Monday, May 13, 2019

Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 21 In C Major opus 53 'Waldstein'

In the European musical world of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, most composers had to rely on employment in the church or a royal patron to make ends meet. There were music publishers, but there were no copyright laws protecting a composer's published works. Other publishers could get a copy of them and print their own versions of them with no penalty. So for the few composers that could get published, there was usually a set fee for the composition in question with no royalties and no laws prohibiting publication by other publishers with no remuneration for the composer.

Count  Ferdinand von Waldstein
One of Beethoven's first important patrons was Count Ferdinand Waldstein, a German nobleman who made Beethoven's acquaintance in Bonn. It was Waldstein who put together a scholarship for Beethoven to go to Vienna in 1792. Beethoven had already been to Vienna for a short stay in 1787, ostensibly to have lessons with Mozart. Whether he actually had them or even met Mozart is not certain, but by 1792 Mozart was dead and Beethoven was to have lessons with Joseph Haydn. Count Waldstein wrote to Beethoven before he left on the trip:
Dear Beethoven! You go to realize a long-desired wish: the genius of Mozart is still in mourning and weeps for the death of its disciple. By incessant application, receive Mozart's spirit from Haydn's hands.
Piano Sonata No. 21 was written in the summer of 1804 at the height of Beethoven's most productive period of composition. 1804 was also the year that the Third Symphony In E-flat Major (Eroica) was completed. Beethoven remembered his first important patron and dedicated the sonata to Count Waldstein, hence the name that the sonata is most known by.

I. Allegro con brio -  Beethoven begins the sonata with a theme contained in the C major chord played at a quiet dynamic that combines with the energetic tempo that creates an underlying excitement to the opening:

These four measures are immediately repeated, but in the key of B-flat major.  Beethoven modulates this first theme group until a short transitional section in A major leads to the second subject.

Usual convention of second themes in sonata form has them in the key of the dominant, or 5th degree of the main key, which in this instance would be G major. Beethoven mixes it up be having the second theme in the key of E major.
The second theme group leads back to a repeat of the exposition.  The development section has themes go through many key changes along with compression of themes to one bar motives. The recapitulation has the first theme played verbatim, with material leading to the second theme being modified. The second theme is first heard in A major, then in the tonic of C major, which the movement ends in.

II. Introduzione - Adagio molto -  The original second movement for this sonata was removed because it was thought to make the sonata too long. Beethoven had the original movement published seperately as Andante favori.  Beethoven inserted a short introduction to the final movement. This introduction is 28 measures long, and leads directly to the rondo of the finale.

III. Rondo - Allegro moderato - Prestissimo - The beginning of the rondo emerges from the introduction pianissimo, in a melody that is played with the left hand crossing over the right hand accompaniment. The left hand supplies deep bass notes when it crosses back over:
After a brief section the melody returns, this time in octaves in the right hand as the left hand accompanies. The melody ends with a trill in the right hand, and as the trill continues with the thumb and index finger of the right hand, the melody returns an octave higher, played primarily by the little finger of the right hand:

This is quite difficult to do, as the top melody needs to be prominent over the accompaniment both of the trill and the rapid notes of the left hand. Beethoven was very aware of the difficulty of the trill, and in the manuscript of the sonata he left instructions that said:
For whom the trill is too difficult where it is connected to the theme, may make things easier in the following way: 
Or depending on their abilities, they can also double it. of these sextuplets, two are played against each quarter note of the bass. In general, it does not matter if this trill also loses some of its usual velocity: 
After the theme is played through three times, an episode in A minor erupts and leads back to the theme that is repeated three times in the same form as before. Another episode in C minor, this one lengthier than the first, is played. this leads to the return of the theme in chords in the keys of A-flat, F minor and D-flat major. Parts of the theme are now developed in different keys. This development leads back to the theme, this time played twice.  The next section extends the bars that are heard directly after the first hearing of the theme. After this, a section in G major leads to a changing of the tempo to prestissimo and the time signature to 2/2. The theme is varied and developed until a section that is supposed to be played in opposing octave glissandos in each hand:

On the pianos of Beethoven's time, the action was not as heavy as the modern piano so octave glissandos were more feasible. Even then, not much volume could be gotten from doing it, hence Beethoven marked them to be played pianissimo. On the modern piano with its heavier action, many pianists make various compromises in this section. In the video that is included in this post, the pianist Claudio Arrau plays the glissandos as written.  The main theme dominates the coda, and the sonata comes to a close in C major.

This sonata is one of the masterpieces of the piano literature, and was acknowledged as such in Beethoven's time. In the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, in a review published in January of 1806, part of the review states that:
...the first and last movements belong among the most accomplished, most brilliant, and most original pieces of this master, but are also full of wondrous whimsicality, and are very difficult to perform.

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