Composed in 1814. Two movements.
The Opus 90 Sonata evades easy characterisation. It’s highly compressed, usually taking no more than 14 minutes to be performed in its entirety, and is constructed with incredible efficiency despite its thematic richness.
The refrain of the rondo of the second movement is one of the most beautiful melodies Beethoven has ever written, but the first movement is much more difficult to pin down; it is certainly full of tension, but of a rather lonely and maddening kind; it is not as threatening as Appassionata or violent as Opus 111. Of particular interest is the development section of the first movement, which is as short as it is ingenious, and the structure of the rondo, a bit mysterious, has elements of sonata form, and no one knows if it actually got a coda, and where it begins, if it exists.
Several prolonged bouts of illness caused the composer to spend time at various spas, most notably Teplitz, a spa four days' journey from Vienna where prominent figures from Germany and Austria vacationed. In 1812 Beethoven wrote a love letter that he apparently never sent, but instead hid in private papers in a secret drawer in his desk. Addressed “To the Immortal Beloved”, the letter was found after her death. The identity of the woman for whom it was intended has been a matter of debate. Four different women have been proposed as possibilities. Recent research has suggested that the most likely candidate is Antonie Brentano, a Viennese woman who married Franz Brentano, a Frankfurt merchant, in 1798. The letter was to have been sent to Karlsbad on July 5 or 6, and Antonie seems being the only woman who could possibly have been in that city around those dates. He was probably taking care of business at the Birkenstock estate and returning to Frankfurt a short time later. Beethoven possibly never saw Antonie again after this period. She bore her husband six children, including Maximiliane, to whom Beethoven dedicated sonata no. 30.
The autograph is dated August 16, 1814. The work was advertised in the Wiener Zeitung on June 9, 1815, by the publisher Sigmund Anton Steiner (1773-1838). It was one of the first of several Beethoven works to be published by Steiner. The publisher owned a music store in Vienna that was a frequent hangout for Beethoven and his friends. This sonata is dedicated to Count Moritz Lichnowsky (1771–1837), the younger brother of Prince Karl Lichnowsky (1761-1814). Early in Beethoven's career, Karl was a great supporter and friend. Unfortunately, a fight broke out between Beethoven and Karl in 1806 during the composer's visit to Lichnowsky Castle in Gräz. Beethoven and Moritz, however, remained good friends.
This work consists of two movements of almost equal importance, the first a sonata form in E minor and the second a rondo in parallel major.
The connections in this work are tenuous, hardly appreciated.
Both movements open with strong beats.
The short-long rhythmic pattern that opens the sonata appears in transitions to the second themes of both movements.
Both movements feature descending lines outlined in octaves, on the second themes in each movement.
The opening features a strong rhythmic motif that alternates with a lyrical piano response. The response is extended with an extended range with harmonic support that includes acrodes in the left hand that span the interval of a tenth.
One transition is notable for using descending scales and cadences to go through the keys of C major, A minor, and B♭ major, arriving at the dominant minor of the movement, B minor.
The second theme in B minor introduces a fast figurative broken chord in the left hand that is often extended to the interval of a tenth, creating a technical challenge, especially for small hands.
The exposition ends in B minor, introducing and reiterating a phrase that ends with the interval of a falling minor second, possibly derived from the first two notes of the second theme introduced in commas 55.
This section features both rhythmic and lyrical elements in the opening theme of the exhibition.
The rhythmic motif of the opening theme is enunciated and then fragmented, passing through A minor, E♭ major, E♭ minor, and unrolling into a G pedal point followed by converging chromatic lines in each hand.
The lyrical element of the first opening theme is introduced in the right hand, then placed in the left hand with a sixteenth note broken chord figuration on the right, opening in C major and passing through F major, A minor and ending in E minor. .
The short retransition is notable for its canonical display, first proceeding with the augment, going from sixteenth notes to eighth notes, quarter notes, and half notes, and then back to shorter note values in ever closer imitation.
This section is regular in the sense that it reaffirms all the materials in the exhibition.
A phrase from the closing section is extended, leading to a very short coda. Fragments of the opening theme come together to form a quiet closing.
Theme A is lyrical and almost pastoral.
A transition in C♯ minor leads to the lyrical B theme in the dominant with opening phrases accompanied by a written trill figure.
The closing theme in black and white is important in the development section.
A full restatement of the A theme unexpectedly ends with an extension modulating to C major.
Section C develops the aforementioned closing theme, beginning in C major and progressing through C minor, C♯ minor, and C♯ major. A new transition looms in the dominant of the opening tone.
The exposition-like opening section is repeated with the B section in the tonic.
The closing section now leads into a developing coda consisting of several events: an imitative use of the second phrase of A, dominant harmony, a partial reaffirmation of A with the melody line shared by both hands, another extension and development of the second phrase from A, and a final partial statement from A that fragments and brings the movement to a silent close.
Sonata in two movements.