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Piano Sonata No.1 in F Minor Op.2 No.1

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No.1 in F Minor Op.2 No.1

Although Beethoven wrote at least three sonatas during his early years in Bonn, the fact that he did not give them opus numbers shows that he did not consider them as part of the great series of 32 that began witht the three sonatas published in Vienna by Artaria as Op.2 in March 1796, his fourth year in the Austrian capital. These stand out immediately as being on a much larger scale than their predecessors.

Parry described them as being of the same proportions as the symphonies of the previous generation; we may consider these strong words, yet the three works are undeniably more ambitious and imposing than any other keyboard sonatas previously written. They were dedicated to Haydn, whom Beethoven always respected as a model even if he criticised him as a teacher, and who had returned from the second of his two triumphal visits to England in August 1795.

A feature of the first movement of the F minor sonata is that its two themes - a rocketing arpeggio figure that is fortuitously reminiscent of the finale of Mozart's G minor Symphony K.550, and a downward curving tune in A flat major - follow one another with hardly any transition, and that the second of them is structurally the more important, although the triplet turn in the second full bar of the first subject is given special prominence, notably in the latter part of the development.

The slow movement, an ornate Adagio in F major, is in sonata form but without development, the two themes being varied and elaborated the second time they are heard; it was adapted from the second movement of a Piano Quartet in C major that Beethoven had written in Bonn in 1785. The Minuet, though moderate in pace, has something of the moody, unpredictable quality of Beethoven's later scherzos: observe the angry octave outburst in its second half, and its frequent changes in dynamic level. It encloses a gently flowing Trio in the tonic major. The sonata-form finale is a fiery Prestissimo with an almost unremitting triplet motion, and with a development that is more like an independent episode than a true working-out section, since it is based on an entirely new theme - a procedure not uncommon in Mozart, but rare in Beethoven.

Robin Golding

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