Piano Sonata # 4, Op. 7, is nicknamed the Great Sonata, dedicated to his student Babette, Countess Keglevics, it has four movements. This sonata was composed in November 1796, in Bratislava, during his visit to the Keglevich Palace.
Along with the Sonata #11, it is one of Beethoven's longest piano sonatas.
If I had to name 2 sonatas to demonstrate Beethoven's mastery of the large-scale classical sonata, they would be this one and the Op.22. Both sonatas that are overlooked because while original, they do not have the kind of blatant originality, that steals your breath, imagination, logic and understanding that we have come to associate with Beethoven. In fact, there are some passages where Op.7 is less melodious and pianistic than its three brilliant predecessors, or even Op.22, but only because Op .7 shows Beethoven for the first time running against the limits of the classical sonata and feeling a little unsatisfied or restless, imagining possibilities beyond what instrument and form could accomplish at the time.
The first movement is not actually written for piano, it has become almost an archetype of orchestral writing for piano, with passages such as E flat repeated in the brass and themes. Composed mainly of scales and arpeggios rather than melody over accompaniment.
The second movement, with all its long pauses and high woodwinds and an impossible crescendo written over a single sustained chord, has an orchestral feel but also a glimpse of a late Beethoven. Solemnity, one of the most moving things Beethoven has ever written.
The third movement is neither a scherzo nor a minuet per se, it is melodious like the last, but also playful and abruptly dramatic in the manner of the first, and Beethoven timidly writes only "Allegro" at the beginning and "Minore" in the middle section.
The fourth movement is where the orchestral manner completely fades away, but it is not a conventional rondo either. There is a surprising amount of continuous motivational development and internal logic, a wonderful floating passage at the end where a B flat rises to a B, signaling a change from E flat to E, and a coda whose sense of warmth and generosity disguises the fact that it is a modification of the stormy second episode.
Beethoven in his youth continued to work and perform in Vienna with increasing recognition. In the first half of 1797 he produced this work, the Sonata No. 19, the serenade for string trio op. 8, and some other short works. Very little is recorded about the second half of the year. It is likely that Beethoven suffered a period of illness, reported as typhus. It is believed that around this time the hearing loss in its initial stages became apparent to him.
Published by Artaria as a great sonata in October 1797, this four-movement work is dedicated to Countess Babette Keglevics, who at the time was a young piano student of the composer. Some historians suggest a romantic link to the countess, but others dispute the claim in the absence of conclusive evidence. In addition to this sonata, Beethoven dedicated his first Piano Concerto to him, as well as two sets of variations for piano, op. 34 and WoO 73. In 1801 she married Prince Innocenzo d'Erba Odescalchi.
Beethoven continued to use the concept of four movements in sonatas, raising them to a position equal to a chamber or symphonic work. The first and fourth movements show continued interest in codas that temporarily deviate from the starting pitch. The first exhibition of the movement is expanded with an unusual variety of material in the second thematic area. The second movement is a contemplative, a type introduced in the second movement of the Sonata No. 2. The third movement is marked only with a tempo cue. The timestamp and structure remain the same as the previous minuet and trio, except that the second half of the trio section is not repeating. Avoiding the earlier designations of minuet or scherzo is understandable because the music is neither dance nor jovial. The final movement follows the pattern of the rondo presented in Sonata No. 2, with section C in two parts, each marked for repetition.
The use of the submediant as the key tone for the second movement is unusual for the period.
The first and second movements open with a motif in a largo rhythm.
Bars 5 and 6 of the first movement use the same notes in the same ascending range as measure 1 of the fourth movement.
The first and third movements open with a theme built on the notes of the tonic triad.
The first and fourth movements are opened with notes repeated by the left hand.
Two descending intervals of a third on a repeating note accompaniment, opens this movement. Similar devices are used for the openings of the other three sonatas in E♭ major: Sonata No. 13; Sonata No. 18 and the Sonata No. 26.
The second segment of the opening theme consists of the diatonic step and scales.
The transition features the harmonized opening motif, playing briefly in B minor, the minor parallel of the expected dominant.
The first segment of the second subject area, now in B major, presents material that appears to be a consequence of figuration in measures 5 and 6, the figuration that begins at measure 45, sounds like a free inversion of measure 6. The pattern companion presents syncopation with strange rhythms. Marked in sforzando.
The second segment of the second topic area features a four-note choral figure. It is varied with added triplets rising between bars 68 to 78, presented in C major and ascending for bars 82 to 89, and modulated back to B♭ major.
The third segment of the second theme opens with an increase in the figures of the tonic triad followed by a chromatic scale in sixteenth notes. The figure is repeated in broken octaves in measures 101-104, and the chromatic scale is expanded in measures 105-108.
Sixteenth note figuration in the right hand based on broken chords creates a cadence-like passage over a long sforzando with pedal points in B♭ in the left hand.
The syncopation heard for the first time at bar 41 forms the basis for this closing section, where out-of-beat rhythms are marked either sforzando or fortíssimo.
The development section is surprisingly short compared to the extended exposition, Beethoven avoided much of the material previously presented in the second subject area.
Both segments of the first theme are presented: the falling third motif and the scalar step work, opening in C minor and ending in F minor.
The syncopated figure as presented at the close of the exhibition section reaches a climax in bars 164-165, moving from F minor to G minor. Dominant chords with a diminished ninth and/or a diminished seventh. Chords marked sforzando increase the tension.
The third descending motif alternates with melodic fragments in the rhythm introduced in measures 25 to 32 of the exhibition, now expanded in A minor and D minor. The third decay motif appears unexpectedly in an inversion of the dominant of the opening key as a transition to the recap in bars 187–188.
All musical segments are repeated.
The change uses the second segment of the theme, moving through A♭ major.
The events in the second topic area are repeated in the opening tone.
A surprise return to the opening theme figure solving C minor marks the beginning of the coda. The choral style segment of the second theme returns, reaching a climax with bars 324 to 338. The syncopated closing section appears as presented in the development section. Now with a diminished ninth on a dominant pedal, marked sforzando, then pianíssimo. Chromatic octaves lead to the dominant seventh harmony in bars 339 to 350.
The opening of the third motif appears briefly and builds up to authentic endings cadences marked as fortíssimo.
Each of the two A sections have an internal ABA arrangement, each B section in the key of the dominant, G major. Measure 24 of the first section A is divided into 8 + 6 + 10; The return is divided into 8 + 6 + 9.
Pause in the opening theme idea to create a contemplative atmosphere. The second statement contains two bars, the 20th and 21st of dramatic chords in fortíssimo.
A lyrical theme is supported by sixteenth notes in staccato reminiscent of pizzicato strings. Four measures present the idea in A♭ major, and the next four measures present the idea in F minor, then four in D major.
An orchestral transition opens with strong dynamics of contrasts presented in wide ranges in measures 37 to 41. The movement's opening theme is expressed in part in B major, its dotted rhythmic figure extended with sforzandi in measures 45 to 46 A descending monophonic line leads to the return in bars 47 to 50.
The return of the section A is developed in its entirety except for the end, which is modified to act as the transition to the coda .
The coda opens with four measures taken from the section B, played by the left hand. The dotted rhythmic figure of the opening theme is presented as a melodic fragment, providing cadence-like segments in bars 79 to 86. The opening motif appears for the last time, now harmonized and leading to the final cadence in bars 87 to 90.
As noted above, this movement follows the minuet and trio model, but without designating it as a minuet or scherzo. Similar procedures occur in sonatas No. 6, 9, 13, 14, 28 and 31. In this movement the second half of the trio has no indication of repetition, no doubt due to the expressive transition that leads to the opening section.
The lyrical lines that delineate the stressed triad are contrasted with a short two-beat motif consisting of eighth notes in the downbeat followed by a fourth. The section ends in the dominant.
A much longer second section opens with seventh harmonies and presents an excursion to the parallel minor at bar 51. The two-beat motif is extended and its rhythmic emphasis changes so that the quarter note falls in the downbeat.
The key signature is changed to parallel minor. The triple eighth notes form a perpetual motion texture that stops at the cadence of the dominant harmony.
Opening in A dominant minor, B flat, this section reverts to the tonic, but reaches a climax at bar 138. An expressive lyrical phrase enters over the triplet figure to form a transition back to the main body of the movement in bars 140 to 149.
The two B sections are in the tonic and dominant respectively. The section C is fused into two parts, each part marked to be repeated.
A lyrical theme features a two-note appoggiatura falling into strong beats. Divided into four sets of four bars, the third set varies the thematic idea and the fourth presents it in octaves.
The transition to the dominant develops the two notes of the motif in measures 17 to 24. Two ideas from the second theme continue, the first transformation of the tie of two notes into staccato thirds preceded by an ornamental turning figure in measures 26 to 31 , the second restores the idea, but adding a trill figure and a scalar passage work in bars 36 to 49.
The two-part C section opens in C minor and is composed of staccato chords and continuous 16th-note figuration. Note the repeated sforzandi in weak rhythms. The second part opens in the dominant of F minor, moves to that key, and then re-exposes the C minor measures of the first part with an altered harmonic progression.
The return of the ABA opening features slight variations of A on each statement and a B section that remains in tonic.
An abrupt modulation in B major is performed by raising B♭ to B♮ by an octave. Five measures of theme A are indicated at the new key, but after the semitone it returns to the dominant harmony and is performed with a dynamic marking of fortissimo-piano at measure 161. Theme A is expanded slightly . There follows a closing section that is accompanied by continuous sixteenth notes in the left hand reminiscent of section C. The movement ends quietly.