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Piano Sonata No.11 in B Flat Major Op.22

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No.11 in B Flat Major Op.22

Composed in 1799-1800 and published in Vienna by Hoffmeister in March 1802, with a dedication to Count Johann von Browne, this sonata occupies a key position between the styles of Beethoven’s first and second 'periods', paying lip-service to eighteenth-century manners in its Minuet and its rondo finale, but giving rein to his own defiant impulses in the opening Allegro con brio and in the smouldering Adagio.

The first movement opens with a repeated call to attention which contrives sound peremptory in spite of its piano marking, leading to the soaring first subject. The entry of the second theme, a rocking tune in thirds above a wavering semiquaver accompaniment, is prepared with a sure dramatic sense, the tune has a pendant in the shape of another theme, also in thirds but with the accent displaced to the second half of the bar. Brilliant running passage-work separates this from two distinct motifs that occupy the last dozen bars of the exposition; a development of the third theme played softly above a pedal F, and a sharply rhythmic upward and downward scale. It is on these two ideas, particularly the second, that the long development section is based.

The Adagio (in E flat major) is in sonata form, with two distinct themes, both of which, in their singing quality and ornate figuration, look forward to the nocturnes of Field and Chopin. The development section is devoted to the first phrase of the principal theme; which returns with further elaboration in the reprise. The ingenious opening bars of the Minuet recall the parallel movement in the contemporary Septet, Op.20, but the dramatic outburst which heads its second half, and the story rumblings of the trio, show Beethoven’s true independent character.

The refrain of the final rondo is an eight-bar theme largely in semiquavers, and with a continuous semiquaver accompaniment. There are three episodes, the second of which, a quasi-development section – is based on a new, rhythmic motif that is treated fugally. This motif also provides most of the material for the coda with which the movement ends.

Robin Golding

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