Listening Log- [Pt. III – Proj.2] – Ludwig Van Beethoven’s last piano sonata No 32 in C minor, Op 111

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s last piano sonata No 32 in C minor, Op 111 (1821-1822)

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s last piano sonata No 32 in C minor, Op 111

Prior to taking this course I had very little knowledge of Western Art Music. I was only familiar with a few, mainly 20 Century, composers or the odd famous piece from earlier eras. Some of those pieces were the well-known symphonies by Beethoven, which I always really really loved. The sheer force and brutality expressed in his music has always appealed to my personal taste.

From the very outset of the first movement of Beethoven’s piano sonata No 32 in C minor, Op 111 I hear and sense the very same forces that previously attracted me to Beethoven. The first statement immediately grabs my attention announcing itself in a forceful manner and things just get more ominous from there. The strange time signature adds to the sense of disorientation and the feeling of being on shaky ground. The level of threat seems to increase with the volume, dissipating for a while only to return even more menacingly with a lurching and, I presume, well known theme (since I recognise it). This is followed by panic stricken runs and there’s a sense of being mercilessly chased. The whole first movement has engaged my visual cortex and imagination to such an extent that I am seeing a whole scenario play out in my mind’s eye. I really have a strong emotional reaction to it, one of fear mixed with excitement and anticipation. The thrill of the chase…

The second movement then starts slowly, softly and solemnly, with a quiet beauty it evokes a somewhat mysterious and introspective atmosphere. As more notes are added and the playing gets louder the slow tempo feels faster (although it is not). Eventually a ‘swung’ rhythm is played and the whole piece sounds like jazz or rag time. This is not something I associate with this era. It is completely unexpected, and I am wondering if this is why Chuck Berry named one of his boogie woogie hits ‘Roll Over Beethoven” some 130 years later?!

After this exciting section there is a rumbling type pattern in the bass, followed by tentative and fragile runs. This eventually transforms into a melodic part in the left hand which is quickly replaced by extremely high and rapid trills in the left. Again, both the rhythm and the time signatures are unusual and require a high level of focus whilst being disconcerting enough to affect one on a subliminal and emotional level too. It is dramatic and intellectually engaging at the same time. This is in my opinion a total master piece!