Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Beethoven Op. 14, No. 1 in E Major

For whatever reason, this sonata has always had a certain allure for me. For one, it is fairly simple to sight-read and thus gets some attention when I am meandering through them at the piano. I also feel that the themes are just so singable and "catchy" as it were. The opening theme actually does appear in other works, most notably to me is the fugue in the final movement of Op. 110.

In the exposition, Beethoven introduces his key with a theme in E Major. A lyrical theme rises from the quiet and rhythmic plodding of harmonies, tapers off, and then scurries back down the keyboard. The melodies become lyrical again and make their way into a repeat. What is fairly typical of Mozart (and Beethoven does it here), but nonetheless interesting to me at least, is his method of modulation to the second tonal area. Instead of the expected repeat of the opening bars, Beethoven branches the melody off, alternating with the V of V of V (or technically the leading tone chord of V of V, an e-sharp fully-diminished seven). His cadence on an F-sharp Major chord becomes a half-cadence of the new key, which begins promptly in B Major.
The Development begins by working with the opening theme in f-sharp minor, the relative minor of the subdominant. The lyricism and drama is evident, and what was cut short by the scattering of the opening theme is allowed the cathartic decanting. As it moves through several tonal centers, it works its way back to the dominant for the recapitulation. Here, the mood is different, less reserved, bursting with energy, and articulated by the rising scalar accompaniment below. The transitional material becomes a brief foray into the subdominant, maintaining the tonal center as E Major at the outset of the second theme.
This piece really wears a lot of emotions on its sleeve, and that display really draws me in and leaves me singing its melodies. This recording is Grigory Sokolov's thoughtful performance of the first movement.

-Taylor Baldwin

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