Sakura Salon 8/10/14 – Beethoven Piano Sonatas

The fortepiano vs, the pianoforte

The fortepiano was the precursor of the modern piano, and was invented by the Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700. He called his instrument “gravecembalo col piano e forte” (harpsichord with soft and loud).

Visually, the instrument looks like a harpsichord in scale. Mozart’s fortepiano has 61 notes as compared to the modern piano’s 88 keys.

The keyboard is reverse color, meaning that the naturals are black and the sharps and flats are white. In historic times, this was done for economic reasons — it took less ivory for the sharps and flats.

The fortepiano has a wooden frame while the modern piano has a metal one.

There are only two strings per note instead of the three on the modern piano.

The hammers are covered by leather instead of hard felt.

The damper pedal is not operated by the foot, but by a knee lever. The rate of decay is greater on a fortepiano (sound dies away faster).

Tonally, the fortepiano varies from bass to treble — the bass notes have a slightly “buzzy” quality while the treble notes are more “tinkly.” The modern piano has a more even tonal quality from top to bottom.
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique)

Grave – Molto allegro e con brio
Adagio cantabile
Rondo: Allegro

This Sonata represents one of the few cases in which the popular title came from the composer himself – its full name is ‘Grande sonate pathétique’ (pathetic in the sense of ‘suffering’, rather than the English sense of ‘pitiful’). It was written in 1798, a time when Beethoven was beginning to become aware of his encroaching deafness and yet was leading a relatively contented domestic life.

The dramatic Grave introduction to the Pathétique is the most powerful opening to any of his sonatas to this date and its music becomes an intrinsic part of the movement through its reappearances at the beginning of the development and coda. There is an almost ‘orchestral’ texture to much of the piano writing, with chords marked forte-piano at the opening and a timpani-like left-hand accompaniment to the Allegro’s main theme.

The Adagio cantabile is in one of the simplest of forms: three statements of a heartfelt theme separated by short episodes and followed by a brief coda – there is no attempt at development as such.

The Sonata ends with a straightforward rondo that, despite its minor key, only recaptures the general character of the rest of the work in the sforzando chords of the coda, the remainder being more delicate and even humorous.
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 (Moonlight)

Adagio sostenuto
Allegretto
Presto agitato

The popular nickname of the ‘Moonlight’ for the second sonata of Op. 27 may be a fair title for the first movement, but the rest of the work contains some of the most turbulent music Beethoven ever wrote. Much has been said of Countess Guicciardi, or at least Beethoven’s feelings for her, being the Sonata’s inspiration, but, as she herself recalled, it was not dedicated to her until after another work intended for her had had to be reassigned to another patron.

This is again designated as a ‘Sonata quasi una fantasia’. There is no standard fast first movement. Instead, the Sonata opens with a slow movement, a calm and poetic, virtually athematic Adagio sostenuto. It is followed without a break by a short D flat major scherzo, with a dramatic, syncopated trio, and the hectic, often ferocious Presto agitato concludes the Sonata in a mood about as far away from the Adagio as is possible.

 

 

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