This month, I actually had more of a chance to dig in to the sonata I’ve assigned myself. I’m finding that the more I can do at the piano with each piece, the more I get to it… of course, we also had fall break, but the trend doesn’t bode well for Opus 106, which will be coming up in short order–March of next year. Honestly, “Hammerklavier” has been looming on the horizon since the start of this project, but that was sort of the point all along. I will not avoid the piece just because it is hard.
Back to the topic at hand, though, Opus 79. What a little gem! When I teach Forms next fall, we will be interested in this little piece. Again, I should be reading Beethoven’s biographies along with this project, but it’s very interesting to me that just when much of his music was getting bigger he came up with these two littler sonatas. Market forces, perhaps?
The first movement starts with a theme that feels like a rondo theme in a way, but the movement has nothing to do with that form. If each of these sonatas is a different experiment, perhaps that is the idea in this one. Not that it falls into the category of “sonata-rondo” like, say, the finale of the Schumann piano quintet, but more and more Beethoven seems to be trying to break out of the mold of the sonata, of writing music by formula. I’ve always been taught that this was what Romantic composition was, but to see it in action is another thing entirely. I think back–two years ago now!–to the Opus 2 sonatas that seem so much more “by the book,” as though Beethoven had read Caplin’s (amazing) book on Classical form. At any rate, even though this piece is relatively small, it isn’t the same composer as those littler pieces.
The slow movement is fun, because I can nearly play it! Again, one that will come up in Forms next year, because it is a wonderful example of a ternary form that also displays interesting motion (within the A sections) to the III chord in minor.
Then the real rondo–those triplets against the eighth-two-sixteenths are unforgettable, and I can again only admire the pianists who pull them off so smoothly. I’ve been practicing that rhythm all month, and I hear it, but the hands don’t seem interested in playing it. Too bad.
I’ve talked with some people in person about what set of pieces to tackle next. Mariah Carrel-Coons, our accompanist at OPSU, jokingly suggested the Scarlatti sonatas. More within my reach perhaps, as a pianist, but not quite what I had in mind. Several pieces have suggested themselves to me. The Mahler symphonies would be a heck of a trip, and I could spend two months on each, doing analysis in my spare time, as usual. If I were to continue with Beethoven, the quartets would be the next logical direction–a section of his work largely unfamiliar to me, and a direction I would like to take as a composer. The options are plentiful–the Ligeti Etudes for piano have been calling to me; I could take a tour through the Preludes of Chopin or Debussy, with a little less time for each piece. Any suggestions?