I’m closing in on the end of this project–one Beethoven Piano Sonata each month until they’re done. Today I’ll put down what I think about Opus 90, Sonata No. 27 in E minor.
The opening phrase reminds me of where Romantic piano music was headed–it could be a Schubert impromptu, and there is a great deal of music in here that sounds very off-the-cuff–Mozart would have probably called this piece a fantasia, not a sonata. However, the colors that Beethoven obtains from the instrument over the course of the piece (both movements) are quite wonderful. I don’t recall Beethoven changing key signatures within a movement before (although, now that I think about it, the funeral march of Opus 26 goes from seven flats to four and back). The change to C-major (at least in name… the key is actually the Neapolitan, F at that point) is interesting, and happens in both movements). Interestingly, the end of the development section seems to hang out on the tonic instead of the dominant in the first movement.
The second movement–a lovely sonata-rondo. Again, the improvisatory nature seems reinforced by things like the triplets in the accompaniment at the end of the first episode, when the rest of the piece is sixteenths. I don’t know that I have ever noticed the trick in the 2nd episode in music prior to this–Beethoven is in the key of c-minor, and needs to be in c-sharp minor to get back to the home key… in a trick beloved by every choral arranger since 1975, he substitutes a dominant on G-sharp for one on G… who knew that Beethoven could be so lazy!? I heard the funny movement, and expecting to see some crazsy enharmonic thing out of the back of the theory book, here is the lamest, least-tonal (what would Schenker say here?) way to get to the key you want. I was shocked! (Is there a name for this device?)
Some writing follows that is almost as if Beethoven wished he were writing for string quartet or orchestra–the tied half-notes just cry out for winds! I wonder how much he was thinking about the seventh and eighth symphonies at this time?