata: those recitative passages in the first movement and its drastically altered recapitulation, the rhapsodic slow movement. It is a one of a kind gem. Listen to Richter play it in his studio recording if you are as yet unconvinced.


*"The Problem of the D minor Sonata," in Beethoven Studies, trans. G. I. C. de Courcy (Norman: U Oklahoma P, 1953)
°Philip G. Downs, "Beethoven's ‘New Way' and the Eroica," in The Creative World of Beethoven, ed. Paul Henry Lang, (New York: Norton, 1970)
Carl Dahlhaus, "The ‘New Path'," in Ludwig van Beethoven, trans. Mary Whittall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991)
 

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...He describes the Op 31 no 2 sonata as a great tragic work. I would like to agree with this, but I find the work to be difficult to connect with in this sense when compared to such masterpieces as the Op 106 sonata's slow movement. Could the forum give some explanation and guidance concerning the Op 31 no 2? What am I missing in this sonata?
Perhaps, it is not so much what Op 31#2 is missing, but how astounding a challenger (Op106 Adagio) you have set up for it. :) The two longest slow movements of all the Beethoven Piano Sonatas (Op106 & Op111) IMO are two of the most greatest works ever written for solo piano. (I say 'works' because they could stand alone.)
 

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Just happened to be listening to Malcolm Bilson's rendition of the Tempest on a period instrument; the low notes sound almost harpsichordlike and the texture is quite different (and more ethereal---more Ariel than Caliban, one might say). It's worth a listen. This may be a piece that like the 'Moonlight' can't be played properly on a modern piano.
 
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