Piano Sonata No. 17 (Beethoven)
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The Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2, was composed in 1801/02 by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is usually referred to as "The Tempest" (or Der Sturm in his native German), but the sonata was not given this title by Beethoven, or indeed referred to as such during his lifetime. The name comes from a claim by his associate Anton Schindler that the sonata was inspired by the Shakespeare play. However, much of Schindler's information is distrusted by classical music scholars. The British music scholar, Donald Francis Tovey, in his authoritative book A Companion to Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas, says that
With all the tragic power of its first movement the D minor Sonata is, like Prospero, almost as far beyond tragedy as it is beyond mere foul weather. It will do you no harm to think of Miranda at bars 31-38 of the slow movement... but people who want to identify Ariel and Caliban and the castaways, good and villainous, may as well confine their attention to the exploits of Scarlet Pimpernel when the Eroica or the C minor Symphony is being played (pg. 121).
The piece consists of three movements and takes approximately twenty-five minutes to perform:
- Largo - Allegro
Each of the movements is in sonata form, though the second lacks a substantial development section. The first movement alternates brief moments of seeming peacefulness with extensive passages of turmoil, after some time expanding into a haunting "storm" in which the peacefulness is lost. This musical form, one will note, is rather unique among all Beethoven sonatas to that date. Concerning the time period and style, it was definitely thought of as an odd thing to write; a pianist's skills were demonstrated in many ways, and showing changes in tone, technique and speed efficiently many times in one movement was one of them. The development begins with rolled, long chords, quickly ending to the tremolo theme of the exposition. There is a long recitative section at the beginning of this movement's recapitulation, again ending to fast and suspenseful passages.
The second movement in B-flat major is slower and more dignified. It mirrors the opening of the first movement both through use of a rolling recitative-like arpeggio on the first chord, and the rising melodic ideas in the opening six measures, which are reminiscent of the first movement's recitative. Other ideas in this movement mirror the first, for instance, a figure in the eighth measure and parallel passages of the second movement are similar to a figure in the sixth measure of the first.
The third movement is a sonata-rondo hybrid in the key of D minor. It is very moving, first flowing with emotion and then reaching a climax, before moving into an extended development section which mainly focuses on the opening figure of the movement, reaching a climax at measures 169-173. The recapitulation, which is preceded by an extensive cadenza-like passage of sixteenth notes for the right hand, is followed by another retransition and then another statement of the primary theme. The refrain undergoes phrase expansion to build tension for the climax of the movement at measure 381, a fortissimo falling chromatic scale.
- A lecture by András Schiff on Beethoven's Piano sonata op. 31 no. 2
- Recording of this Sonata by Alberto Cobo
- Recording of this Sonata by Serg van Gennip
- Recording of this sonata by Paavali Jumppanen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
- For a public domain recording of this sonata visit Musopen
- Piano Sonata No. 17: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project