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PIANO SONATA NO. 28 IN A, OP. 101

Wednesday 8th June, 2050-2400
Alfred Brendel

Allegretto, ma non troppo
Vivace, alla marcia
Adagio, manon troppo, con affetto
Allegro

The designation "for the Hammerklavier" has long since only been applied to Beethoven's B flat major Piano Sonata published as Op. 106 , but the composer also assigned it to this slightly earlier work in A. As Beethoven's biographer AW Thayer wrote, "The suggestion had gone out that German composers substitute German terms in music in place of Italian. With characteristic impetuosity, Beethoven decided to begin the reform at once, although it seems to have involved the re-engraving of the title page of the new sonata."Thus pianoforte became Hammerklavier and the movement headings, too, were given in German. Why the Italian soon crept back into use in this work is not known, but the very word Hammerklavier seems more appropriate to the massive pianism of the later work: Op. 101 is an altogether smaller-scale Sonata.

It was written in the summer of 1816, which Beethoven spent in the town of Baden, just south of Vienna. He dedicated it to his favourite piano pupil, Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann: "Receive now what was often intended for you and what may be a proof of my affection for your artistic talent as well as your person," he wrote to her in February 1817, when he sent her a copy of the newly printed music. Yet for all the warmth of this dedication and the charm of much of the music, this was not a happy period in Beethoven's life. In January 1816, following the death of his brother, he had assumed guardianship of his nephew Karl and there ensued constant battles with the boy's mother and with the boy himself. Apart from the two 'Hammerklavier' sonatas, Op. 101 and Op. 106 , Beethoven's compositional output was negligible until he was forced temporarily to surrender his guardianship to Karl's mother in 1819.

For all its intimacy, however, the Sonata in A can be properly regarded as the first of his great final group. It shares with the Hammerklavier and the summatory trio of Opp. 109-11 a desire to weld together the form of sonata with the contrapuntal principles of canon and fugue. The work begins subtly, indeed tonally obliquely, since its first phrase is in the dominant of the ostensible key of the work, and almost sounds as if the music had been flowing already. This almost conversational opening movement is followed by an abrupt change of mood in the form of a lively march with a more pensive trio section. The brief slow movement is a withdrawn Adagio, marked to be played throughout with the so-called 'soft pedal', and leads, by way of a brief recall of the Sonata's opening, to the joyful Allegro finale, a movement dominated by contrapuntal writing and incorporating a fugal exposition in its development.

Matthew Rye

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