THE CLASSIC BEETHOVEN PIANO SONATA RECORDINGS
by Manuel Ignacio de Íñigo

The Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2, popularly known as the Moonlight Sonata, is a piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven. It was completed in 1801 and dedicated in 1802 to his pupil, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. This piece is one of Beethoven's most popular compositions for the piano, and it was a popular favorite even in his own day. Beethoven wrote the Moonlight Sonata in his early thirties, after he had finished with some commissioned work; there is no evidence that he was commissioned to write this sonata. The first edition of the score is headed Sonata quasi una fantasia, a title this work shares with its companion piece, Op. 27, No. 1. Grove Music Online translates the Italian title as "sonata in the manner of a fantasy". Translated more literally, this is "sonata almost a fantasy".

The name "Moonlight Sonata" comes from remarks made by the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab. In 1832, five years after Beethoven's death, Rellstab likened the effect of the first movement to that of moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne. Within ten years, the name "Moonlight Sonata" ("Mondscheinsonate" in German) was being used in German and English publications. Later in the nineteenth century, the sonata was universally known by that name. Many critics have objected to the subjective, romantic nature of the title "Moonlight", which has at times been called "a misleading approach to a movement with almost the character of a funeral march" and "absurd". Other critics have approved of the sobriquet, finding it evocative or in line with their own interpretation of the work. Gramophone founder Compton Mackenzie found the title "harmless", remarking that "it is silly for austere critics to work themselves up into a state of almost hysterical rage with poor Rellstab", and adding, "what these austere critics fail to grasp is that unless the general public had responded to the suggestion of moonlight in this music Rellstab's remark would long ago have been forgotten."


Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (colloquially known as the Appassionata, meaning "passionate" in Italian) is among the three famous piano sonatas of his middle period (the others being the Waldstein, Op. 53 and Les Adieux, Op. 81a); it was composed during 1804 and 1805, and perhaps 1806, and was dedicated to Count Franz von Brunswick. The first edition was published in February 1807 in Vienna. Unlike the early Sonata No. 8, Pathétique, the Appassionata was not named during the composer's lifetime, but was so labelled in 1838 by the publisher of a four-hand arrangement of the work.

One of his greatest and most technically challenging piano sonatas, the Appassionata was considered by Beethoven to be his most tempestuous piano sonata until the twenty-ninth piano sonata (known as the Hammerklavier). 1803 was the year Beethoven came to grips with the irreversibility of his progressively deteriorating hearing. An average performance of the entire Appassionata sonata lasts about twenty-five minutes.


Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, known as the Waldstein was completed in summer 1804 and surpassing Beethoven's previous piano sonatas in its scope. The Waldstein is a key early work of Beethoven's "Heroic" decade (1803-1812) and set a standard for piano composition in the grand manner.

The sonata's name derives from Beethoven's dedication to his close friend and patron Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein of Vienna. Like the Archduke Trio (one of many pieces dedicated to Archduke Rudolph), it is named for Waldstein even though other works are dedicated to him. It is also known as L'Aurora (The Dawn) in Italian, for the sonority of the opening chords of the third movement, thought to conjure an image of daybreak.

It is one of Beethoven's greatest and most technically challenging piano sonatas. The first section of the Rondo requires a simultaneous pedal trill, high melody and rapid left hand runs while its coda's glissando octaves, written in dialogue between the hands, compel even advanced performers to play in a simplified version since it is more demanding to play on the heavier action of a modern piano than on an early 19th-century instrument.


Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 (known as the Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier, or more simply as the Hammerklavier) is a piano sonata widely viewed as one of the most important works of the composer's third period and among the greatest piano sonatas. Completed in 1818, it is often considered to be Beethoven's most technically challenging piano composition and one of the most demanding solo works in the classical piano repertoire.

Dedicated to his patron, the Archduke Rudolf, the sonata was written primarily from the summer of 1817 to the late autumn of 1818, towards the end of a fallow period in Beethoven's compositional career. It represents the spectacular emergence of many of the themes that were to recur in Beethoven's late period: the reinvention of traditional forms, such as sonata form; a brusque humour; and a return to pre-classical compositional traditions, including an exploration of modal harmony and reinventions of the fugue within classical forms.

The Hammerklavier also set a precedent for the length of solo compositions (performances typically take about 45 to 50 minutes). While orchestral works such as symphonies and concerti had often contained movements of 15 or even 20 minutes for many years, few single movements in solo literature had a span such as the Hammerklavier's Adagio sostenuto.

The sonata's name comes from Beethoven's later practice of using German rather than Italian words for musical terminology. (Hammerklavier literally means "hammer-keyboard", and is still today the German name for the fortepiano, the predecessor of the modern pianoforte.) It comes from the title page of the work, "Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier", which means "Grand sonata for the fortepiano". The more sedate Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101 has the same description, but the epithet has come to apply to the Sonata No. 29 only. "Hammerklavier" was part of the title to specify that the work was not to be played on the harpsichord, an instrument that was still very much in evidence in the early 1800s. The work also makes extensive use of the una corda pedal, with Beethoven giving for his time unusually detailed instructions when to use it.


Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major, Op. 81a, known as the Les Adieux sonata, was written during the years 1809 and 1810.

The title Les Adieux implies a programmatic nature. The French attack on Vienna, led by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1809, forced Beethoven's patron, Archduke Rudolph, to leave the city. Yet, there is some uncertainty about this nature of the piece - or at least, about the degree to which Beethoven wished this programmatic nature would be known. He titled the three movements "Lebewohl," "Abwesenheit," and "Wiedersehen," and reportedly regarded the French "Adieux" (said to whole assemblies or cities) as a poor translation of the feeling of the German "Lebewohl" (said heartfully to a single person). Indeed, Beethoven wrote the syllables "Le-be-wohl" over the first three chords. On the first 1811 publication, a dedication was added reading "On the departure of his Imperial Highness, for the Archduke Rudolph in admiration". An average performance of the piece lasts about 17 minutes. The sonata is one of Beethoven's most challenging sonatas because of the mature emotions that must be conveyed throughout it. It is also the bridge between his middle period and his later period and is considered the third great sonata of the middle period.


Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, commonly known as Sonata Pathétique, was written in 1798 when the composer was 27 years old, and was published in 1799. It has remained one of his most celebrated compositions. Beethoven dedicated the work to his friend Prince Karl von Lichnowsky. Although commonly thought to be one of the few works to be named by the composer himself, it was actually named Grande sonate pathétique (to Beethoven's liking) by the publisher, who was impressed by the sonata's tragic sonorities.

Prominent musicologists debate whether or not the Pathétique may have been inspired by Mozart's piano sonata K. 457, since both compositions are in C minor and have three very similar movements. The second movement, "Adagio cantabile", especially, makes use of a theme remarkably similar to that of the spacious second movement of Mozart's sonata. However, Beethoven's sonata uses a unique motif line throughout, a major difference from Haydn or Mozart's creation.


Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor (WoO 59, Bia 515, and OEIS?A123456) for solo piano, commonly known as "Für Elise" or "Fuer Elise", is one of Ludwig van Beethoven's most popular compositions. It is usually classified as a bagatelle, but it is also sometimes referred to as an Albumblatt.

The score was not published until 1867, 40 years after the composer's death in 1827. The discoverer of the piece, Ludwig Nohl, affirmed that the original autographed manuscript, now lost, was dated 27 April 1810.

The version of "Für Elise" heard today is an earlier version that was transcribed by Ludwig Nohl. There is a later version, with drastic changes to the accompaniment which was transcribed from a later manuscript by the Beethoven scholar Barry Cooper. The most notable difference is in the first theme, the left-hand arpeggios are delayed by a 16th note beat. There are a few extra bars in the transitional section into the B section; and finally, the rising A minor arpeggio figure is moved later into the piece. The tempo marking Poco moto is believed to have been on the manuscript that Ludwig Nohl transcribed (now lost). The later version includes the marking Molto grazioso. It is believed that Beethoven intended to add the piece to a cycle of bagatelles.

http://beethovenpiano.bluemusicgroup.com