[Pt. III – Proj.2] – Exercise – Classical and Romantic- Beethoven
Listen carefully to Beethoven’s first (No 1 in F minor, Op 2) and last (No 32 in C minor, Op 111) piano sonatas, composed in 1795 and 1821–22, respectively. Note down any similarities and differences that you notice between the pieces and describe your personal reaction to each one. Now note down some answers to the questions that follow based solely on your listening. Don’t read anything about the two pieces at this stage.
What features of the earlier piano sonata might lead you to describe this as
a Classical piece?
• Does the later work retain any of these Classical elements?
• Why might you describe the later sonata as a Romantic work?
Describe your personal reaction.
Now find out what you can about these two pieces and see whether your research supports your conclusions.
Beethoven’s first piano sonata No 1 in F minor, Op 2
Since I don’t have much experience with Classical music it is quite hard for me to express the difference between Classical and Romantic Era music. I will just note my personal impressions of the pieces and then return to this exercise once I have completed the next module about the Classical Era to give a more informed opinion.
My very first impression when the first movement starts is that it doesn’t sound like Beethoven to me, or at least not the Beethoven that I’m familiar with and that I like. Instead it sounds more like Mozart, but with a bit less spark. The first movement leaves no lasting impression on me and feels quite generic. The second, slow movement is however quite beautiful, lyrical and melodic. It is gentle and quite sublime. The third movement which follows is a dance movement in 3/4 which starts gently like the previous movement but interspersed with moments of energy creating a stop/starting effect. The forth and final movement feels much faster due to repeated 8 note triplets and has a more forceful and insistent quality. It seems to veer into briefer quiet theme or passage giving a momenetary respite from the triplets only for them to come back in full force towards the ending. Overall I’d say that I enjoy the second slow movement thanks to it’s lyricism and the final movement thanks to it’s insistent quality which is something I associate with Beethoven. Also, I find the final movement slightly less predictable both harmonically and structurally. Again, this is something that feels more ‘Beethoven’ to me and sets his pieces apart. I shall return to listen to these pieces again after I’ve completed the other modules to see what else I can discern.
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 to me. 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 emotionally level too. It is dramatic and intellectually engaging at the same time. This is in my opinion a total master piece!
Listen to at least two pieces from each of the early, middle and late periods and make notes in your listening log on the evolution of Beethoven’s work. For example:
Early period Middle period Late period
Symphonies 1 and 2 Symphonies 2-8 Symphony No 9
Pathétique Sonata Violin concerto Missa Solemnis
Piano concerto no 1 Kreutzer Sonata String Quartet Op 131
String quartets op 18 Moonlight Sonata