Work: Sonata for Piano no 21 in C major, Op. 53 "Waldstein"
About This Work
Following the acquisition of an Erard fortepiano in 1803, Beethoven was inspired to write this sonata, one of the finest among his 32. The composer had known for about two years that he was losing his hearing, but he was far from complete deafness.
The crisper tones of the new instrument were much more appealing to him than his old Walter piano. This sonata, dedicated to the composer's patron and friend Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, came on the scene as a great challenge for pianists. The first movement, marked Allegro con brio, begins with a rhythmic, driving, obsessive theme that creates an enormous sonic space and a veritable energy field between the hammering chords in the left hand and the right hand's completion of the phrase, several octaves higher. Reiterated, starting from a slightly lower register, the theme seems less energetic, but the effect is deceptive. While the energy level remains high, additional ideas are developed, and the second subject is introduced as each of these ideas strives to dominate the composition's discourse. This second subject, in E major, introduces a moment of tranquillity, but calm quickly dissipates, moving toward a brilliant, triumphant finish with the underlying rhythmic intensity of the main theme. The development section begins with a darker cast to the main theme, which then goes off into a new direction. The previous materials become interlaced and developed, and this process generates considerable tension. In the reprise that follows, Beethoven ingeniously avoids a mere restatement by expanding on the phrase at the end of the main theme's first reappearance. There are many other deft touches here, including the brilliant coda based on the main theme. The second movement, bearing the marking Introduzione (Adagio molto), is short, serious, and introspective, drawing its immense dramatic power from the many figurative transformations of the initial three-note utterance spanning the interval of a sixth. Significantly, the mysterious, contemplative mood of the opening is enriched by the expressive lyricism of the melody appearing in the middle part. This counterpoint of pure lyricism and contemplation constitutes the essence of the movement. Originally, Beethoven wrote what is now known as the Andante favori as the second movement, but decided not to include a movement he considered too long. Without pause, the music emerges from the philosophical atmosphere of the Adagio and blossoms into the brilliant main theme of the finale, marked Rondo (Allegretto moderato). This melody, appearing as seven notes then repeating all but the last, has a pastoral quality in its quieter moments at the beginning. However, Beethoven transforms this tranquil mood into one of ecstatic celebration, spelled out by colorful sprays of notes that establish a harmonic base. As the theme develops and new ideas are introduced, the dramatic intensity of the movement, reinforced by a repetitive octave-figuration in the left hand, yields to moments of fatigue. However, the main theme returns, imposing a triumphant and joyous sense of order, and a scintillating coda completes the composition. With its mighty rhythmic drive, harmonic inventiveness, thematic incandescence, and wealth of ideas, this sonata is one of the great works of the piano repertoire.
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