Beethoven Piano Sonata 23 "Appassionata"

Opus 57

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Beethoven Piano Sonata 23

Beethoven Piano Sonata 23 "Appassionata" –Manuscript


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

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?


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.


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.


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.

Biography of the Sonata

Beethoven started writing the sonata no. 23 in the summer of 1804. After the first two movements were outlined, the composer had difficulty finding the right idea for the final movement. Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838) described the moment of inspiration. The two of them had been walking in the woods when the inspiration hit: We went so far lost that we didn't get back... to where Beethoven lived, until almost eight o'clock. All the way he hummed, or even howled to himself, up and down, up and down. down without singing any definite notes. When I asked him what this was, he replied: I have thought of a theme for the last movement of the sonata. When we entered the room, he ran to the piano without removing his hat. I took a seat in the corner and he soon forgot about me. He burst in for at least an hour with the new ending to the sonata, which is so beautiful. He finally got up, was surprised to see that I was still there, and told me: I can't teach you a lesson today. I still have work to do.

During this time, Josephine Deym (née Brunsvik, 1779–1821) resumed lessons with Beethoven after her husband's death. As the months passed, Beethoven's earlier attraction to her was rekindled. He wrote the song An die Hoffnung, Op. 32, for her, as well as thirteen cards that became more and more loving. There is evidence that the composer proposed to him. It is believed that she returned his love, but she could not marry below her position for the protection of her four children, for if she did, she would lose both her noble title and her security. After rejecting the composer, she remarried in 1810, forging an unsuccessful union with Baron Christoph Von Stackelberg (1777-1841). The couple separated in 1813. It was once thought that Josephine might be the subject of Beethoven's famous love letter to the Immortal Beloved, but recent evidence has refuted that possibility.

Factual information

This sonata was published by the Bureau des arts et d'industrie in February 1807. The term Appassionata was attached when it was published by August Cranz in Hamburg in a four-hand arrangement in 1838. Carl Czerny reported that Beethoven considered the no. 23 his greatest sonata until the time he composed the sonata no. 29. The sonata no. 23 is dedicated to Count Franz Brunsvik, a close personal friend, whose sisters studied with Beethoven. The composer dedicated the sonata no. 24 to one of the sisters, Therese, also the trifle For Elisa, originally dedicated to Therese , but the copist was very much in love with a lady called Elisa and on a night of drinks while making copies of the trifle, he decided to change the title to For Elisa , that's how the first copies went on sale to the public and the name remained. Beethoven also wrote love letters to the other sister, Josephine, as noted earlier. Beethoven gave the autograph to the pianist Marie Kiéné Bigot de Morogues (1786-1820) after hearing her play a performance of the work. In 1809 she (Marie) moved to Paris, where she gave lessons to Fannie and Felix Mendelssohn in 1816. Marie gave the autograph to the Paris Conservatory of Music.



This sonata in three movements, together with the no. 21, is a high point of the composer's middle period. The coda of the first movement is the longest and most dramatic of the piano sonatas. The second movement is a set of three variations on a two-part theme, using the technique of bracing the note values ​​in each variation to increase movement, often called a rhythmic crescendo. A diminished seventh key provides a dramatic link between the second and third movements. The sonata form structure of the final movement is unusual, in that the exposition is to be performed without repeats, but the development-recapitulation is marked to be repeated.

Harmonic characteristics and possible relationships between the movements

The tension is maintained in the first and last movements by contrasting the minor starting key, F minor, with the half-step major key above it, G♭ major. In both movements the transition from the development to the recapitulation is effected by a prolonged diminished seventh harmony, VII7 of the opening key. Although the second theme area in the first movement opens in the expected relative major, A♭, parallel minor is introduced at bar 43 and continues until the end of the exposition. The same key pattern has been observed in sonata no. 1, exposition of the first movement, but in the earlier work the composer simply suggests the minor parallel of the relative major through fleeting use of accidents. Here it is clear and prolonged.

The use of the submediant as the opening tone for the second movement occurs four times in the piano sonatas, all four in minor keys: in this work and in the sonatas no. 5, no.8, and no. 17.

The final movement presents the second thematic area of the exposition in the dominant minor, a relationship that is also found in the final movements of three other sonatas in minor keys: no. 1, no. 14 and no. 17. The relationship is also given in the opening movement in the no. 27.

Interpretation indications

Typical of Beethoven's style are the many dynamic contrasts and degrees of accent throughout the sonata. Pedal indications appear sporadically in all three movements in both the autograph and the first edition, especially in passages where prolonged sonority is sought.

First Movement: F minor | Allegro assai | 12/8 | Sonata-allegro, without repetitions and a very developed coda

Bars 1 to 10

The opening theme is voiced in F minor two octaves apart in unison, creating an otherworldly, creepy atmosphere. It is immediately re-expressed half a tone higher in G♭ major, configuring a half-tone relationship that is reflected in the low bass motif that appears in measure 10 and following, also functioning here as the sixth and fifth degrees of the scale in the startup tone. The opening statement in unison might be reminiscent of the Mannheim tradition, but the mood and dynamic level here don't reflect the typical energetic joy of such openings.

Measures 9 to 11

The manner of execution of the ornaments in bars 7 and 9 is disputed. Some believe that the grace note should be played before the seventh beat of the bar. Others believe that its meaning is to direct the performer to start the trill on the main note instead of being the top accessory, but on the seventh beat, not before it, distinguishing this figure from the one in bar 11, where the note of grace is absent. Such differentiation in notation extends throughout the movement.

Measures 10 to 13

The quarter note in the low bass figure in bar 10 is marked with a staccato both in the autograph and in the first edition, but the quarter notes in bars 12 and 13 are unmarked. For consistency, some editors remove the staccato mark at bar 10 or add to the notes at bars 12 and 13. Others believe the text is correct, regarding the change as a gesture that helps build tension for the passave work. at measure 14.

Measures 14 to 34

The fast, cadenza-like passage is an example of the composer's penchant for posing technical challenges near the beginnings of movements. Other examples exhibiting such challenges are the sonatas no. 2 with fast scales in bars 32 to 38, no. 3 with double thirds in bars 1-3, no. 7 with broken sixths in bars 11 to 16, no. 17 with two-note fast slurs in bars 3 to 18, and no. 26 with double notes in measures 29 to 33.

Measures 35 to 41

The second theme opens in the traditional relative major and is linked to the opening theme by its rhythm and by its use of notes drawn from a tonic triad arpeggio. This recalls an earlier different similarity between the first and second themes of the first movement of the sonata no.1, also in F minor.

Measures 51 to 65

The lyricism of the second opening theme is replaced by the agitated passage in parallel minor a♭, for the rest of the exposition.


The development mirrors the exposition in the sense that it develops in turn the first theme, transitional material, and the second theme. The procedure was also used in the development sections of the first movement of sonatas no. 1, no. 10, no. 19, no. 20 and no. 21, also in the final movement of no. 14.

Measures 67 to 93

The first theme is introduced and expanded in E major, E minor, C minor, and A♭ major, and with a diminished seventh key leading through the transitional material to D♭ major.

Measures 109 to 122

The first phrase of the second theme is stated in D♭ major, D♭ minor, and G♭ major and extends into the entrance of the transition.

Measures 123 to 134

The cadence-like transition to the recapitulation builds on the diminished seventh, VII7, of the opening tone and, when the dominant tone is added, the dominant ninth. The original pedal markings extend the sonority from bar 123 to the downbeat of bar 132, with the composer indicating his insistence on the use of the pedal in bars 125 and 128 with the Ped * mark.

Measures 134 to 151

The arrival of the recapitulation is altered more extensively than in any of the other piano sonatas. The repeated notes that accompany the rewording of the opening theme create intense drama leading to a cadence-like passage in bars 149 and 150. Other sonatas show changes in the recapitulation opening ranging from altered dynamics to rewriting . Examples are sonatas no. 1, no. 2, no. 4, , no. 9, no. 16, no. 17, no. 28, no. 29, no. 30, no. 31 and no. 32.

Measures 151 to 154

The sudden change to the major parallel, Fa, is surprising. Although strategically it looks like a “return”, it also foreshadows the affirmation of the second theme in bars 174–180, the composer having retained the major mode for this segment of the second theme thus far throughout the movement.

Measures 205 to 238

The first theme is extended to modulate to D♭ major. The opening segment of the second theme is stated in the same key, forming a link to its statement in the development section at bar 109. As in the development of the theme it is fragmented, a cadence-like passage.

Measures 218 to 238

The passage opens in G♭ major and is reminiscent of what connected the development with the recapitulation. Here it rises higher, eventually slowing down to build suspense for the energy of the final stretch. The composer pedal's instructions are to keep each voicing at its maximum duration.

Measures 239 to 262

The final section is marked to be executed faster. For the first time Beethoven declares the opening segment of the second theme in the minor mode of the opening key, changing its outline to lead into a series of chordal cadences, rapidly alternating between hands. An ending expands on the opening key, referencing the return of the movement's opening theme as it fades away as if heard in flashback, but sets the mood for the opening of the next movement.

Second Movement: D flat major | Andante con moto | 2/4 | Theme with variations

Measures 1 to 16

The theme features two eight-bar segments of choral chords in a dignified 2/4 time movement. Each segment is marked to be repeated. The first segment ends on the tonic. The second segment consists of dominant to tonic repeated progressions.

Variation 1
Measures 17 to 32

An alternating hand pattern sets the crescendo rhythm, creating a movement of eighth notes interspersed with sixteenth notes. Each segment is assisted by the first and second endings.

Variation 2
Measures 33 to 48

The theme is presented in the right hand with a figurative sixteenth note pattern, continuing the rhythmic crescendo. First and second completion attend each segment.

Variation 3
Measures 49 to 80

The repetition of each of the segments of the theme is written. The 1/32 notes continue the rhythmic crescendo, appearing alternately in each hand as an accompaniment pattern to syncopated fragments of the theme.

Measures 81 to 97

The theme is restated in its original form without repetitions but with lyrical lines in the left hand inserted between phrases of the first segment. The final cadence does not resolve to the opening key but introduces two surprising diminished seventh chords, each assisted by a fermata, the first marked pp, the second ff. The diminished seventh harmony links this movement with the next one, which opens with the same sonority.

Third Movement | F minor | Allegro ma non troppo | alla breve | Sonata Form | coda

Measures 1 to 19

An introduction picks up the diminished seventh from the closing of the preceding movement in a series of repeated chords in dotted rhythm followed by a figurative descending pattern in sixteenth notes.

Measures 20 to 75

The main theme is accompanied by sixteenth note patterns. They initially outline a harmony reminiscent of the first movement, juxtaposing F minor with G♭ major. As the pattern repeats, a short rhythmic figure is added in bars 29 to 35. That figure becomes more prominent as the sixteenth notes gradually take on the role of an accompaniment already in bars 36 to 64. The pattern of opening returns, acting as a transition to the fragment of the second theme and modulating to the dominant minor in bars 64 to 75.

Measures 76 to 96

The second theme is built from a small fragment in measures 76 to 77, repeated and extended.

Measures 96 to 118

The closing section features the main theme in figurative imitation between the hands, its closing now punctuated with a series of cadential chords enhanced by syncopated sforzandi. A diminished seventh links exposition with development.

Measures 118 to 141

The figuration of the main theme comes in various forms, passing through the diminished seventh and D♭ minor.

Measures 142 to 183

A syncopated interlude unrelated to the earlier material appears in B♭ minor and F minor, alternating between dynamic levels of piano and forte. At bar 158 the main theme is enunciated in imitation in F minor, finally reaching G♭ major followed by dominant sevenths of the opening key in an alternate hands figuration.

Measures 184 to 211

The transition to the recapitulation is based on diminished sevenths and dominant sevenths, the composer prolonging them with pedal indications. This transition mirrors that of the first movement which is based on the same harmony.

Measures 212 to 267

The events of the first theme of the exposition are shortened but presented in order with only minor changes, see bars 220 to 227) The return takes the main theme in D♭ major in bars 260 to 267, before moving on to the second topic area.

Measures 268 to 307

The second theme and closing sections are introduced in the opening tone. Elaborate final firsts and seconds attend the end of the recapitulation, the former going back to the beginning of the section development at bar 118, where the composer wrote la seconda parte due volte, a direction that suggests what important it was to him that the replay be played.


Now the tempo is presto.

Measures 308 to 325

Two frenetic segments of eight and ten bars of chords present respectively fortissimo and sforzando interspersed with staccato eighth note chords marked piano. The first opens in F minor and modulates to C minor, the second opens in A♭ major and modulates back to F minor. Each segment is marked to be repeated.

Measures 326 to 361

La declaración final del tema de apertura está marcada con acordes tipo arpegio con repetidos sforzandi. El tema se fragmenta, dando paso al final en torbellino de arpegios figurados tónicos descendentes. El final es uno de los finales más poderosamente impulsados en toda la literatura del piano.