Piano Sonata No. 22 (Beethoven)
Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major, Op. 54, was written in 1804. It is contemporary to the first sketches of the Symphony No. 5 in C Minor. It is one of Beethoven's lesser known sonatas, overshadowed by its widely known neighbours, the Waldstein and the Appassionata.
The sonata consists of just two movements:
- In tempo d'un menuetto: Beethoven skips the opening and slow movements and moves on to a minuet in 3
4 time, with a modulating trio. Anton Kuerti refers to this piece as a parody of uncreative composers. The melody commences, but grinds to a halt, and after doing this again, it decides to suddenly end the phrase in an attempted friendly way, which is anything but friendly, and nothing but awkward. This piece gradually redeems itself (but not much) when it garners variations for its main theme. This first movement is in ABABA form where A and B are strongly contrasted themes. Theme A is of minuet dance type in F major that one might find in Joseph Haydn. In contrast, theme B, the trio, is a succession of forte triplets in C major that are played by both hands staccato or legato; the triplets are in octaves or sixths and with a dialogue between the left and right hands and with many sforzandi to interrupt the meter. The A section repeats in a whole, with a slight variation. Then the B, the trio section, reappears, this time in the tonic key of F major and in a fuller form. The opening A theme reappears with more ornaments. After an extended group of trills, there is a brief coda.
- Allegretto — Più allegro: The finale, again in F major, is a fast, cheerful, and active sonata form movement in 2
4 time with a monothematic exposition. "If the first movement was constipated, then the second movement suffers from the opposite ailment." (Anton Kuerti) This is shown in the piece, as the main melody has a non-stop continuous, sixteenth-note pattern that does not stop for even a second in this piece. The exposition, contains only one brief theme as it is written above. It starts on F major and modulates to C major, which is the key that ends the exposition. The development is long and extended. It starts on A major and modulates to many different keys, as it passes through a great climax and ends in the tonic key, when the retransition is heard and the development section ends. The recapitulation starts in the tonic like the exposition. However, instead of being in F major and C major, this time the theme modulates through more keys and is more extended. The recapitulation ends in F minor, the parallel minor of the tonic, in which bouncy but suspenseful syncopated notes are heard between both hands. The piece gradually gets more and more agitated in the coda, in F major, keeping a forward motion, unwilling to close.
- In tempo: the first movement is relaxed, the second, agitated.
- In meter: the first movement is in triple time, the second, double time.
- In rhetoric: the first movement is improvisatory and wandering in its unfolding, the second is a relentless moto perpetuo.
- In thematic material: the first movement develops two distinct themes, the second develops one thematic idea.
- In harmonic development: the first movement follows a classic tonic/dominant schema, the second includes abrupt harmonic shifts.
Donald Tovey writes:
...the whole work is profoundly humorous, with a humour that lies with the composer rather than with the childlike character portrayed by the music. No biographical details are known as to whether Beethoven thought of any person or household divinity in connection with this sonata; but its material is childlike, or even dog-like, and those who best understand children and dogs have the best chance of enjoying an adequate reading of this music; laughing with, but not at its animal spirits; following in strenuous earnest its indefatigable pursuit of its game whether that be its own tail or something more remote and elusive; and worthily requiting the wistful affection that is shown so insistently in the first movement and even in one long backward glance during the perpetuum mobile of the finale.
French musicologist Georges Kan says the two movements might be musical painting of Flight to Varennes and Battle of Valmy. On first publication's cover (A Vienne au Bureau des arts et d’industrie) one can read "LI me SONATE", "LI" in bold as if it was engraved marble. It can't be the 51st Sonata because Beethoven composed 32 sonatas and because never had he indicated the row of his works by instrumentation. ’LI’ is a secret reference to both Louis XVI and Valmy: 10 (X) multiplied by 5 (V) plus 1 (I) equals 51 (LI), while VY interlaced letters could be seen as a crossed out V (an old L version) and an I.
In bars 3 and 7 of the first movement in the left hand there is an interesting quotation of 6 eighth notes excerpted from Menuet by André-Joseph Exaudet (F–A–C–A–B–G–F) which were used during French Revolution with lyrics "Imagine, un beau matin" in Parody Sur l'inimitable machine du médecin Guillotin propre à couper les têtes et dite de son nom Guillotine. The pun in French on title In Tempo d'un Menuet tô(t) accounts that the Guillotine is one main topic of this Sonata by Beethoven.
The minuet of the first movement describes the sadness of Louis XVI (bars 1–24, 69–93, 105– ) caused by threat of the Sans-culottes (theme in eighth-note triplets), then the flight of Varennes (bars 126–136) and imprisonment (bars 137–154) after the storming of the Tuileries.
The Allegretto in the second movement paints the battlefield from afar (bars 1–36), from close (bars 37–44), cavalry charge (bars 45–64), canonn's roar (bars 65–74), shell whistling (using Doppler effect description – three notes of chromatism towards the bass in bars 36, 64, 126, 129), clamour (bars 115), and final victory (Più Allegro). The two last quavers played staccato might be transcription of guillotine, an evocation of the decapitation of Louis XVI. The same technique will be used later by Hector Berlioz in his Symphonie fantastique (at the end of the fourth movement, March to the Scaffold).
Sforzandi in the first movement's triplets create a Revolutionary theme quoted in retrograde form in Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven) (Finale, bars 822–824, using lyrics was die Mode streng geteilt).
Therefore Georges Kan's proposal for tempi are: 1. In tempo d'un menuetto - 40 Maelzel Metronome for a bar. 2. Allegretto - 60 MM for a bar. Piu Allegro - 80 MM for a bar.
- L. van Beethoven; Edited by H. Craxton; Annotated by D.F. Tovey. Complete Pianoforte Sonatas Vol. II. London: Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. p. 232.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
- A lecture by András Schiff on Beethoven's piano sonata Op. 54
- For a public domain recording of this sonata visit Musopen
- Piano Sonata No. 22: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
- Article about Beethoven's piano sonata Op. 54 by Georges Kan on physinfo.org
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