Monday, January 4, 2010

The Appassionata Sonata

Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, commonly known as the Appassionata, is considered to be one of the three great piano sonatas of his middle period and is one of the most well-known and often played works of piano music. The sonata was composed during 1803-05, published in 1807 and dedicated to Count Franz von Brunswick. The name Appassionata was, like many of his other sonatas, not given to the work by Beethoven himself. It was the publisher of a four-hand edition that gave the Piano Sonata No. 23 the name it is most known by today.

Beethoven himself described the work as his most tempestuous piano sonata prior to the mammoth Hammerklavier Sonata composed in 1817-1818. The Appassionata was described as a "brilliantly executed display of emotion and music." In 1802, Beethoven wrote the famous Heiligenstadt Testament, a letter of despair to his brothers over his increasing deafness. Beethoven, however, came to terms with his ailment and determined to fulfill his artistic destiny no matter his physical circumstances. The compositions that followed this event where the epic Eroica Symphony as well as the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas, which incidentally also mark the beginning of the Romantic era.

The Appassionata Sonata has three movements:
  1. Allegro assai
  2. Andante con motto - attacca
  3. Allegro ma non troppo - Presto
The entire piece is pervaded by the use of Neapolitan harmonies, a technique also used by Johannes Brahms in his Piano Quintet in F minor. Immediately following the initial statement of the movement's first theme it is repeated in the foreign key of G flat major, being the Neapolitan key to the tonic of F minor. The slow movement begins in the key of D flat major, being the dominant key of G flat major and in a Neapolitan relationship to C, the dominant of F minor. The second movement is set of variations which ends deceptively on a diminished 7th chords that serves as transition to the finale. Like the first movement, the finale makes significant use of Neapolitan harmonies. According to the Donald Tovey, the Appassionata is one of the few examples of Beethoven's piano music that ends in tragedy.

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