Monday, May 26, 2008

Beethoven's Op. 10

I just finished an overview on Beethoven's 3 Piano Sonatas in Opus 10. I figured I could use some sort of update on how I'm doing and how the whole Beethoven Piano Sonata project is evolving.

As it turns out, the 32 published sonatas make for quite the mountain of research. I'm almost at 40 pages single spaced in just research on these sonatas. I've almost made it to the halfway point, however, of what I'll call Phase I.

Phase I really just consists of completing a somewhat shallow overview of the first movements of all 32 sonatas. In this overview I look at how the movement conforms to Sonata-Allegro form (if at all) and examine tonal areas and the general harmonic movement from key to key especially within the development sections and the transitions to the secondary thematic material of the exposition and the recapitulation.

Beethoven's Opus 10 really provides an interesting and diverse set of pieces. The first sonata of Op. 10 is the C minor. It follows the typical "C minor mood" that Beethoven is known for in his other works of the same key (Symphony No. 5, Sonata "Pathetique", etc.). The themes are strikingly diverse from C minor to the secondary tonal area of E-flat Major. I find the transition here extremely interesting. Using tertiary movement, which is, as I am discovering, a very popular transitional method for Beethoven, he moves from C minor to A-flat major to F minor to D-flat Major to B-flat major which becomes the dominant of the secondary tonal area, E-flat major. The transition material is then re-harmonized slightly in the recap in order to stay in the same key of C, but alternating between the major and minor modes.

Op. 10, No. 2 is just as interesting. Simplistic and comic, it is quite the shift of mood from the C minor. Though it is fairly straight forward as far as Sonata-Allegro form goes (and even somewhat of a throwback for this particular time period), it is anything but trite or immature. In fact, the obvious compositional techniques are somewhat cliche for the time, to the point that it seems that Beethoven might be making fun of himself. The initial key is visited for only a brief moment before it moves to the transition to the secondary tonal area. This is done with a specific key movement technique that is really considered antiquated for the time, and it comes across as comic. I will delve into all of this with much more depth in a later post.

Op. 10, No. 3 is quite possibly the most complex and interesting in that the majority of the movement is derived from just a small motive from the first four notes. Beethoven also uses yet another varied method for the tonal transition to the secondary tonal area in the exposition, this time by using a completely new theme in a completely new key which moves us from the tonic of D major to the dominant A major. Adding one of the lengthiest codas of the first seven sonatas, Beethoven saves the subdominant tonal area for the end of the piece, something he only does a few times in his sonatas.


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