Piano sonatas (Beethoven)

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Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his 35 piano sonatas between 1782 and 1822.[1] Although originally not intended to be a meaningful whole, as a set they comprise one of the most important collections of works in the history of music.[2] Hans von Bülow called them "The New Testament" of the piano literature (Johann Sebastian Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier being "The Old Testament").[3]

Beethoven's piano sonatas came to be seen as the first cycle of major piano pieces suited to concert hall performance.[2] Being suitable for both private and public performance, Beethoven's sonatas form "a bridge between the worlds of the salon and the concert hall".[2] The first person to play them all in a single concert cycle was Hans von Bülow, the first complete recording is Artur Schnabel's for the label His Master's Voice.

List of sonatas[edit]

Early sonatas[edit]

Beethoven's early sonatas were highly influenced by those of Haydn and Mozart. The first three sonatas, written in 1782-3 are usually not acknowledged as part of the complete set of piano sonatas, due to the fact that he was 13 when it was published.[4] His Piano Sonatas No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 11, 12, 13, and 15 are four movements long, which was rather uncommon in his time.

  1. Piano Sonata No. 19 in G minor
  2. Piano Sonata No. 20 in G major

Middle sonatas[edit]

After he wrote his first 15 sonatas, he wrote to Wenzel Krumpholz, "From now on, I'm going to take a new path." Beethoven's sonatas from this period are very different from his earlier ones. His experimentation in modifications to the common sonata form of Haydn and Mozart became more daring, as did the depth of expression. Most Romantic period sonatas were highly influenced by those of Beethoven. After 1804, Beethoven ceased publishing sonatas in sets and only composed them as a single opus. It is unclear why he did so.

  • Opus 31: Three Piano Sonatas (1802)
  1. Piano Sonata No. 16 in G major
  2. Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor ("Tempest")
  3. Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major ("The Hunt")

Late sonatas[edit]

Beethoven's late sonatas were some of his most difficult works and some of today's most difficult repertoire. Yet again, his music found a new path, often incorporating fugal technique and displaying radical departure from conventional sonata form. The "Hammerklavier" was deemed to be Beethoven's most difficult sonata yet. In fact, it was considered unplayable until almost 15 years later, when Liszt played it in a concert.

Performances and recordings[edit]

In a single concert cycle, the whole 32 sonatas were first performed by Hans von Bülow.[5] A number of other pianists have emulated this feat, including Artur Schnabel (the first since Bülow to play the complete cycle in concert from memory), Roger Woodward[6] and Michael Houstoun, who has performed the full sonata cycle twice; first at the age of 40, and then 20 years later in 2013.[7] Claudio Arrau performed the cycle several times.[8]

The first pianist to make a complete recording was Artur Schnabel, who recorded them for the British recording label His Master's Voice (HMV) between 1932 and 1935.[9][10][11] Other pianists to make complete recordings include Claudio Arrau,[12] Paul Lewis, and Richard Goode.


  1. ^ Cooper, Barry (April 2017). The Creation of Beethoven's 35 Piano Sonatas. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-4724-1431-1.
  2. ^ a b c Rosen (2002), accompanying note
  3. ^ "A Panoramic Survey of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106: Composition and Performance". Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  4. ^ White, Michael (2008-01-20). "Settling Old Scores by Beethoven (Published 2008)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-12-25.
  5. ^ "Carnegie Room Concerts". Archived from the original on 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  6. ^ Celebrate 88. Retrieved 16 July 2014
  7. ^ Hannigan, Margot (21 August 2013). "Beethoven, Houston a treat for audience". The Nelson Mail. Archived from the original on 30 October 2013. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  8. ^ "Arrau at 60" by Thomas F. Johnson, Musical America, March 1963, via princeton.edu/~gpmenos
  9. ^ "Artur Schnabel". www.bechstein.com. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  10. ^ Bloesch, David (1986). "Artur Schnabel: A Discography" (PDF). Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal. 18-1/3: 34.
  11. ^ Beethoven Complete Piano Sonatas in Two Volumes, ed. by Artur Schnabel, Alfred Masterwork Edition, Publisher's Preface
  12. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20110519080528/http://patachonf.free.fr/musique/arrau/discographie.php?p=b#Beethoven

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]