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Beethoven Sonata No 27 Essay

This piece is highly unusual for Beethoven Sonatas. One, although it was written at the start of his late period, this sonata had only two movements, the first being extremely short. Secondly, this was the first that Beethoven started writing his tempo markings in German, as though implying that this Sonata was more personal. Beethoven has also remarked on this piece that he considered titling it either “Struggle Between Head and Heart” or “Conversation with the Beloved”. This sonata was dedicated to Count Moritz von Lichnowsky and so describes the love affair he was having at the time. Beethoven literally gave the Count this sonata with the words, “This Sonata describes your love life.”

The first movement of the sonata has an extremely short development, and a surprising coda. The second movement is much longer, much like a Schubert sonata and has another surprising ending of a small epilogue. In fact, Schubert’s first sonata (unfinished) 2nd movement, shows a distinct likeliness to this piece’s 2nd movement. It would almost seem like Schubert’s first sonata was a tribute to Beethoven.

Written in 1814, there is a 5 year gap from his last sonata. He gives exact instructions for his tempo markings because, as he said, “I am deaf, and I can no longer play the piano. Therefore, I must give exact instructions to the performer.” In fact, he became so particular, that he started notating exactly where his dynamic changes are, leaving almost no room for the performer for adjustments.

Listening to a lecture recital by Andrea Schiff, he has remarked that Sonata no. 27 is one of the most mysterious of the 32 sonatas. This sonata was written deliberately not to ‘please’ his audience. He wrote it to promote discussion among music lovers and pianists. This sonata wasn’t even written to be performed on stage. Both movements of this piece end quietly, written subito piano and no retardando could be seen. The piece ends quietly and the audience is barely aware the piece has even ended. This sonata is not meant to make an impression. Andrea Schiff has even gone so far to say that, “Ideally, we wouldn’t even have an applause at the end of this piece, there is nothing to applaud!” Furthermore, the sonata after, No. 28 (in A Major), sounds like a continuation of the 2nd movement.

I will be doing a structural analysis of the Sonata, however, I will also be adding some commentary on some aspects I find more interesting. Starting from the beginning of the first movement, we have the exposition and the first theme. Already here in the first eight bars we can see the conflict “between the head and heart”, like this movement is so aptly nicknamed. In m. 8-16, we see some use of syncopation, indicating that the movement should be counted in one and not three in the ¾ time signature. In the first 24 measures, ending with the fermata on a rest, we see clearly the backbone of the whole sonata.

In the next section starting with an open b octave, we see the composer has marked in tempo and pp. Beethoven really marks everything for the performer, leaving little to question on how exactly he wants it performed. In m. 55, where we have a very awkward left hand broken chords, I would like to point out that the base line for these seemingly randomly spaced chords is actually the inversion of the original theme at the beginning of the piece.

The second movement starts at m. 82 on a single b. At m. 109, we have a sudden reminiscence of polyphonic texture much like what Bach would have written. Starting in m. 113, just when the counterpoint ends, we see that the theme has migrated to the tenor line in the left hand, leaving the right hand free to ‘improvise’ over. We modulate at m. 130 and in m. 136 there is an echo of the first theme. Just when we think that it sounds somehow familiar, the recapitulation suddenly appears at m.144. There is a little coda at m. 231 and the first movement ends quietly with no retardando marked. It is assumed that the performer moves immediately to the 2nd movement. The opening theme in the rondo is something that the performer becomes familiar with very quickly, because it is repeated in the entire movement no less than sixteen times.

In contrast to the fighting between the head and heart in the first movement, this movement is nicknamed, “Conversation with the Beloved”. This theme is so unlike Beethoven that it has almost a Schubert-like quality to it. I would also like to note that the opening theme of the second movement is an inversion of the first theme in the first movement. The epilogue at m. 286 quietly ends the piece, just slipping away. No one notices that it has ended until the surprising silence occupies the space. There is no retardando written and the dynamic marking is pp.

I would also like to do a Golden Mean analysis with the first movement, the second movement, and the entire work.

Movement one: 145m x .618 = 89.61 Movement two: 290m x .618 = 179.22 Whole work: 535m x..618 = 330.63 or 185.63 in the 2nd movement

In movement one, the midpoint falls a few measures after the development, where the theme is being repeated in the surprising key of a minor. This is right before we crescendo up to a climax at m. 92. In movement two, the midpoint falls onto another a minor chord. This measure is right before we transition to another choral in the key of B Major. The midpoint of the entire piece falls on an unassuming measure in the middle of the first theme of the second movement.

As for the most important parts of the entire work, I would point out the interesting inversions scattered across the board. First would be the awkward broken chords at m. 55 in the first movement that I have mentioned before. And then again right before the recapitulation when the theme is echoed over the keys. Then again at the little coda at m. 231. As for the second movement, the whole theme is the inverted first theme of the first movement.


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