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Ludwig Van Beethoven And Sonatas Music Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Music
Wordcount: 4020 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany on 16th December 1770 and died in Vienna, Austria on 26th March 1827. He was one of the famous classical composers of all time. He was also known as a pianist. Beethoven composed 32 piano sonatas for the piano. One of the piano sonatas that will be analyzed in this thesis is the Piano Sonata in c minor, Op.13 which is named as “Pathetique”.

Ludwig van Beethoven composed the Piano Sonata in c minor, Op.13 “Pathetique” in 1798. This piece was dedicated to Prince Karl Lichnowsky. This piano sonata has three movements. This sonata was the earliest Beethoven sonatas to be famous and this sonata was first published in Vienna, Austria.

The first movement, Grave, then Allegro molto con brio, the key signature is c minor and the time signature is in 4/4 time. According to Elterlein, E. V. (1920), “This movement portrays his characteristics, a lifelike picture of manly, painful, earnest and passionate emotion. Here and there, fire breaks out, in a marked rhythm, but only to be immediately quenched”. There are several modulations in this movement which are from c minor to eÆ… minor to Db major to f minor and back to c minor.

The second movement, Adagio cantabile, the key signature is Ab major and the time signature is in 3/4 time. Elterlein, E. V. (1920) also said that this movement is much more peaceful than the first movement and is well expressed in the sustained singing theme.

The third movement, Rondo allegro, the key signature is c minor and the time signature is in 4/4 time. It gives completeness to the whole. The author also said that “The storm which swept through the soul in the first movement has subsided”. This movement ends with a satisfactory conclusion. This piano sonata portrays Beethoven’s emotions and characteristics when he was composing this piano sonata.

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1.2 Background of Study

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany on 16th December 1770. He died in Vienna, Austria on 26th March 1827. During that time, there were two great composers who were still living which were Mozart and Haydn. Music at that time was the form of entertainment for many people. But in this modern era, music still remains as one of the form of entertainment too.

According to Knight, F. (1973), the author said “He is also known as a German composer of Flemish descent. He is the son and grandson of musicians at the court of the Elector of Cologne at Bonn”. His grandfather, Louise van Beethoven was a court musician in Bonn in 1733 but eventually became the Kapellmeister but his grandfather spent most of his time running a wine business. Johann, his son, Beethoven’s father was a teacher and a singer at a chapel. He was an alcoholic. He married Beethoven’s mother, Maria Magdalena in 1767. Ludwig van Beethoven was their second child because their first child died in infancy. His grandfather died when he was three years old.

His father taught him to play the harpsichord and the violin just as soon as Beethoven fingers were long enough to play the instruments. His father wanted him to be the next Mozart. So he made him practice hard. Beethoven’s did not have a happy childhood. When he was eight years old, he started lessons with other teachers besides his father. C.G. Neefe was the court organist and a composer. He was the best teacher to Beethoven from 1779 to 1782 because he taught him to play Bach’s forty-eight Preludes and Fugues and composition. He was appointed as court organist when he was about thirteen years old.

In 1787, Beethoven went to Vienna, Austria for the first time and it was not a long visit because he had to get back to Bonn to see his mother who was seriously ill. He was so depress when she died. After his mother’s death, his home was never well managed and Beethoven always looked untidy. When he was seventeen years old, Beethoven had to look after his family because his father was in a wretched state. Part of his salary was given to Beethoven and this made life easier for Beethoven and his brothers.

The van Breuning family is close friends of Beethoven throughout his life. His violin teacher, Franz Anton Reis and the young Count Waldstein helped him in various ways. Beethoven was also very fortunate to have an Elector who loved to spend his time listening to music. Bonn had been invaded by the French armies in 1794. In 1792, Beethoven left Bonn for the last time and he never returned. He travelled to Vienna, Austria. It was also possible that he went to Vienna after being persuaded by Haydn.

After arriving in Vienna, Beethoven realized that Vienna has a different musical atmosphere. In Vienna there are more churches, theatres and court compared to Bonn. They are attended by the city’s large population. He was busy studying for some years in composition because he always found composing hard and stressful. According to Sadie, S. (1967), the author said that among the earliest of his compositions which are still played today are the three piano sonatas, Op.2, which he dedicated to Haydn. In these we can see how this strong-willed, defiant young man’s personality comes out in his music. After completing the Piano Concerto in B flat, he left Vienna for a few months due to a tour. He went to musical centres of Europe which were Prague, Leipzig, Berlin, Budapest and Pressburg. During his journey, he met Prince Lichnowsky who became one of his greatest friends and was also travelling with him. He dedicated one of his finest piano sonatas to Prince Lichnowsky, the Pathetique.

In 1798, he started to lose his hearing. He was becoming deaf which is the most painful and terrible fate for a musician. The deafness did not stop him from composing because he had his perfect ‘inner ear’ as he was a trained and skilled musician. He could hear the sound just by looking at the score. In 1799 and 1800 were the years that he realized that his hearing was deteriorating. He only told two of his closest friends, Franz Wegeler and Karl Amenda of his sickness. He tried various treatments but they all seemed to make him feel worse.

Beethoven’s musical style began to change. There are three periods which can be seen in his life and works. As he was in his thirties, his music began to acquire new and deeper qualities. This was the middle period. His career can be divided into three periods which are the classic period models, the revolutionary pieces which expanded the music vocabulary and compositions which are written in a unique way with elements of contrapuntal, variations and with complete freedom. His pieces became longer, deeper and more expressive. In his last years, he had to carry all his conversations in writing because he became completely deaf by that time.

1.3 Literature Review

A few textbooks about music theory were read in order to understand the field of the research. After reading a few of them, it can be seen that a few books say some things which are similar and some things which are different. For example, Willson, R. B. (2009) textbook titled An Introduction to Music Studies gave a brief introduction about music theory and analysis. The book talks about analysis that can be helpful for the performers, it can help us develop our listening skills, give us a mental representation of music and try to understand what the composers did in the past. Theory on the other hand provides a framework for analysis but it did not explain about the analysis of form and rhythm like the other book which is the Dale, C. (2003). The book which was written by Dale, C. (2003) titled Music Analysis in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, talks about musical analysis of form and rhythm. In the analysis of form chapter, the author explains about ternary and binary forms. This chapter also explains on how two of these forms create a larger form such as sonata and rondo. Both these books are helpful in this thesis because it helped in identifying the forms and teaches a person to analyze a score but the Dale, C. (2003) book did not describe about how to develop our listening skills or give us a mental representation of music and also how to understand what the composers did in the past.

Another textbook which is Kostka, S. & Payne, D. C. (1984) titled Tonal Harmony: With an Introduction to Twentieth – Century Music is about music theory and harmony. The authors said that “Harmony is defined as the sound that results when two or more pitches are performed simultaneously. It is the vertical aspect of music, produced by the combination of the components of the horizontal aspect.” It also describes the elements of pitch and rhythm. It also introduces and teaches us triads, seventh chords, diatonic chords in major and minor keys, voice leading notes, 4 part writing, harmonic progression, non-chord tones, diatonic seventh chords, augmented sixths, neapoliton chords, binary and ternary forms, modulation techniques and enharmonic modulations. However, this textbook did not discuss about the Sonata form, slow movement form and the Rondo form which will be used throughout this entire thesis. But this book can be use as a reference to understand the basics of theory music.

A book from Caplin, W. E. (1998) titled Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven contains all the information which is needed for this thesis. This book explained about the sonata form in one chapter which consists of the exposition, development and recapitulation. Then there is the slow movement form in another chapter in the book which is usually found in a piano sonata’s second movement such as the Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in c minor, Op.13 “Pathetique” and it is also known to combine the transition and subordinate theme or can also reduce the size of the development section. Then there is a chapter explaining the rondo form too in the book such as the rondo form is known to have two main types which are the five part rondo and the sonata rondo. The ones that will be used in the thesis are the sonata form, slow movement form and the sonata rondo form to analyze the piano sonata in this thesis. However there are other books which also contains the same information as this book but there are still some differences between them.

Green, D. M. (1979) titled Form in Tonal Music: An Introduction to Analysis wrote a book about an introduction to analysis. The author also discusses about the sonata form which is what this thesis wants. The author also told some history about how the sonata form came to being such as the term “sonata” was usually used for works performed by one or two players only. Then the sonata form was explain just like the book written by Caplin, W. E. (1998) in his chapter of sonata form because Green, D. M. (1979) also explained about the sonata form which must have the exposition, development and recapitulation sections in order to form a sonata form in a piano sonata. He also said that it is usually in the first movement of the piano sonata. His book

On the other hand, Rosen, C. (1988) titled Sonata Forms also wrote about the sonata form and said that the first movement sonata form is one of the most complex and very organized series of forms due to the eighteenth century composers who had the tendency to put a great weight on the opening movement which often results to most dramatic structures. The author only briefly explained the sonata form unlike in the books of Caplin, W. E. (1998) and Green, D. M. (1979) but it also helped in giving some information for this thesis. It was easier to understand and the explanation of the sonata form was shorter than the other two books which are mentioned.

Schoenberg, A. (1967) titled Fundamentals of Musical Composition also discusses about those forms such as Sonata form consists of three large scales of functions which are the exposition, developments, and recapitulations. Slow movements are constructed in conventional sonata form. There are a few types of rondo forms such as ABACA, ABACADA, ABACABA. But most of the time it can be situated in one of the two main categories which is the five part rondo (ABACA) and the sonata – rondo (ABACABA). He did not discuss about the slow movement form which is also going to be used in this thesis in chapter three.

There are books which gives descriptions on what the piano sonata sounds like by describing it like a story and what the mood is like in the piece. Beethoven’s Pianoforte Sonatas: Explained for the Lovers of the Musical Art by Elterlein, E. V. (1920) book describe about the piano sonata like a story. For example, the author describes the first movement by writing that it is one of the composers primary character and when the allegro molto con brio starts the author said that it was like a lava stream that burst out of its bound and charges to the front which no one is able to stop it. The description was very story like and it was easy to understand the mood of the movements in the piano sonata.

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Fischer, E. (1959) writes about his opinion about this piano sonata in his Beethoven’s Pianoforte Sonatas: A Guide for Students & Amateurs. The author said that the first movement of this piano sonata is like a symphonic work and the last movement is not suitable with the first two. But the second movement was perfect. Dimond, P. (1995) book titled The Art of Beethoven: Volume I is about the piano sonata that is going to be analyzed in this thesis. The first movement starts with Grave, then Allegro molto con brio. It begins in the key of c minor and the time signature is 4/4 time. The second movement is Adagio cantabile. It begins in the key of Ab major and the time signature is 3/4 time. The third movement is a Rondo. It begins in Rondo Allegro and is back in c minor. The time signature is 4/4 time. The book also contains a brief analysis of the three movements of the piano sonata. These books are somewhat similar to one another but also at the same time different because although they are describing the same piano sonata they describe it in their own way. However, Kresky’s book only has some movements of certain piano sonatas which he had analyze. Tonal Music: Twelve Analytic Studies by Kresky, J. (1977) only analyze the second movement of the piano sonata in this thesis. This book is also very useful in chapter three because in this research there is an analysis for the second movement of this piano sonata.

Lives of the Great Composers which was written by a few authors but Latham, P. (1943) wrote on a chapter of Beethoven in the book. It is about Beethoven’s life. It is a biography book about when the composer was born and where he was born. The author also explains the composer’s life in Bonn, who were his music teacher, when he went to Vienna and stayed there and until he died. Other books which are similar to Latham, P. (1943) book are Solomon, M. (1978) titled Beethoven which also describes about the composer’s life, The Great Composers: Beethoven written by Sadie, S. (1967), The Master Musicians: Beethoven written by Scott, M. M. (1934), The Stream of Music written by Leonard, R. A. (1967), Thayer’s Life of Beethoven: Volume I written by Krehbiel, H. (1949), Beethoven: Biography of a Genius written by Merek, G. R. (1969), and Beethoven and the Age of Revolution written by Knight, F. (1973). These books are mostly about Ludwig van Beethoven’s life, personality, hardships, romance, when he started losing his hearing and when his works were composed. Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany on 16th December 1770 and he died in Vienna, Austria on the 26th March 1827. He was a man who gets angry easily, untidy, and difficult to understand. He wrote 32 piano sonatas, 9 symphonies, and so on. He composed the Piano Sonata in c minor, Op.13 “Pathetique” in 1798 and it was during that time that he noticed he was going deaf. He had a few very close friends and they stayed by his side even though sometimes there are conflicts between them. All these biography books were read in order to understand Beethoven and his music. After reading all of them, it became easier to understand Beethoven’s characteristics and how his music evolved through the years.

In this thesis, Taub, R. (2002) book helped a lot. His book title is “Playing the Beethoven Piano Sonatas”. It is one of the performance practice books that are found in the University of Malaya’s main library. He wrote about his opinion on how he thinks this piano sonata should be interpreted. For example, he said that in order to play and effective fp the pianist should depress the keys fast to create forte, then immediately allows the sound to rise so that the sound can be immediately become soft. This information from the author is very helpful in this thesis in chapter four.

The piano is the main instrument which is used most in this thesis because the analysis of this thesis is related to the piano. The Pianoforte written by Clutton, C. (1969) is a small chapter from a book titled Musical Instruments through the Ages which is edited by Anthony Baines. The chapter explains about the history of the piano about how it was created and who first created it. The piano was later developed a lot during the classical period. The piano became well known after Mozart started composing music for the piano in the 1770s. Another two similar books which is about the piano are The Piano: A History by Ehrlich, C. (1976) and Keyboard Interpretation: from the 14th to the 19th Century by Ferguson, H. (1975). The touch, fingering, tones, musical types and forms, and pianist problems are very important and must be solved in order to interpret the music successfully. This is related to one of the objectives in this thesis because over the years the piano is always being developed in the 18th century until now. So a brief history of the piano should be included in this thesis so that everyone who read this thesis can understand how the piano was made and why different pianos create different sounds. Pedalling techniques are sometimes different on the pianos that the pianists are playing. It will be discussed further in chapter four.

1.4 Objectives

There are a few objectives which need to be achieved in doing this topic besides fulfilling my graduation requirement which are:

To examine the performance practice of Beethoven’s early/ middle/ late sonata on today’s grand piano but this thesis will only focus on one of his early piano sonata.

To analyze the movements and the way it should be played on today’s grand piano because during the time of Beethoven, they used a different style and technique to approach this piano sonata. This thesis will help the readers who read this to play the piano sonata if they are having difficulty in understanding how it should be played.

To analyze the recording of a few musicians playing this piano sonata whether they are playing similarly or different than what it is written on the score and also to see which pianist piano playing is best to be learnt from.

Comparing the urtext edition score and another publisher score to see which version is


1.5 Methodology

The method that will be applied in this research is mainly on researching secondary resources, surfing through the internet and visiting the libraries which can be gain accessed and permission. In order to understand the field that is chosen, a lot of secondary resources is needed which are books, articles from journals, e – journals and thesis. Those secondary resources helped picked the topic and title for this thesis. By going to the University of Malaya’s main library and also borrowed some of the lecturer’s books, it can be found that a book titled “Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven” by William Earl Caplin are very useful for this thesis. There is also an article titled “The Paradox of Musical Analysis” from the Journal of Music Theory which was written by Mark DeBellis which was found in the University of Malaya’s main library in the journal section. This article gave a brief idea on how the thesis should begin and how to start the musical analysis. All the methods which were mentioned will be carried out towards the end of the research because getting more information is very important for this research.

The books in the University of Malaya’s main library also have many biography books of the composer, Ludwig van Beethoven which is in the research. Books which were written by Knight, F., Latham, P., Solomon, M., Sadie, S., Scott, M.M., Leonard, R.A., Krehbiel, H., Merek, G.R. and others all talked about Beethoven’s life, hardships, compositions that he composed, challenges that he faced and his sickness. The books had many different styles in describing his life, hardships, compositions and challenges. These books can help in the thesis while it is being done because they are like guide books of Beethoven’s life on what he had done and achieved.

Books which are related to performance practice are also used in this thesis are also found in the University of Malaya’s main library. A book which was written by Taub, R. was about how to play the Beethoven’s sonata. This book interprets how a Beethoven sonata should be played by the author. A book which was written by Ferguson, H. and Marshall, R. L. will also be used for this thesis. All these books are related to what is being analyzed in this thesis.

After finding all the secondary resources for data and understanding them which are related to the thesis, the topic and title of the thesis can now begin analyzing. The scores which are taken from two types of publications will be analyzed. The first analysis is by analyzing the piano sonata’s movements such as modulations, dynamics, articulations, pedal points and others. The second analysis is by comparing both editions of the scores which are from different publications to see whether there are similarities or differences. The third analysis is to analyze a video of a pianist who uses one of those editions in interpreting his or her playing of the Beethoven piano sonata on the grand piano.

In order to get information for the research, there are many sources that can be access easily through the internet. For example, the JSTOR database and MUSE database. These websites can be accessed for references and articles from journals for the research. With the use of internet, it is also possible to purchase a book through the internet in amazon.com that cannot possibly be purchase in any of Malaysia’s bookstores. There are books which are sometimes not available in Malaysia because the bookstores in Malaysia did not order them. It is also because those books are not so suitable to everyone. The books are usually bought by musicians and people who want to gain more music knowledge. The internet can also be use to view videos of famous pianist playing the piano sonata. The videos can be easily viewed in Youtube.com. By observing them through the videos, a comparison can be made on which pianist plays the piano sonata better and also which edition of the score is being interpreted the most.

All these will be done in chapter two, three and four. A CD will be provided with this thesis for this piano sonata. The CD contains two pianists who play the same piano sonata which is Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in c minor, Op.13 “Pathetique”.


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