Piano sonatas (Beethoven)

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Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his 32 piano sonatas between 1795 and 1822. Although originally not intended to be a meaningful whole, as a set they compose one of the most important collections of works in the history of music.[1] Hans von Bülow called them "The New Testament" of music (Johann Sebastian Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier being "The Old Testament").[2]

Beethoven's piano sonatas came to be seen as the first cycle of major piano pieces suited to concert hall performance.[1] Being suitable for both private and public performance, Beethoven's sonatas form "a bridge between the worlds of the salon and the concert hall".[1]

List of sonatas[edit]

Early Sonatas[edit]

Beethoven's early sonatas were highly influenced by those of Haydn and Mozart. Even so, he began to find new ways of composing his sonatas. His Piano Sonatas No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 11 were four movements long, which was very uncommon in his time.

Opus 2: Three Piano Sonatas (1795)

Opus 7: Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat major ("Grand Sonata") (1797)

Opus 10: Three Piano Sonatas (1798)

Opus 13: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor ("Pathétique") (1798)

Opus 14: Two Piano Sonatas (1799)

Opus 22: Piano Sonata No. 11 in B-flat major (1800)

Middle Sonatas[edit]

After he wrote his first 13 sonatas (up to Op. 28), 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 26: Piano Sonata No. 12 in A-flat major ("Funeral March") (1801)

Opus 27: Two Piano Sonatas (1801)

Opus 28: Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major ("Pastoral") (1801)

Opus 31: Three Piano Sonatas (1802)

Opus 49: Two Piano Sonatas (composed 1795–6, published 1805)

Opus 53: Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major ("Waldstein") (1803)

  • WoO 57: Andante Favori — Original middle movement of the "Waldstein" sonata (1804)

Opus 54: Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major (1804)

Opus 57: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor ("Appassionata") (1805)

Opus 78: Piano Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp major ("A Thérèse") (1809)

Opus 79: Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major (1809)

Opus 81a: Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major ("Les adieux/Das Lebewohl") (1810)

Opus 90: Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor (1814)

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.

Opus 101: Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major (1816)

Opus 106: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major ("Hammerklavier") (1818)

Opus 109: Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major (1820)

Opus 110: Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major (1821)

Opus 111: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor (1822)

Performances and recordings[edit]

In a single concert cycle, the whole 32 sonatas were first performed by Hans von Bülow.[3] 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[4] and Michael Houstoun, who has performed the full sonata cycle twice; first at the age of 40, and then 20 years later in 2013.[5] Claudio Arrau completed the set numerous times.[6]

The first pianist to make a complete recording was Artur Schnabel, who recorded them for EMI between 1932 and 1935.[7] Other pianists to make complete recordings include Claudio Arrau (twice; 1962-66 and 1984-90),[8] Vladimir Ashkenazy, Wilhelm Backhaus, Daniel Barenboim, Malcolm Binns and Ronald Brautigam (on period pianos), Alfred Brendel, Rudolf Buchbinder, John O'Conor, Annie Fischer, Claude Frank, Richard Goode, Maria Grinberg, Friedrich Gulda, Jenő Jandó, Wilhelm Kempff, Anton Kuerti, Paul Lewis, HJ Lim, Kun-Woo Paik, Alfredo Perl, Maurizio Pollini, Bernard Roberts, András Schiff, Russell Sherman, and Gerard Willems. Known for their Beethoven, both Solomon and Emil Gilels began recordings of the sonatas, but neither completed. Whereas Solomon suffered a career-ending stroke, Gilels died before he could finish his own set.

In 1970, Daniel Barenboim set the world record as the youngest pianist ever to record the complete Beethoven piano sonatas (doing so between 1967 and 1970).[9] In 2013, this record was beaten by the Chinese pianist Mélodie Zhao when she recorded the complete 32 sonatas[10] at age 19, released by Claves Records.[11]


The Op. 106 sonata was orchestrated by Felix Weingartner for a Romantic era orchestra.[citation needed]



  • Rosen, Charles (2002). Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-09070-3. 
  • Tovey, Donald (1999). A Companion to Beethoven's Piano Sonatas. Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. ISBN 978-1-86096-086-4. 
  • Taub, Robert (2009). Playing the Beethoven Piano Sonatas. Amadeus Press. ISBN 978-1-57467-178-0. 
  • Behrend, William (1988). Ludwig Van Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas. Ams Pr Inc. ISBN 978-0-404-12861-6. 
  • Matthews, Denis (1967). Beethoven piano sonatas. British Broadcasting Corporation. 
  • Drake, Kenneth (2000). The Beethoven sonatas and the creative experience. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-21382-2. 
  • Harding, Henry Alfred (2010). Analysis of Form in Beethoven's Sonatas. Nabu Press. ISBN 978-1-176-31116-9. 

External links[edit]