Beethoven Piano Sonata 23 "Appassionata"

Opus 57


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Beethoven Piano Sonata 23

Beethoven Piano Sonata 23 "Appassionata" –Manuscript

1806.

This stained Beethoven manuscript was the property of the pianist René-Paul Baillot, who gave it to the Paris Conservatory in 1889. The nickname "Appassionata" appears nowhere in the manuscript; instead, Beethoven apparently subtitled it as "La Passionata". There are many changes and corrections in notation throughout.

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Beethoven Piano Sonata 23 "Appassionata" –Interesting Facts

The Appassionata is by far and away Beethoven’s darkest sonata: it is an antipode to the luminous Waldstein, which came just 2 years before. It's probably the greatest sonata Beethoven had written up to this point: it is unabashedly expressionist, distorting harmony, form, and texture all for the sole purpose of achieving a certain kind of emotional effect, creating huge gestural blocks of sound that are shocking in their directness – and which achieve in the end a relentless and jagged sense of tragedy. The only respite comes in the second movement, which hints at the sort of transcendental effects Beethoven would achieve many years later in the very last sonatas.


Beethoven Piano Sonata 23 "Appassionata" –Novelties

First Movement
Exposition

Theme 1: Note its minimalist nature – an arpeggio separated in both hands by the distance of two octaves – and the use of Neapolitan harmony to immediately bring you far from the home key.

Introduction of Fate Motif in Left Hand. Its basic nature – a half-step downwards – implies the tonal structure of the entire theme, and is itself derived from the sighing second half of Theme 1’s first phrase.

Transition: Note the uneasy triplet figure, and the prominent half-step-downward resolution.

Theme 2: Remarkably, based on an inversion of Theme 1 – contrast built out of organic unity.

Transition: Note the Neapolitan harmony in which it exists in this part, which again resolves downward into a semitone, as well as the use of trills (a rapid oscillation between two notes a semitone apart - the similarity to the fate motif does not it's accidental). The tension builds through a sustained scale, before a surprising transitional theme, which again features a lot of Neapolitan harmony and half-step movement; Do you remember the reason for the fate of the halftone down?

Development

Theme 1, with the second half of the first phrase emphasized, a little later we can see an especially dramatic sequential treatise modulated by major thirds (E-C-A flat), a transition theme continues and Theme 2 comes, modulating from D flat major to B flat minor, G flat major, B minor and C major. A Passage in the diminished seventh where it reminds us of the openning of the movement and Destiny Motif deeply violent.

Recapitulation

Theme 1: No ordinary recapitulation, and the re-emergence of theme 1 here shows immediately why; the opening of the movement was lean, stark, eerie: but the retention of the LH triplets changes things entirely, giving Theme 1 a pulsating undercurrent, a throbbing menace. And there is another striking feature: the harmony is awry. The whole idea of the development is to build up harmonic tension until the grand return of the tonic in the recapitulation; but although we are in F minor the LH refuses to join the party, doggedly remaining on the dominant.

Resolution

Theme 1 rises and falls down the keyboard, fading away into one of Beethoven’s very rare ppps. It’s not an ending of the movement as it is a kind of death, really.