“In opera, there is always too much singing”
Opus 2, Beethoven’s first opus for piano, finishes with a splendid, magnificent and very virtuosic sonata in C Major.
To start, I would like you to watch a couple of youtubes. Why? Because they are such wonderful examples from the world of Opera Buffa, which is comic opera. And to “get” the op.2 nr. 3 you got to have a taste of Opera Buffa first. There were two main style of operas, Opera Buffa and Opera Seria, which was, of course, serious opera. There is much more to it, and we will take a look at Opera Seria when we get to Beethoven’s next sonata, which is opus 7.
So, first one: The Magic Flute
Papageno has in despair wished to take his life instead of living without Papagena. He is reminded by the three boys that he can ring his magic bell, and BING, the bells indeed brings Papagena, and the happy couple is united, stuttering at first (“pa … pa … pa”) in astonishment. They can’t really believe it, and it takes them some time to realize that it IS him/her…Papageno looks scared at first:
I love those outfits! This is technically a Singspiel but has everything Opera Buffa you can wish for.
The second youtube is the first scene of “Marriage of Figaro“: Figaro and Susanna are busy making themselves ready for their wedding night. Figaro, of course, by measuring the bed: five…ten…twenty…thirty. Susanna wants to make herself pretty. This whole bed-thing is important since later the count will think it’s his right to sleep with Susanna before Figaro does. Anyway, here is the beginning, they sing something like this:
“Just look a moment, my dearest Figaro,
look over here at my hat.”
“Ah, on the morning of our wedding day
How sweet to my loving bridegroom
is this charming little hat,
which Susanna made herself.”
(I think we are all to understand that Figaro is, however, thinking a lot more of the bed than her hat…)
Hm…now when I listened something comes to my mind, and is this only my dirty mind playing a trick? Listen to how the violins goes up…TAAra…when Figaro is measuring the bed. Then it goes a little higher…TAAAra…and a little higher yet…you get what I’m hinting at? There are funny, erotic undertones here. Mozarts letters to his wife were sometimes very x-rated and I think he is having great fun here.
Anyway, back to Beethoven, who thought Mozart’s operas were great music but sometimes low in moral standards…
This Sonata begins in a Opera Buffa mood, with this first little thing:
answered by this:
And then this:
It has the style and character of comic opera, doesn’t it?
Just after this giggling, smiling beginning comes an outburst of loud, fast notes. A quite famous pianist wrote about this passage that it annoyed him, it’s empty virtuosity for show-off. I would like to make the case that it comes as a perfectly fitting subito fortissimo in Overture style. And of course Beethoven also writes this to show off his splendid technique…and so what? Relax, one can’t read Goethe for breakfast every morning.
What I mean with a subito (sudden) fortissimo in Overture style is this:
I also found it in my favorite song by The Ark! Bottleneck Barbiturate:
Here is the beginning of the sonata, watch out for the energetic, splendid subito fortissimo:
And then, just like that, there is a new theme, a new character entering the stage. It’s kind of a funny “trouble in paradise”-feeling to it:
People often say that Beethoven is a lot about “construction” and Mozart is a lot about opera. Well, in my opinion, this doesn’t work with the young Beethoven. His pieces are in many cases very theatrical, and I understand their charm and beauty much better through the prism of the opera style.
One more thing about this theme…this theme is in minor, and as said, it appears very suddenly. If you listen again to the beginning of the sonata, it is SO STRONGLY in C-major, it never moves half an inch away from it:
And then, all of a sudden, minor…this, my friends (as John McCain would say) is one of the first examples of when Beethoven uses (a new) tonality as a color.
It is a little strange word, color, to describe sound. But during the 18th century critics used many different ways of describing music, many of them gastronomical (this is why we use the word “taste”) and some of them stuck.
Let’s explain it like this: this piece is in C Major. If you then play C Major, you give the listeners other things to listen for, no need to feel any special stuff about what key you are in. But then, the music jumps to a very different key and all of a sudden you become conscious of that different key. That’s a tonal color. For example, the key change one step up in a pop song is one kind of a “coloring tonality” (At around 0.20):
The Ark: The Worrying Kind
Let’s jump to the end of the exposition (in this movement, we will HAVE to know the sonata form to get some jokes later on…)
This reminds me of Dick Cheney trying to shoot at birds…he is constantly missing. The left hand is just NOT getting it right, it’s like someone says “and you should play…NOW”, which would be on the first beat. Instead, the left hand is three times coming too late:
Of course, Beethoven will then put it three times ON THE BEAT!!! and it sounds just as silly:
This is musical humor, and also very theatrical. At least to me.
The theater continues…for a long time, I could just not understand how to play this, or what to think of this. But now I just think of it as the music “looking around a little anxiously”. We know something will happen, but what?
Well, what happens is that he just finishes the exposition in a grandiose way! Oh, and sorry the pianists thinking every note by Beethoven is VERY DEEP…this is totally shallow stuff. But oh so dazzling when played in a concert.
Now comes the development, stormy, stormy…and of course we are waiting for the recap, which will mean that we hear the beginning again…right? This?
OK, listen here, the storm followed by…
We got our theme…but Beethoven is playing a trick on us. This is not the real tonality, and it is NOT the recap. It’s a false recap. Dear Ludwig is setting us up so that he can chock us with a sudden loud chord.
You know what? I LOVE playing this part. Everytime, you will make someone jump in their chair. A little mean, but fun…
3 thoughts on “Op.2 No.3”
This is the third time I’ve watched that video of Papageno. I love their characters, costumes, and funny expressions. Wherever you found this – it’s really great!
The thing about ‘Figaro’ is that mocking the aristocracy was easier done this way – and people in that day took their lives into their own hands by what they ultimately did based upon their core beliefs and not those imposed upon them.
I have yet to see the complete opera of Beethoven’s – Fidelio – but there is a sense of him stating his core beliefs there about love and romance. Perhaps the sad ‘joke’ truly was on Beethoven very early in life when his brother married Johanna. I think, somehow, they both were in love with her – but i cannot be certain. It is my guesstimate that when his brother married her – Beethoven wrote about this loss as a sort of ‘joke’ and was reminded that not all in love and life is to be taken too seriously – otherwise one might die over love rather than just chalk it up to the idea that one may get less than three wishes in life all confirmed at around the same time.
Something that is interesting about the first four sonatas from ‘The Life and Works of Beethoven:’ When Beethoven wrote his first four piano sonatas in four
movements he was plainly presuming to lift them to the impor-
tance of trios or quartets. Composers until then had never ven-
tured to detain an audience with more than three movements of
piano solo.* The main allegro and a presto close were often
enough. Sometimes there was a slow introduction, usually a slow
movement between. Mozart and Haydn each kept the three-
movement plan, Haydn in his last years (which were contempo-
rary with Beethoven’s Opus 2 and Opus 7) further elaborating
the slow movement, as if anxious to keep abreast with Beethoven,
But Beethoven, having set a precedent for four movements,
presently showed a preference for three. The tendency was not a
* Minuets were sometimes used in easy sonatas, where with their slower
tempo they would sometimes replace the rondo finale. Haydn occasionally
substituted a minuet for a slow movement. Dussek or Hummel in late
works extended sonatas to four movements, with a “scherzo” or “scherzoso”
showing the desire, but not the ability, to emulate Beethoven.
The Pianoforte Sonatas
reversion. Pianists who paraded their own sonatas had aimed
merely at showing their paces: brilliant passage work, the orna-
mental singing tone, and the swift ad captandum bid for applause.
Beethoven was impelled from four movements to three by other
reasons. His piano was to him a more personal, less formally con-
stricted mode of expression than the larger media, where he saw
fit carefully to lay out the fourfold aspect of a subject. Sometimes
the intent of a sonata brings this four-movement amplitude; more
often Beethoven moves directly, with a dramatic and concen-
trated awareness, from first movement to intermediate movement
to finale. The first is searching, anticipatory, setting opposing ele-
ments in conflict. The slow movement finds quietude through
emotional introspection; the finale is the clear, unequivocal an-
swer, the ringing assertion, joyous or triumphant. This finale was
the peak of tension and the denouement, which by that circum-
stance moderated the emphasis of the middle movement. It like-
wise obviated a minuet or scherzo as a third movement, which in
Beethoven’s more concentrated sonatas would have been a devia-
tion, a delay of the pressing answer. Even the middle movement of
three became the link of the first and last, with an intermediate
function, a lyrical relaxation through which the memory of the
opening movement and the sense of suspense must not be dissi-
pated. For this interlude, a scherzo sometimes sufficed (Opus 10
No. 2, i4No. 2, 27 No. 2, 101, 109, no), affording relief between
more serious matters, recalling, perhaps, Shakespeare’s light in-
terludes. Sometimes, when a perceptible integration of the first
and last movements was required, an extended slow movement,
the vehicle for Beethoven’s deepest sentiments, was eliminated!
When he used a full-length slow movement, it either took the
full center of the stage so that the finale became an afterthought,
a dropping away, or broke the thread of continuity with its elabo-
rations (Opus 31, No. i). This was the evident reason for the
substitution of a short movement for a long one between the
closely connected outer movements of the “Waldstein” Sonata
and of the short slow movements, similarly placed, in the “Appas-
sionata” and “Lebewohl” Sonatas. Except in Opus 106, Opus 109,
and the last Sonata of all, Opus 1 1 1, the slow movement in all its
rich beauties was never reinstated. In Opus 109 and Opus in,
The Works of Beethoven
Beethoven amazed his contemporaries by putting the slow move-
ment at the end, making it the crux of all, the peaceful rather
than tne vociferous culmination. After his Fourth Sonata, of
1797, four movements became the exception, two or three the rule,
and, if brief or introductory movements are considered as ap-
pendages, two movements can be called the ultimate basic plan.
The effort which had its complete fruition in the two movements,
fluent, balanced, perfectly integrated, of Opus in, is clearly
observable through the course of the thirty-two sonatas.
sonatas is that they all have four movements. Here is a quote that explains a possible reasoning of Beethoven for having four from ‘The Life and Works of Beethoven’ :
I like this lesson about this piece a lot.
(As for Papageno, you know I have a dream Papageno, Per. If he ever dares to try opera one day, I’m sure this is his role. Even the outfit is perfect for him. 😉 )
I had never noticed these subito fortissimo things if you had not pointed them out, but now they seem to be almost ridiculously clear to me. And yes, I laugh at the false recap, I can very well imagine someone having fallen half asleep – does not always means you are bored, just relaxed – and then making a sudden jerk at that chord, ha ha …
I wish I was good enough at piano playing to explore things like you do. But I am too much in the “technical struggle” phase (and I will probably never come further, at least not when it comes to Beethoven) and in order to experience the MUSIC I have to listen to others. But they play the whole piece from beginning to end and it is rather difficult to make these kind of analyses on the wing, so to speak. (Maybe I could try just reading the score, but that is no fun.)
So, I’m addicted to this blog instead! 😀 Keep up the work here. I’m in.