Sonata op. 10 No. 2 in F Major
In the second sonata of the set of three that is Beethoven’s tenth opus (therefore, naturally, called Opus 10 number 2), we are back to the humorous Opera Buffa style that we had in the last of the first three sonatas, Op. 2 No.3.
This sonata is in F Major, a key Beethoven often used for more serene, pastoral-like pieces. For example, this wonderful fifth movement of the Pastoral Symphony:
or, in the Violin Sonata called the Spring Sonata:
It is not a sure thing that Beethoven selected his tonalities according to the character of the piece. For example, there is a Pastoral Sonata among the piano sonatas, and that one is not in F Major, but in D Major. But it is certain that some keys were more dramatic to him ( like c minor).
However, the F Major tonality is normally used for pieces with a lighter touch, and with a lyrical quality. In this sonata, Beethoven adds a joking touch to the piece as well.
Again, the music starts with the Beethoven signum: a short little motive that seems to be nothing:
And the immediate answer is just as short:
I have to say that the second motive always makes me think of a little bird…
Two plus Two and then Four…
Something interesting happens in the beginning. Often, a classical piece starts in a quite organized way, we call it the “2+2+4”. It means that you have the first half of the beginning phrase with two parts, which is followed by one part, and that part is twice as long as each of the two parts, therefore being just as long as those two parts together.
Sounds confusing? It’s simple:
Let’s take an example, not from classical music, but from Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”:
Now, the first little “part” is when he sings “Why, why” :
Then comes the answer:
That’s our 2+2
Then the 4 comes, the “Why” continues and become one single phrase instead of 2 separate ones:
If you follow the lyrics, he uses the same principles with the words:
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
The first Why is a question, which stands on its own, but the second Why is the beginning of a sentence which forms a longer phrase.
(On a side note, I think this little exercise is a good example of how one can dig a little deeper into pop music and find how good that music can be. The construction of that phrase, with the lyrics, is a notch above ordinary, if you know what I mean. Also, you look at the lyrics, think of his life and it’s deeply moving, besides being excellent poetry by itself.)
Here is one more example from Michael Jackson: You Are Not Alone
You are not alone and I am here with you is the 2+2, though you’re far away, I am here to stay is the 4:
This is exactly the same formula used by many classical composers – or, if you want, Michael Jackson uses a formula used in classical music. In the Sonata op. 2 no. 2, the first “half” the 2+2, is this:
Which is followed by a longer second “half”:
Actually, this beginning ( op. 2 no. 2) is very much like the beginning of op. 10 no.2. Both “2+2” is subdivided in smaller parts, so that it almost seems like “1+1+1+1”. But, there is a difference, and I will get to that now.
The purpose of the 2+2+4 is in most cases to present a balanced symmetry. It makes you feel that the phrase is “closed”, take the Michael Jackson song for example: after Does He Do Me That Way, you feel that there is the end of one phrase. It usually feels like it’s an entity by itself, even if it would “open up” for something new to happen, as it does in op. 2 no.2:
Let’s listen to the beginning of op. 10. no. 2 now, first the “2+2”:
Then the “4”:
But whoa! That does not feel like an end to anything at all, does it? No, that HAS to continue…which it does:
And we get our nice closing. But not, as we would have expected, in a symmetrical pattern, but with something much less solid and more fluent, thanks to Beethoven breaking up the 2-2-4 to something else. Listen again to the beautiful moment at 0.09-0.10 when the music keeps “flying” instead of “landing”:
The way Beethoven plays with the way it “should” be organized is quite typical. For example, in the Sonata op. 57, the “Appassionata”, he turns everything around: instead of starting with short phrases followed by a long phrase, he starts with a long phrase, and then follow it with a short ( follow the slur in the left hand and where that ends, ends the long first phrase, in my opinion):
That is part of why the beginning of the Appassionata sounds mysterious, and as if we are getting into dark, unknown emotional territory:
The second theme: the relief of sounding as we expect it to
Back to our sonata: the music restarts with the same motive as in the beginning, but now it turns to something completely different, almost exploding all of a sudden:
After this, comes the second theme. It is a beautiful melody, and this time, Beethoven makes the phrasing the most symmetric possible, which in itself is both a contrast and a musical necessity, there is a need for something which turns out the way we expect it to. That need makes the melody all the more beautiful: the placement of different elements, of when to do what, makes a tremendous impact in Beethoven’s music, and he was probably more skilled in that department than anyone in history.
Let’s hear this melody:
This melody follows the most predictable pattern possible – and it is the perfect moment for that, after the unexpected things in the beginning.
Style Galant, Sturm und Drang and the more folksy style
Now follows a very happy and sincerely funny part, until the exposition ends. What I find here is how Beethoven is going from first something more operatic and aristocratic:
to something much more folksy:
These two characters can be seen in many Opera Buffas: the self-centered and “unnatural” nobility on one hand, and the more pure, natural “ordinary people” on the other hand (Mozart’s operas plays with this to an unparalleled degree). All this is part of the trend towards more “reality” in life, music and arts. Take the habit of wearing a wig for example, this was abandoned both as unnatural and snobbish ( wearing a wig was a way of showing off your status).
To be able to recognize these two characters, the more aristocratic, elegant style (which is called the Style Galant) and the more simple, folksy, down-to-earth style is quite a key to both playing and listening to music from the classical era.
The other main style of opera, Opera Seria, died out as a genre because it was written for the court celebrating the court: glorious stories about Alexander The Great and such, where the heros are without faults. But in this era of democratization in Europe, people thought it much more entertaining with a story such as the one in Mozart’s opera Wedding of Figaro: Figaro the Barber and his quest to marry Suzanna without a mean Count interfering. In short, not heroes, but stories about ordinary people.
Let’s play from where we are all the way to the end of the exposition: it’s full of energy, little jokes (listen to the sudden quiet chord at 0.12), and I will ask you to listen for a few things:
at 0.06 there is a short, stormy passage. It comes without warning and without any real reason. What is this? Well, I would say it’s a little Sturm und Drang, which is the movement in arts that reacted to the Age of reason ( the Enlightenment). It stands for seeing an artistic value in things being non-rational and more extreme, off-balance.
at 0.14 you can almost imagine a market full of people chatting away.
at 0.18 you can hear the little bird-theme again from the beginning
That ends in quite a closing way, right? Bam. Bam. Bam.
Well, of course Beethoven uses these three simple notes to continue and open the development:
And then he continues to use it, and use it, those three notes that just seemed to be a simple, very simple end. Bam. Bam. Bam.
So here we are, with a piece blending so many styles: Style Galant, Sturm und Drang, the folksy style and then some more. To do that was actually the trademark of Beethoven’s idol Mozart. In the future, Beethoven would have much less of a “melting-pot” of styles in his sonatas.