A typical performance lasts about 19 minutes.
The sonata is in four movements:
- Allegro in F minor
- Adagio in F major
- Menuetto - Allegretto in F minor
- Prestissimo in F minor
The first movement, in 2/2 time, is in Sonata form. The first theme is driven by a Mannheim Rocket, very similar to the opening of the fourth movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 40. The second theme, in A-flat major, is accompanied by eighth-note octaves in the bass (usually with dominant harmony). There are two codettas; the first consists of a series of energetic descending scales in A-flat major, and the second is a lyrical passage marked con espressione. In this second codetta and in the second theme Beethoven makes interesting use of mode mixture as the right hand parts borrows from the parallel minor. The development opens with the initial theme, but is mostly dedicated to the second theme and its eighth-note accompaniment. The retransition to the main theme uses its sixteenth-note triplet. The recapitulation repeats the material from the exposition without much change, except that it stays in F minor throughout. There is a short coda. A tense, agitated feel is ubiquitous throughout the movement. Within the entire movement there seems to be two primary themes, with the remaining melodies simply making up the rest of score. The first theme consists of bars 6 to 16 which then repeats themselves, with very slight variations, in bars 37 to 47. The second theme lasts from 26 to 30, and like the first theme is then restated in slight variations, in 51 to 55.The second movement opens with a highly-ornamented lyrical theme in 3/4 time in F major. This is followed by an more agitated transitional passage in D minor accompanied by quiet parallel thirds, followed by a passage full of thirty-second notes in C major. This leads back to a more embellished form of the F major theme, which is followed by an F major variation of the C major section. This Adagio is the earliest composition by Beethoven now in general circulation; it was adapted from the slow movement of a piano quartet from 1785.
The third movement, a minuet in F minor, is conventional in form. It contains two repeated sections, followed by a trio in F major in two repeated sections, after which the first minuet returns. The minuet is characterized by syncopations, dramatic pauses and sharp dynamic contrast. The trio is built around longer, more lyric phrases that pass between the right and left hands in imitative polyphony.
The fourth movement, like the first and third, is in F minor, and is built using a modified sonata form (the development is replaced by new thematic material), but the music was marked as common, not cut, time. The exposition is accompanied by ceaseless eighth-note triplets. The first theme is based on three staccatoquarter note chords. A transitional passage leads to a more lyrical but still agitated theme in C minor. The chords of the first theme return to close the exposition. Where the development would be expected to start, there is a completely new theme in A flat, with the first respite from the eighth-note triplets. This is followed by an extended retransition based on alternating motives from the first theme and the "development" theme. The recapitulation presents the first and second themes in F minor. There is no coda, only a fortissimo descending arpeggio—in eighth-note triplets -- to conclude the piece.
- ^ Michael Steinberg: 'The Beethoven Piano Sonatas', Notes from the Richard Goode recording of the complete Beethoven Sonatas, Elektra Nonesuch label, 1993
Although they were not conceived as a cycle like the Well Tempered Clavier, Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas are a formidable complement to Bach’s opus. Referred to by many as the Old and New Testament of piano literature, they form the foundation of the instrument’s repertoire. Intensive study of these two collections is essential for any serious student of the keyboard.
By the age of 23, Beethoven had moved to Vienna and established himself as a virtuoso pianist without rival. Like Bach and Mozart before him, Beethoven could out-improvise anyone and took great pleasure in showcasing his talent. The three early sonatas were written between 1793 and 1795 for piano pupils, just like those of Haydn, Mozart and Clementi. This doesn’t mean that they were inferior or very easy, just that they were not really intended as concert pieces.
The hearing loss that would torture Beethoven for the rest of his life was still two years away, so Beethoven was not yet using the piano sonata as a means of personal expression. Nevertheless, there are still moments of simple beauty, particularly in the Adagio of the first sonata.
The Opus 2 sonatas are dedicated to Haydn, with whom Beethoven studied briefly. Haydn held Beethoven in high regard and predicted that he would be a musical giant. The young Beethoven however, did not return the sentiment and was later reported to have remarked that Haydn was a teacher from whom he “did not learn a thing.”
Piano Sonata in F minor Op 2 No 1
The opening movement is very Classical in style and brings to mind immediately the works by Hadyn or Clementi learned by many a student pianist. The movement has many features one would associate with a late Classical piano work. It is in sonata form; the accompaniment in the left hand is generally quavers based on the triad and the theme is developed using the circle of fifths pattern. There are no surprises here but it is still a very pleasant four and a half minutes of music.
The Adagio illustrates Beethoven’s ability to write a good slow movement. He does not write beautiful melody like Mozart does but relies instead on the harmony to lead, usimg suspensions to create and release tension. The Alberti bass line is a nod to late 18th century style. Beethoven’s choice of harmony gets more interesting in the second section where he write chromatic passages in the left hand. The transition back to the first theme is quite beautiful and the movement finishes with some tender moments in the coda.
In the final movement, there is no trace of the wildly popular Alberti bass. The rather furious opening passage very much foreshadows the tension of the Appassionata opening movement. The second theme is operatic and features the quaver accompaniment one would expect. After a very short development, we hear the opening themes in the home key and piece ends out of nowhere, as it began.
Piano Sonata in A major Op 2 No 2