31. BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 28 for Piano, Op. 101

A detailed analysis of Ludwig van Beethoven's: Sonata No. 28 for Piano, Op. 101, including notated musical examples.

Ludwig van Beethoven deserves his reputation as one of the greatest composers of all time!

Today, I take a look at one of the most magnificent pianos sonatas ever written.

My favorite recording comes from my Complete Beethoven Edition, which appears to be out of print now.

However, most of the individual sets that make up the edition are still available. Here is the set of piano sonatas, recorded by the great Wilhelm Kempff in 1964. Although some hiss is discernible, it is never annoying. Kempff's interpretation is penetrating and insightful...

Opus 101, along with the two cello sonatas (Op. 102), ushers in Beethoven's "Late" period. From here on in (1816), Beethoven will produce masterpieces, one after the other. The music from this period is notable for Beethoven's unique innovations and deep spirituality (although he never loses his sense of humor!)...

Thayer gives us an interesting anecdote about Beethoven's fascination with using the German term "Hammerclavier" in place of the Italian "Pianoforte" which had been in use for centuries throughout all of European musical culture.

"...The suggestion had gone out that German composers substitute German terms in music in place of Italian. With characteristic impetuosity, Beethoven decided to begin the reform at once, although it seems to have involved the reengraving of the title page of the new Sonata. He wrote to Steiner [one of his publishers]..."

"'After individual examination and taking the advice of our council we have determined and hereby determine that hereafter on all our works with German titles, in place of pianoforte, Hammerclavier be printed; our best Lt. Gen. as well as the Adjutant and all others concerned will govern themselves accordingly at once and put this order into effect. Instead of Pianoforte, Hammerclaiver, -- which settles the matter once for all. Given, etc., etc. by the G[eneralissimu]s on January 23, 1817.'"

"Beethoven was in doubt as to the correctness of 'Hammerclavier,' thinking that it might better be 'Hämmerclavier,' and said the matter must be referred to someone versed in languages"
(pp. 667-68).

In any case, it was not this sonata, but the next (Op. 108) which ultimately earned the nickname "Hammerclavier."

I will not post Kempff's performance -- I do not violate copyright law -- but I am posting a MIDI that I sequenced for this purpose:

BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 28 for Piano, Op. 101 (MIDI by LS) (19:21)

February 1, 2008

Today, I am posting a new performance of this sonata, with the performer's permission:

Morgan Eiland, a young man in his early 20's who is graduating from Northwestern University's School of Music. This performance was part of his senior recital, which took place on November 30, 2007. It is an extraordinary performance (I dare you to compare to it the Kempff -- it is that good!)

BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 28 for Piano, Op. 101 -- FIRST MOVEMENT (Eiland) (4:01)

As Cooper notes:

"...The opening movement has the textures of a Bach prelude at the start ... and begins on the dominant, producing a sense of tonal ambiguity that is only gradually resolved..." (p. 252)

Moving along, Beethoven cadences on the dominant, still withholding the first root position tonic chord from our ears!
Beethoven syncopates the rhythm, one of his favorite tricks -- and still no tonic chord!
Finally, after much gentle teasing, Beethoven delivers the craved root position tonic chord (shown in red):After another short reprise of the syncopated section, Beethoven crescendos to a fortissimo diminished chord and then gently brings the movement to a delicate close.

BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 28 for Piano, Op. 101 -- SECOND MOVEMENT (Eiland) (6:24)

An extremely detailed and technical analysis of this movement.

A good clue to Late Period works: Beethoven trying out new forms. This interesting March takes the place of what would normally have been a minuet or scherzo, and traditionally as the third movement, in classical sonata form.

In addition, the key signature of F Major is far removed from the A Major tonic!

After the above theme repeats, Beethoven lands in A Major -- sort 0f (see the above analysis for details).
This section is spine-tingling:

First, note the weird rush of dotted rhythms which culminate in a forced-sounding pair of eighth-notes (Bar 3), establishing D-Flat Major (even more distant from A Major!). Then that magical passage (Bars 8-11) with the sustain pedal depressed...

After a repeat back to the "Sort-of-A-Major" section, Beethoven lands firmly in B-Flat Major for the B section of this movement -- a calm from the jerky dotted rhythms of the first part, with flowing eighth-notes:The way Beethoven gets us back to the beginning of the March again is also magical:
BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 28 for Piano, Op. 101 -- THIRD MOVEMENT (Eiland) (2:53)

BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 28 for Piano, Op. 101 -- FOURTH MOVEMENT (Eiland) (8:24)

The third movement (A Minor) is quite short, quite slow and heavily profound. It ends with a mini-cadenza on the dominant, which segues right into:A reprise of the first movement! This is also a regular feature of Beethoven's Late Period (think the beginning of the Fourth Movement of the Ninth Symphony where short phrases from all three earlier movements are recalled.)

A series of trills leads to this vigorous 2/4 theme:Much working out, a repeat, and then Beethoven begins this amazing four-part "fugato" in A Minor. I have color-coded the four parts, in order to clearly show the entrance of each voice:

Again, note Beethoven's unusual approach to the harmonic template:

The first entry (bass) is in A Minor (black).

The second entry (tenor) is in C Major (red). Normally, in traditional fugue-writing, this voice would enter in E Minor!

The third entry (alto) is in D Minor (blue).

The fourth entry (soprano) is in A Minor (fuchsia).

This is all well developed. The little theme is continually deconstructed until we reach a big climax.

Beethoven was always fascinated with the continual improvement of the pianoforte. At this time (1816), a new piano had been built with a new low note added -- "Contra E" -- and the composer immediately put the note to good use, marking the actual note with the words "Contra E" below it in the music!
Beethoven returns to A Major and recapitulates. Some soft murmuring in the low bass, and he closes with pounding A Major chords.

An excellent page detailing the creation history and musical content.

A working theory concerning the relationship between this sonata and the "Immortal Beloved."


Rachel said…
This is really wonderful! I enjoyed reading about the Hammerclavier anecdote, and all of your analysis is really spectacular! I especially like the color-coded analysis of the fugue in the fourth movement. Morgan really does sound amazing, doesn't he?!

You should do Op. 131 next, since my quartet is playing that in a few weeks! I'm very excited.

I love you!
Ibrahim said…
I love the fugue in the fourth movement so so much. Have you read Jan Swafford's recent biography of the composer? He several times describes the way Beethoven would often take a piece to a seemingly unsurpassable degree of intensity but then exceed it anyway. Very true of that fugue.