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Tuesday 7th June, 1000-1300
Sviatoslav Richter

Andante con variazioni
Scherzo: Allegro molto
Marcia funebre sulla morte d'un eroe

Beethoven's second compositional phase, often known as his heroic period, is most obviously exemplified in the Eroica Symphony of 1803-4. But, as the slow movement of his Op. 26 Piano Sonata shows, thoughts of expressing a kind of Romantic heroism in his music were in his mind as early as 1800.

The Sonata's immediate inspiration was probably a visit to Vienna in 1800 by the German-born, London-based piano virtuoso Johann Baptist Cramer, whose playing of his own works and those of his teacher Muzio Clementi caused quite a storm. Beethoven felt the need to compete with this virtuosity and wrote a number of works that began to break away from the more Classically oriented sonatas of the 1790s, towards the mature second-period style.

One innovation, seen in Op. 26 and the two sonata fantasies of Op. 27, was the attempt to expand away from the traditional confines of the sonata, here by beginning with a set of Andante variations, though the three remaining movements conform to the standard type of scherzo, slow movement (the funeral march, later to be played by a brass band at Beethoven's own funeral) and rondo-finale.

Along with a number of works from this period, including the Pathétique  Sonata , Op. 26 is dedicated to Prince Karl Lichnowsky, Beethoven's foremost patron with whom he had been living more or less as a member of the family since his arrival in Vienna in 1792.

Matthew Rye

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