Piano Sonata No. 23 (Beethoven)
Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (colloquially known as the Appassionata, meaning "passionate" in Italian) is among the three famous piano sonatas of his middle period (the others being the Waldstein, Op. 53 and Les Adieux, Op. 81a); it was composed during 1804 and 1805, and perhaps 1806, and was dedicated to Count Franz von Brunswick. The first edition was published in February 1807 in Vienna.
One of his greatest and most technically challenging piano sonatas, the Appassionata was considered by Beethoven to be his most tempestuous piano sonata until the twenty-ninth piano sonata (known as the Hammerklavier), being described as a "brilliantly executed display of emotion and music". 1803 was the year Beethoven came to grips with the irreversibility of his progressively deteriorating hearing.
An average performance of the entire Appassionata sonata lasts about twenty-three minutes.
The sonata, in F minor, consists of three movements:
- Allegro assai
- Andante con moto
- Allegro ma non troppo - Presto
A sonata-allegro form in 12/8 time, the first movement progresses quickly through startling changes in tone and dynamics, and is characterized by an economic use of themes.
The main theme, in octaves, is quiet and ominous. It consists of a down-and-up arpeggio in dotted rhythm that cadences on the tonicized dominant, immediately repeated a semitone higher (in G flat). This use of the Neapolitan chord (e.g. the flatted supertonic) is an important structural element in the work, also being the basis of the main theme of the finale. The rhythm of the theme may be based on the English folk song On the Banks of Allen Water. (British folk songs were well known in Vienna at that time, and Beethoven, like Haydn, wrote many arrangements for British publishers. However, the first assignment of that sort to Beethoven were by the Edinburgh publisher George Thomson as late as 1809, so there is no support in that fact for the claim that the rhythm is based on a folk song.)
The second subject is a direct quotation of the first two lines of the folk song, reworked to fit the 12/8 time (the folk song is in 3/4). As in Beethoven's Waldstein sonata, the coda is unusually long, containing quasi-improvisational arpeggios which span most of the [early 19th-century] piano's range. The choice of F-minor becomes very clear when one realizes that this movement makes frequent use of the deep, dark tone of the lowest F on the piano, which was the lowest note available to Beethoven at the time.
The total performance time of this movement is about 10 minutes.
Andante con moto
A set of variations in D flat major, on a theme remarkable for its melodic simplicity combined with the use of unusually thick voicing and a peculiar counter-melody in the bass. Its sixteen bars (repeated) consist of nothing but common chords, set in a series of four- and two-bar phrases that all end on the tonic. (See image.) The four variations follow:
- Var. I: similar to the original theme, with the left hand playing on the off-beats.
- Var. II: an embellishment of the theme in sixteenth notes.
- Var. III: a rapid embellishment in thirty-second notes. A double variation, with the hands switching parts.
- Var. IV: a reprise of the original theme without repeats and with the phrases displaced in register.
The fourth variation cadences deceptively on a soft diminished-7th chord, followed by a much louder diminished-7th that serves as a transition to the finale.
The total performance time of this movement is about 6 minutes.
Allegro ma non troppo - Presto
A sonata-allegro in near-perpetual motion in which, very unusually, only the second part is directed to be repeated. It has much in common with the first movement, including extensive use of the Neapolitan sixth chord and several written-out cadenzas. The movement climaxes with a faster coda introducing a new theme which in turn leads into an extended final cadence in F minor. According to Donald Francis Tovey this is one of only a handful of Beethoven's works in sonata form that ends in tragedy (the others being the C minor Piano Trio, Piano Sonata Op. 27 no. 2 ("Moonlight"), Violin Sonata Op. 30 no. 2, and the C# minor Quartet.)
The total performance time of this movement is about seven minutes with the repeats and about five minutes without them.
- Schindler, A. (1970). Biographie von Ludwig van Beethoven. Reprografischer Nachdruck der Ausgabe Münster 1871. Georg Olms Verlag. p. 66
- Cooper, Barry (ed.)(1991) The Beethoven compendium Thames and Hudson Ltd., Fromes and London. p. 267
- Tovey, Donald Francis (1931, 1998). A Companion to Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas. London, UK: The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. p. 169. ISBN 1-86096-086-3.
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- A lecture by András Schiff on Beethoven's piano sonata op. 57
- Creation History and Discussion of Musical Content
- Analysis of Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata on the All About Ludwig van Beethoven Page
- Further analysis at BBC Radio 3
- Recording of this Sonata by Serg van Gennip
- For a public domain recording of this sonata visit Musopen
- Sheet music
- Piano Sonata No. 23: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Public domain score and midi file of the 2nd movement on Mutopia