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PIANO SONATA NO. 27 IN E MINOR, OP. 90

Thursday 9th June, 0000-0700
Charles Rosen

Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck
Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutragen.

Although Beethoven had written nothing for the piano for five years, this Sonata, Op. 90 (1814), has more kinship with the last group of masterpieces written between 1816 and 1822 (Opp. 101 , 106 , 109 , 110 and 111 ) than to earlier works in the cycle. Indeed, it parallels Op. 111 in the minor-major key contrast of its two movements, which Hans von Bülow remarked should be played respectively as though 'spoken' and 'sung'. This differentiation is further emphasised by the story that the dedicatee, Count Moritz Lichnowsky (brother of Karl), who had recently married a young Viennese dancer, asked Beethoven what the Sonata meant. He replied with "a boisterous laugh" that the first movement represented "a struggle between the head and the heart" (i.e. the Count's debate as to whether or not he should marry below his station), and the second "a conversation with the beloved", celebrating the happy union. But it does appear that Beethoven's intention in saying this was a joke with his patron, and it would be wrong to force any unnatural programmatic element upon the work.

The sonata-form first movement is virtually monothematic in its adherence to the descending figure of the opening bar. The falling semitone (particularly G-F sharp) dominates the first and second subject groups and much of the episodic work in between. For example, the codetta leading into the recapitulation is made up simply of eight bars of the notes G-F sharp-E in different rhythmic configurations, culminating in the return of the first subject which itself begins with these notes.

Bülow suggested that the tempo marking for the second movement ("not too fast, singing") was designed to counteract the habit of pianists rushing through any movement in rondo form as if they were rondeaux brillants. It is in fact a rather gentle movement, both in its smooth, flowing line and in its predominantly low dynamic level. The principal rondo theme, heard four times in all, begins with the notes E-F sharp-G sharp, an inverted major form of the main figure of the first movement thus highlighting the thematic integrity of the whole sonata.

Matthew Rye

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