My intention was to write about the sonatas in order, so I apologize that I’m jumping ahead a little here. After the Op. 7 sonata there are the Op. 10 Nos. 1 and 2 before this one, but I’m recording the Op. 10 No. 3 next week and this is a great way for me to get really into the piece, to get the imagination going, and to have to do the much revered basement pre-recording. So here we go, Op. 10 No. 3 in D Major.
Before getting to the actual sonata, I would like to ponder for a few moments on something I think I missed about the very first sonata, Op. 2 No. 1. As I mentioned, there is the same “rocket” in that sonata:
as is in a Symphony by Mozart:
I wrote mostly about what makes the Beethoven “rocket” so different from the Mozart one, but after having spent even more time with the sonatas, I am quite sure that Beethoven meant to quote Mozart as an homage to his, well, musical idol.
We have examples like this in many pieces, one of my favorite musical quote is in Leonard Bernstein’s wonderful, wonderful West Side Story. Listen to when the words “there’s a place for us…” is sung:
(This is from the movie from the 60s I think…it is phenomenal, and if you haven’t seen it, do!)
Now, this little phrase “There’s a place…” is “stolen” from who? Ehhh, Beethoven, of course. This is the Emperor Concerto, slow movement. Listen at 0.25, there it is…
This is not Bernstein running out of his own melodies, and he had to cheat. This is a little moment of love for Beethoven shown by Bernstein in his music, a little celebration if you want. Just as Beethoven did to Mozart in his first notes in his first sonata.
This was a little bit of a sidetrack to the op. 10 No. 3 sonata, but not entirely. Because what Beethoven did, what Bernstein did, was to use, and to play with motives (dictionary is for those who want to know what motive is).
And playing with a motive is what Beethoven does in the first movement of this Sonata. And he does it, as he so often does with things, in absurdum.
The first movement starts like this:
It’s quite a an exciting beginning, full of energy and life. And it gets even more entertaining if you compare the beginning with the last movement, the end, of the sonata before this one in the Op. 10, the No. 2. It starts like this:
Like an someone laughing in a theatrical way, or operatic way. And of course, since it’s Beethoven, he does it…in absurdum…he does it for the WHOLE movement. It goes on and on til the end.
So, what does Beethoven do with the very next sonata? He begins it in the same way, the “laughing”. But now, he does something completely different. He stops it with an accent, BAM, just like that, without a reason, really. And it makes quite an effect, a kind of “what the heck will happen now?”-moment:
I will get a little technical here, but it’s fun and has a purpose: What you just heard was, in essence:
1) Octaves (meaning there are no harmonies, just ALWAYS the same notes played at the same time: first there are three D:s, then three C#s, etc.)
2) There is only one voice (stämma in Swedish)
3) Short notes, which is called staccato
4) Basically an upward motion
Let’s take a look, or a hearing rather, at what happens next:
Here we have the following:
1) ALL the steps in the motion are now chords, instead of octaves
2) several voices
3) sustained, connected notes, which is called legato
4) a downward motion
Just everything, everything is upside down in comparison with the first seconds of the sonata…and yet…when you put them together, it they fit quite well together:
How is that possible?
It is possible because Beethoven takes a little motive, the very first four notes taken from the beginning:
And uses it in the downward motion, listen to the “one-two-three-four-one-two-three-four” going down in steps:
And this is only the beginning, to say the least. Beethoven will use this little four-note motive, which by itself is nothing (really, nothing) and use it in every which way throughout the whole first movement. In no other sonata movement will Beethoven be this extreme in using the same motive over and over again.
I love how Beethoven “restarts” the octave-laughing theme and this time he stops it again, but in another, much more dramatic way.
An what comes after that? NOT what one would expect after that dramatic gesture. It’s a pretty melody, bubbly, almost childish:
This is typical of this movement. The music turns and twist, it’s surprising and entertaining, exciting and energetic – without no real melodies or themes.
Let’s continue from where we ended the last clip and hear the second theme, which shows up at 0.11 :
Not too much to write home about perhaps…if it was not for the humorous quality: the first four notes…
are the famous first little notes
…but he now plays them in double speed.
is a little variation of the first “one-two-three-four”-theme, the first four notes. But this one is played in HALF the speed.
To continue, listen to the left hand, the lower part at 0.06 and forward. The little four notes are there constantly…
And listen to this, a variation of the four notes, over and over again…
To finish the piece, Beethoven kind of rolls the music like a snowball rolling down a hill getting larger and larger and then Bang!, we’re at the end.
We have a piece of music that is so exciting, built on the simplest motive you can ever imagine.
Beethoven sometimes strikes me like a magician, who asks his audience “who can give me the simplest, silliest motive?”. He then takes it and makes great music out of it.
On a slightly philosophical note, isn’t this something really great in itself? To take something “common”, and make something “special”? When I hear a melody of Mozart and Schubert I feel like I am entering holy ground. But isn’t fulfillment in life based on being able to see the beauty of every-day things? Things we do or see all the time?