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Piano Sonata No.13 in E Flat Major Op.27 No.1

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No.13 in E Flat Major Op.27 No.1

Beethoven entitled the two sonatas published in Vienna in March 1802 by Giovanni Cappi, as Op.27 'Sonata quasi una fantasia', as though to draw attention to their somewhat unorthodox design. The disposition of movements is similar in both works; each begins with a slow, preludial movement that leads directly into a scherzo; and in each the biggest movement is the finale, the only difference being that the finale of the first sonata is preceded by a slow introduction.

The Sonata in E flat major, composed in 1800-1 and dedicated to Beethovenís patron and pupil, Princess Josephine von Liechtenstein, opens with an unassuming Andante that is distinctly improvisatory in character. It is based on a short, simple theme with a running bass, which is varied but undergoes little actual development. A brief, dance-like Allegro in C major acts as a middle section before the music of the Andante is resumed. The scherzo, in C minor, consists of triads in contrary motion which, in the reprise, are enlivened with syncopations: it frames a staccato 'trio' in A flat major.

Next comes a broad, lyrical Adagio in A flat major, that has the makings of a fully-fledged slow movement but is only destined to serve as an introduction to the finale (which is heralded by a cadential flourish). This is a sonata rondo, with a refrain that falls neatly into four two-bar phrases, above a running semiquaver bass. The first and third episodes make a feature of rocketing semiquaver figuration, first in the right hand and later in the left. The development episode takes its cue from a short ascending motif first heard immediately after the first statement of the rondo theme; there is also some contrapuntal discussion of the first phrase of the refrain itself.

Robin Golding


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