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Piano Sonata No.15 in D Major Op.28,’Pastoral’

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No.15 in D Major Op.28,`Pastoral’

This sonata composed in 1801, marks a return to more orthodox formal layout after the somewhat experimental nature of the three preceding sonatas (op.26 and 27). It was published by Cranz in August 1802, with a dedication to Joseph von Sonnenfels.

The first subject of the opening Allegro is a placid tune that curves gently downwards and then upwards again, above a pedal D; the dactylic phrase with which it ends is to prove especially important. As though to afford contrast with this insistence on the tonic key, the second subject group, which begins with two broad ascending phrases above a halting, staccato bass, avoids stressing its rightful key – A major. Almost the whole of the development derives its material from the opening theme, though as the argument progresses the quotations become shorter and shorter, until finally only the last three notes are left.

The Andante is in ternary form, with a coda. The opening section, in D minor, is in two halves with repeats, and presents a dignified melody whose rhythmic outline becomes increasingly elaborate. The middle section, also in two repeated halves, has a tripping, almost jocular gait. The first section is then resumed but ends with a coda in which both 'fractions' are skilfully brought together. The witty Scherzo is built entirely on two short motifs; an octave fall, and a clipped figure (also descending of three notes in trochaic rhythm. The trio (in B minor) is equally economical; one four-bar phrase played eight times over.

The leisurely 6/8 gait of the final Rondo with its imitation of a rustic drome bass may well have prompted the nickname 'Pastoral'. Brilliant runs in broken octaves give a touch of bravura to the concluding bars of each of the three episodes, as do the rippling semiquavers of the coda (Più allegro, quasi presto), where the contours of the theme and its base are subtly preserved.

© Robin Golding

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