Beethoven Klaviersonaten

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Belle
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Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by Belle » Wed Apr 04, 2018 10:26 pm

I'm preparing two lectures on these works for the second half of this year; the first (July) will go from the early to middle period, and the second from the middle to late. That means there will be a bit of emphasis on the 'heroic' period. What I'm wanting to grasp is to what extent Beethoven thought 'symphonically' or 'orchestrally' in working his way through these sonatas - whether harmonically, developmentally, formally, coloristically or all of these - and how they influenced his compositions of the symphonies. Which particular sonatas are good exemplars of this?

In "The Tempest" Op. 31/2 Beethoven's second movement suggests use of the timpani in this 'operatic' movement. There must be plenty of other examples of 'orchestration' in these sonatas.

John F
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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by John F » Thu Apr 05, 2018 9:29 am

Belle wrote:What I'm wanting to grasp is to what extent Beethoven thought 'symphonically' or 'orchestrally' in working his way through these sonatas - whether harmonically, developmentally, formally, coloristically or all of these - and how they influenced his compositions of the symphonies.
I'd be interested in whatever you decide to say. For myself, I've never thought of Beethoven's piano writing as in any way "orchestral," in the way that Liszt's is sometimes said to be. The piano was Beethoven's instrument from the beginning, and while he sometimes pushed the limits of the technically possible, as in the Hammerklavier Sonata, the music does not translate convincingly into the orchestra. At least it doesn't in Weingartner's orchestration. What was needed was a better piano. :) (Tovey says Beethoven orchestrated the funeral march in Sonata No. 12 for incidental music to a play, but I haven't been able to trace it and assume it was just an expedient.)

Beethoven does sometimes evoke other instruments in his piano writing, including the singing voice. In the Tempest Sonata, I'm guessing that you are referring to the passage after bar 16, the octave triplets in the left hand. This same rhythmic figure, in the lower strings, occurs in the first theme of the funeral march of the Eroica Symphony, and writing about the sonata Tovey calls it a "drum-figure" without specifying which drum. (I'd think the side drum rather than timpani, suitable for a march.) Another example is the slow movement of Sonata No. 12 mentioned above, the funeral march; in the trio, the piano evokes the sound of drum rolls and perhaps trumpet calls as suitable for such a ceremony.

From brief local effects like these to "thinking symphonically" is a pretty giant step, and actually I'm not sure what that means. Beethoven's sketch books show that musical ideas could come to him while sketching one work but actually be used in quite different music. For example, the introduction to the prisoners' chorus in "Fidelio" first appears, with shorter note values (i.e. faster), in sketches for the Concerto No. 4 which he was working on at about the same time. To me this suggests that at a very early stage of composition, Beethoven made crucial decisions about what did or didn't belong in a work in progress, and by the time he began writing out the composition, he was focused on that music in that medium. And I don't hear any influence of Beethoven's piano compositions on his symphonies or vice versa
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Belle
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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by Belle » Thu Apr 05, 2018 9:59 am

You've nailed the sonatas I was thinking about too!! Excellent comments. Thinking 'symphonically' I also mean structurally. Just as one example, he uses a Coda in his sonatas for dramatic effect and, of course, most notably in the 3rd Symphony. For me it's as though he's working through these ideas for his symphonies during the process of composing the piano sonatas; so diligently did he challenge and 'interrogate' the sonata form itself that it seems a natural consequence that we got the 9th symphony and those late string quartets in their unique form.

The innovations and developments we hear and see in those sonatas we hear and see in the symphonies - and, of course, other compositions in sonata form like his largest chamber works and the last 2 piano concertos.

Beethoven seemed to aim beyond the piano in search of a resonance not inherent to the instrument. The sonatas, many of them, were huge and unprecedented in scope and scale. The types of lengthy introductions to the sonatas is something you'd find in symphonies of Haydn and Mozart. And from the middle period, the Beethoven sonatas found the final movements as the centre of gravity just as is the case in the symphonies. There are many parallels.

I'll come back to this after giving it more thought and will do some reading as it's the 'early hours' here in Australia.

John F
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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by John F » Thu Apr 05, 2018 11:39 am

Belle wrote:The innovations and developments we hear and see in those sonatas we hear and see in the symphonies - and, of course, other compositions in sonata form like his largest chamber works and the last 2 piano concertos.
Quite so. Where I don't follow you is the notion that these innovations and developments somehow belong in symphonies and that their use in other kinds of music is therefore "symphonic." (If that's what you mean.) For me, they are Beethoven's way of thinking in all of his music, depending on what he happened to be composing - not just the few symphonies he wrote.

Incidentally, it was not Beethoven who invented the extended and elaborate coda to end a movement. In this as in much else he was following Mozart's example, cf. the coda of the Jupiter Symphony's finale. Beethoven ended piano sonata finales in whatever form with long codas years before composing his first symphony - cf. the piano sonata op. 2 no. 3 whose rondo finale ends with a 50-bar coda, 1/6 of the whole movement. Even the scherzo of that sonata has a codetta (brief coda), as if a mere cadence wasn't enough really to complete the music.

So I'd make an amendment to your comment, "For me it's as though he's working through these ideas for his symphonies during the process of composing the piano sonatas." That suggests the sonatas were just exercises, the symphonies are what really matters, and that's not right. Instead, I'd say he's working through these formal ideas for his music in general during the process of composing the piano sonatas, and not just the sonatas.

Which of course is not what you want to say. Short forum messages aren't the ideal way to argue an unusual and controversial point of view. Good luck with it!
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Belle
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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by Belle » Thu Apr 05, 2018 4:48 pm

I didn't mean to suggest that the Klaviersonaten were in any way inferior or merely a template for the symphonies et. al. But they provide a working 'fingerprint' of his musical thinking which informed the great works in other genres. I'll have more to say about it and do remember that Brendel wrote about this in one of his books, which I have on my shelf.

In placing the Coda in a piano sonata Beethoven was innovating, since these had primarily appeared in symphonies up to that point. And because of this, and this others of his ideas, there's every reason to view these works 'narratively' - something one generally associates with the orchestra.

Jordan Peterson says we learn to think by speaking and writing and I'm doing that right here!! These music boards have had a profound influence on my ability to think and write about music (in my 7th decade!).

John F
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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by John F » Fri Apr 06, 2018 6:44 am

Belle wrote:In placing the Coda in a piano sonata Beethoven was innovating, since these had primarily appeared in symphonies up to that point.
Is that really so? Off the top of my head, I would expect Mozart to have used the same formal and expressive devices in his quartets, quintets, and chamber music generally. (Not so much in his piano sonatas, which were generally more modest than Beethoven's.) I'll have to look into that.

Beethoven wrote more piano sonatas than anything else, he produced them from the beginning of his career until nearly the end, and they're cast in an extraordinary variety of forms and effects and lengths and expressive modes. Charles Rosen says in his companion to Beethoven's piano sonatas that no two of them are really alike. (And I'd add that none of them is much like any of the symphonies.) It's not for nothing that in "The Classical Style," he focuses his discussion of Beethoven on the sonatas, with Haydn the focus of what he says about the symphony and string quartet.

You say that the sonatas "provide a working 'fingerprint' of his musical thinking which informed the great works in other genres." If you mean no more by this than that Beethoven's music in all genres is consistent in style, as his style evolved throughout his career, well yes, of course. And that topic is more than big and interesting enough for just two lectures, even if (like Rosen) you choose to focus on just one or two genres, the piano sonatas and the symphonies. But if this isn't it, I guess I'll have to wait for you to tell us more about what you have in mind.
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Belle
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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by Belle » Fri Apr 06, 2018 7:40 am

Thanks for more interesting input. I'll start writing this up within the next month or so as I'm presenting it on 6 July, I've just been told. Just browsing through Brendel today I note he has some very interesting - not to say unorthodox - views on the study of the Beethoven sonatas. He claims (and I can't find the exact spot, despite looking just now) that it's really of little value engaging with critical literature about these works - that this is a less than ideal pursuit and the best method is to play them oneself!! He makes these observations with which I agree:

"Beethoven's piano sonatas are unique in three respects: First, they represent the whole development of a genius from his beginnings to the threshold of the late quartets. There the Diabelli Variations and the last set of Bagatelles round out the picture. Secondly, there is hardly a work among them that is not worth playing - in contrast to many of the sets of variations, for example, which tend to be uneven...... Thirdly, Beethoven does not repeat himself in his sonatas; each work, each movement is a new organism".('On Music; His Collected Essays, Alfred Brendel, p43).

I know of no coda in a Mozart piano sonata. Perhaps you can tell me if you have found one. And there's the problem of 'coda' and what that precisely means; for some composers it might mean just a few add-on bars but for others like Beethoven something more dramatic, and with quite new material.

John F
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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by John F » Mon Apr 09, 2018 2:39 am

John F wrote:
Fri Apr 06, 2018 6:44 am
Belle wrote:In placing the Coda in a piano sonata Beethoven was innovating, since these had primarily appeared in symphonies up to that point.
Is that really so? Off the top of my head, I would expect Mozart to have used the same formal and expressive devices in his quartets, quintets, and chamber music generally. (Not so much in his piano sonatas, which were generally more modest than Beethoven's.) I'll have to look into that.
Finally got around to this, and the very first movement of the first piece I listened to has a substantial coda with two surprises. It's Mozart's great string quintet K. 593. First, he returns to the music of the slow introduction, which he extends and develops. Then he launches into the beginning of the allegro again, as if he were going to repeat the whole movement - but no, he has something else in mind, and I'll leave it to you to listen and find out what it is.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_qXHMzCXzs

I rest my case. :)

As I said, most of Mozart's piano sonatas are more modest, being intended for publication and home music-making, but there's at least one whose last movement ends with something like a coda in the form of a full-fledged cadenza as if it were a piano concerto. It's the sonata in B flat, K. 333. (Interestingly this was one of the few Mozart works that Horowitz played.) But previously you said only that before Beethoven, codas appeared in symphonies primarily, meaning not in other kinds of works, and I'm holding you to that. A coda is not implicitly symphonic, it can and does occur in other kinds of music, in Beethoven and earlier.

It occurs to me that Mozart also anticipated Beethoven by beginning a piano sonata, the one with the Turkish rondo, K. 311, with a set of variations in andante tempo instead of the expected sonata form in allegro. But mostly he holds to the conventional pattern.

I know, I know, your subject is Beethoven, not Mozart. But Beethoven was original enough in his own way not also to be credited for originality in what had already been done. His originality shows itself not in the existence of his codas but their occasional length and complexity, notably in the first movement of the Eroica and the last of the 8th symphony.
Belle wrote:there's the problem of 'coda' and what that precisely means; for some composers it might mean just a few add-on bars but for others like Beethoven something more dramatic, and with quite new material.
The coda is any music at the end of a movement that follows from or delays the cadence at the end of the recapitulation. If very short, it's often called a codetta. Long or short, with or without musical material not heard earlier in the movement. (Have you an example of a coda containing "quite new material"?)

Charles Rosen's book "Sonata Forms" includes a 60-page chapter on codas (it's that long because of many musical examples) which finds the first codas in the early quartets of Haydn, growing longer as his style matured. Codas came later in his symphonies and piano sonatas. About Beethoven's codas he writes, "Beethoven's codas almost never sound like those of his predecessors, but they contain little that cannot be understood as a radical but logical expansion of their practice. Although it would be a mistake to underestimate the originality of Beethoven's expansion - his practice may have been logical but it was unpredictable - it does not help understanding to posit any fundamental break with their styles." He particularly goes into the codas in the 7th and 8th symphonies
Last edited by John F on Mon Apr 09, 2018 7:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
John Francis

Belle
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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by Belle » Mon Apr 09, 2018 6:27 am

I'm going to download and print the music for the Mozart string quintet which you've posted; it's much easier for me to see AND hear.

There is much to think about in what you've written. But I'll make some opening gambits then get back when I've processed the Coda issue further. Beethoven did compose increasingly "symphonically" from Piano Sonata Op. 7. These sonatas moved away from the classical models where the main drama had primarily been the interaction between tonic and dominant keys; tension and release. Though you may say none of these composers would have recognized the term "sonata form" or "sonata allegro form" Beethoven was right across the 'brief' with classical form and he well understood the basis of that 'drama', its 'tropes' and conventions. What he did was change the terms of the drama - substituting the Dominant for other more remote keys. But, his general direction was to move the emphasis and weight of the opening movements - which had been a mainstay in the classical era - towards the final movement/s. Ergo, the entire work was moving inexorably to a dramatic conclusion, just as in the symphonic form.

The dynamics of these piano sonatas increased with compelling fortissimo and pianissimo sections, subito piano and the breadth and scope of his musical thinking became more 'symphonic'. You might say the development of the piano facilitated this new kind of coloration and scope. (I'm thinking, too, of Liszt here.)

Structurally the sonatas moved away from the three movement formula to 4-movements. Sometimes there were 2. There are introductions (as in Mozart) and these are re-iterated. In one of the sonatas (off the top of my head I cannot remember which one) the introductory material ends up briefly in the final section of the work. I'll see if I can find it.

Dynamics, structure, shifting harmonic emphasis, delayed 'answers' to 'questions' and the manner in which the drama is played out are, IMO, hallmarks of Beethoven's 'symphonic' aesthetic in these sonatas.

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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by John F » Mon Apr 09, 2018 8:00 am

You'll see that while you were writing your comments, I was revising mine. The main difference is the last paragraph with its quotation from Rosen. I recommend his "Sonata Forms" to you, if you can get hold of it.

You keep using the term "symphonic" in an idiosyncratic way that I don't understand. The word normally means "in a symphony" or "written for a symphony orchestra," neither of which applies to the piano sonatas of Beethoven or anyone else, or to musical structure. So what do you mean? If you believe you've already explained this, I'm sorry, but you haven't really. And you must make its meaning clear if your argument depends on it in any important way. (If not, if it's just a buzzword, then maybe it would be better not to use it at all.)
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Belle
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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by Belle » Mon Apr 09, 2018 8:29 pm

As I said, 'symphonic' in scale and dimension - with the emphasis moving away from the opening movements of his earlier sonatas to the weight being shifted towards the final movements, dramatically and with a climax to all the preceding events there . This was a reversal of the classical paradigm where the emphasis was on the openings of sonatas - or the weight evenly distributed.

The dynamic changes because of the piano's increased capabilities produced more symphonic 'colours' and these are reflected in Beethoven's sonatas; also the things I mentioned about scope and scale in my earlier posting. You just don't hear this in the piano sonatas of Haydn or Mozart - not anywhere near the extent of Beethoven. And as I also suggested Liszt's piano music has this 'symphonic' colouration. I do know that Schumann thought this way too because he wrote "Symphonic Etudes for Piano"; they are 'symphonic études' through the wealth and complexity of the colours evoked – the keyboard becomes an "orchestra" capable of blending, contrasting or superimposing different timbres" (that last sentence from Wiki). And Brendel writes about the 'orchestral' qualities of the piano in his writings. So, here it is not just about scope but actual colouration. The words 'orchestral' and 'symphonic' are rather interchangeable in some sense, but Beethoven's aesthetic was linked to his evolution as a symphonist.

That's what I'll be discussing with regard to Beethoven's sonatas from about the middle period onwards in my upcoming presentation for our community music group.

I've located some Brendel passages from the book I quoted earlier:

"That keyboard music can be 'orchestral' has been nothing new since Bach and Mozart. With them, the orchestra hidden in the piano often remained latent, while Schubert, Schumann and especially Liszt knew how to make it manifest. The spectrum of timbres is expanded, as is the volume of sound, which now threatens to overflow the hall". He then refers to the Schumann I discussed earlier, "symphonic probably aims here at tautening the work in a big span or sweep as holds Beethoven's Op. 35 and Op. 120 together".(p.230)

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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by John F » Thu Apr 12, 2018 5:54 am

Belle wrote:As I said, 'symphonic' in scale and dimension
I know that's what you said, but as I said and say again, "If you believe you've already explained this, I'm sorry, but you haven't really." And your further comments don't make it any better. Since your mind is made up regardless, there's no point in trying to continue, and I'll let it go. We'll see what your audience thinks, or you'll see.
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Belle
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Re: Beethoven Klaviersonaten

Post by Belle » Thu Apr 19, 2018 10:43 pm

Firstly, I'll let others reading this decide for themselves whether or not my two paragraphs in the preceding comments cover this and, secondly, I'm still reading and writing up my ideas. But I think primarily it's the scope, the emphasis on the last half of the sonatas, the colours and timbres Beethoven achieved from the piano through dynamics and the larger narrative arc that he achieved with his later sonatas that makes them 'symphonic'.

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