BEETHOVEN Ludwig van, Piano Sonata No.30 in E Op.109

Vivace ma non troppo – Adagio espressivo
Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo

In February 1820, Beethoven’s friend Friedrich Starke asked him for a ‘little piece’ for a piano tutor he was writing, with contributions from leading composers. Beethoven wrote the piece, but then received a commission from the Berlin publisher Schlesinger for a set of three sonatas – and Beethoven conceived the last three sonatas as a trilogy. He quickly decided that his ‘little piece’ would work very well as the first movement of the E major Sonata (and Starke was instead given five of the Bagatelles Op.119). The structure is certainly unconventional for the first movement of a sonata, alternating between fast and slow sections, in different time signatures and with sharply contrasted moods. In a way, this procedure recalls Mozart’s keyboard fantasias, except that the three sections of fast music in this movement could run continuously were they not interrupted by the Adagios, explaining why some Beethoven scholars have described the form as ‘parenthetical’. The second movement, in E minor, is fast and stormy, while the finale is a spacious and exalted set of variations on a theme in triple time that has been likened to a Sarabande – indeed Carl Czerny wrote that ‘the whole movement [is] in the style of Handel and Seb. Bach.’ At the end of June 1820 Beethoven told Schlesinger that the new work was ‘ready’, though in September he was still making revisions, and wrote again to say it was ‘almost ready’. It was completed soon afterwards and published by Schlesinger in 1821, with a dedication to Maximiliane Brentano. In a letter to her dated 6 December 1821, Beethoven wrote to her: ‘A dedication!!! – and not one that is misused as so often’. He recalled his love and admiration for her family, noting that ‘While I am thinking of the excellent qualities of your parents, there are no doubts in my mind that you have been striving to emulate these noble people. … May heaven always bless you in everything you do. Sincerely, and always your friend, Beethoven.’

Nigel Simeone © 2015


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