Form in Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas (I) – Nos. 1 & 2, 1st Movements

Op.2 contains 3 sonatas which were dedicated to Joseph Haydn. It is clear that Beethoven dedicated these sonatas to Haydn in order to pay tribute to one of the most successful composer of his era, and also of the genre of piano sonata. Yet, in terms of style, these sonatas fit more into the style of Beethoven, instead of Haydn. One can see all the characteristics of Beethoven’s music in these sonatas.

No.1 in F Minor, 1. Movement

This movement is a very good example of creating a complete sonata movement with fragmented materials. It does not contain many melodies or themes but Beethoven managed to build this movement on fragmentations of rare themes.

The main theme is in tight-knit sentence form. The first 4 demonstrates typical I-V response of sentence. In the last 4 bars, continuation phrase, the turn figure of basic idea is fragmented and this phrase ends with a HC in tonic. Transition begins with the main theme in c and continues again with fragmentations, turn figure of basic idea. Instead of a new material, he used some fragmentations for his transition. This part ends in HC in 3. degree, A flat major, where the subordinate theme begins. The figure of main theme is ascending staccato arpeggio. In contrary to this, the subordinate theme has a descending figure. Although the subordinate theme is in A flat major as expected, the usage of f flat gives us a feeling of minor instead of major. Afterwards, it reaches its climax where the A flat major is clear with the forte dynamic. Exposition ends with a small closure. Development starts with Pre-Core, which uses the main theme as its material. It modulates to b flat minor where the Core begins. The material is again familiar, subordinate theme, which builds up the development section. After the sequences of this theme, in the 81. bar, it is linked to dominant area of f minor. The key is clearly confirmed by standing on dominant. Retransition with fragmentations leads us to Recapitulation. There is nothing different in recap in terms of sonata-form principles as everything occurred in home key. Beethoven preferred to end the movement with a small codetta. As it can be seen, the materials of whole movement are limited but Beethoven was very successful in terms of creating a fully piece with fragmented ideas. He creates a great tension throughout the movement by mostly using minor keys.

No.2 in A Major, 1. Movement

Compared to first one, this sonata is technically more challenging and it is larger in terms of form. Although it’s in sonata form, its tonal plan is a bit interesting. The movement begins with 8 bar introduction. It has a certain motivic figure but it is hard to call it as a theme. Main Theme has a canonic structure as the melody is transferred from right hand to left hand successively. Transition begins with a technical passage and includes a fragmentation from the main theme as we always see in Beethoven’s music. Subordinate theme comes with a mode change from E major to minor. Another interesting point is that instead of staying in subordinate key, the theme first goes to other keys such as G and B Flat. In the medial part, it stabilizes E Major and the exposition is closed with some technical passages. The development section is the most interesting part due to its tonal plan and structure. The expected key is E Major since the home key is A. Yet, it begins in C major. The material of Pre-Core is exactly the intro of exposition. Core begins with a deceptive cadence, continues the material of Pre-core in different keys and ends with a HC in F major. Then, the second part of development begins in F. This part is more like the representation of previous ideas in different keys. It begins with the presentation of main theme in F. Then, kind of fragmentation occurs in d. If one summarizes the tonal plan of development section, it should be stated that, although C and F Major look like remote keys they are actually in a triadic relation with A Major. F-A-C keys shape the tonal plan of development. After all of these, retransition leads to recap which contains all the parts of expo in home key, as expected. Although these sonatas are dedicated to Haydn, they are very different than his approach to genre. The tension, dramatic side and tonal plan make them beyond the classical period and close to romantic approach. Yet, the movements are still in sonata form.

Analysis on score;

No.1 in F Minor, 1. Movement

No.2 in A Major, 1. Movement

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