KPAC Blog
1:57 pm
Tue April 16, 2013

Hot Rod Beethoven Settles In For His 'Appassionata' Sonata

We learn from others, or as Picasso said, "Good artists copy, great artists steal." Beethoven took this advice and borrowed from Mozart and Haydn, but quickly progressed.

Where some would borrow a sonata development or structure, Beethoven would take the layout, hacksaw it off and replace it with an invention of his own, or invert something and swap parts around, much like car nuts did in the early days of Hot Rod building.

But the composer's days of modifying others' ideas was over.

In Beethoven's middle period we find him creating new and amazing forms and concepts, taking music into new areas. Having pushed aside his fears of deafness, Beethoven was then fully aware that his compositional life might be very short, and he needed to go for it while he still could.

What advancements he brought to music! His heroic style is thoroughly in place with his "Waldstein" sonata, and tomorrow in the 6 a.m. hour on KPAC we'll listen to one of his best-known piano works, the "Appassionata" sonata.

Composed while Beethoven was struggling with his new conception of the symphonic form which we know today as the "Eroica symphony No. 3," the f minor sonata is similar in the sense that these two works composed in 1804 are heroically tragic. Grand laments for what might have been.

The first movement starts uncertainly, and typical of Beethoven he hides the all-important sense of key. The music is dark and ominous, and we have no confidence because of this vague tonality.

The second element is followed by silence and we are left with the notion that this music might be too tragic to continue, but eventually it does. Beethoven here seems to use the rhythm of an British folk song, "On the banks of Allen Water."

Beethoven finally resolves the music's paralysis with a snarling f minor arpeggio that cascades down and rips up the keyboard, ending with explosive chords.

This is where the music obtains its passionate nature. Now Beethoven exploits the f minor key by frequently using the then lowest note on the piano an F.

The second movement is marked Andante con molto and is in variation form. Here Beethoven continues the tragic sense with a funeral cortege-like cadence. This is magnified by the use of not single notes, but chords, which give a rather organ like and solemn quality.

The variations are so typical of the composer with the use of off-beats, shorter notes and a double variation - ending with musical phrases displaced.

The finale is marked Allegro ma non troppo - presto, and like in the preceding sonata No. 22 the last movement is like a moto perpetual, with sixteenth notes and deceptive cadences - driving music that it seems might go on forever.

Beethoven makes the music harrowing with explosive chords, binary form and ultimately a real sense of dread and sadness - the composer only ended a few works this way, tragically.

Here the composer is, in many ways, at the peak of his form. When played properly, all of these musical devices and inventions that fill so many pages of analysis combine to produce emotion.

  • Tune in tomorrow morning in the 6 o'clock hour to hear Beethoven's "Appassionata" sonata.

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