Op.2 No.1

Beethoven Sonata Op. 2 No. 1: Allegro from WorldOfBeethoven on Vimeo.

Part two
Part three
Part four
The End

Also, at the end of this post, there is a link to part two, at the end of the part two post, there is a link to part three etc etc. Enjoy!


Those who are interested in the score can get it for free on PDF HERE


Op.2 No.1 is Beethoven’s first published sonata. He wrote it in 1795 or 1796, dedicated it to Joseph Haydn, his teacher at that point. The relation between Haydn and Beethoven was complicated: the legend goes that Beethoven simply didn’t believe Haydn taught him much. I think it is much more complex that that, but I think it is safe to say that Mozart, not Haydn, was Beethoven’s biggest influence and the composer he admired most.


A couple of things to think about in general when playing this piece:

1) The instrument of those times was very different. We may want to adapt to it or not, but listen to this piano which was Beethoven’s ( yes, this exact piano was his) in 1823, almost 30 years after he composed this sonata.

It’s a much more fragile sound than the pianos of today, no?

Not surprisingly, they looked more fragile too, with a wooden frame:

2) Beethoven was establishing himself as a composer when at the time of composing the first three sonatas. We can argue on the effects it makes on the music, but the fact is, Beethoven wrote this the same year (or the year after) as his first public performance took place in Vienna. In my opinion the music is more outwards than inwards, even in the beautiful slow movements.


The first thing almost everyone will say about this piece is that it starts with what is called the Mannheim Rocket, Mannheimer Rakete. It sounds like that could be the nickname of a very fast soccer player from Mannheim FC, but it’s not. John Corigliano, an American composer, described it very well:

“a musical technique perfected by the Mannheim Orchestra in the 18th century in which a rising figure (a scale or arpeggio) speeded up and grew louder as it rose higher and higher (hence the term “rocket”)”.

Corigliano actually wrote a symphonic piece called “The Mannheim Rocket” and he also says this:

“The “motor” of the rocket is a very low, very slow “Alberti bass”, the accompaniment pattern that has served as the motor of so many classical pieces.”

A rocket needs a motor…and you will see in a moment how Beethoven is messing with that fact in this sonata.

The Mannheim Orchestra is worth its own page. For now, let’s just introduce that phenomenon briefly. In the 18th century, Germany was not a country as we know it today. A “German” was basically someone speaking german as a mother language: Mozart referred to himself as being German, not Austrian (which was even more natural since Salzburg was not even under Habsburg rule). Every part of the German Empire, or more correctly, the Holy Roman Empire was locally ruled by a prince, or a count, or a duke. The ruler of Mannheim was actually all three, this guy:

Karl Theodore was his name. He loved the arts, and he spent some of his not-so-very-hard-earned money to pay the best musicians to come to his court and play in the court’s orchestra. This orchestra became the best there was, and it perfected things such as crescendo with the whole orchestra together and something we call the Mannhem Roller. That is when you keep the bass, but go higher and higher above it in a crescendo. I’m going to give you two examples:

The first is the beginning of the piece An Arkeology by Jonas Nydesjö, we have three Mannheim inventions . There is the synchronized crescendo with the whole orchestra, there is a Mannheim Roller, and there is also what is called the Mannheim Birds (imitation of birds chirping in solo passages) in the solo violin.:

I love the bird, very Vivaldi!


Then we have another example of a Mannheim Roller. They stay with the bass tone (which is called ostinato) and goes up, up, up.

Sugar Baby Love:

Get the idea? These build-ups were not really existing before they started doing it in Mannheim. (without the Bap-shuadi, Bap-shuadiadi, though).


Let’s then get back to the beginning of the Op. 2 No. 1 Sonata, which as mentioned starts with a Mannheim Rocket:

The classic example of another Mannheim Rocket is in Mozart’s g minor symphony:


Now, what is much more interesting to me than just establishing that those two pieces begins with the same kind of Mannheim Rocket, and this is quite essential to getting to know the Beethoven sonata, is this: Why do they actually sound so different when the begin with the same motive?

To me, the Mozart rocket is something you can sing along to easily, it gets stuck in your head right away (you might end up singing it for the rest of the day quite easily), while Beethoven does not have that quality at all. And it’s essentially the same motive. Now we’re getting to more interesting territory. Because it’s WHAT Beethoven does with his rocket, and what he surrounds it with that makes it so different.


Mozart puts a nice “motor” under his rocket ( plus the fact that strings have a more melodic sound than a piano), which gives the motive a bouncy and more melodic character. The “motor” is the accompagnement, and what does Beethoven do with the accompagnement? Well, instead of giving the piece a steady beat, he takes away the first beat in every bar. He tears things apart, the music breathes irregularly, and this is why you won’t sing this one in your car.

Let’s take the example of accompaniment from the dictionary, and do to it what Beethoven makes with his left hand in the beginning of the sonata:

(Somehow I think this would not be the same hit, but it would be fun to hear a performance, though.)


So, while the accompaniment in the Beethoven sonata is being very unstable, the right hand rocket is the driving force, the “motor”. And then, instead of just playing the rocket twice, nice and balanced like Mozart, he repeats it with shorter and shorter versions, so there is this sense of urgency and impatience (which might very well be quite close to Beethoven’s own character, actually).

Now, here is the whole beginning of the sonata:

(yes, that’s me breathing, the music makes me breath like that…I gotta work on it)

This is actually much more closer to Joseph Haydn than to Mozart:

to build a piece by tearing apart what it’s made of.

Sounds like an impossible thing, doesn’t it? But guys, this is art and that’s the beautiful thing with art: it defies logic.

So, we got through the first seconds of the sonata, yay! We’ll cover much more in the next post, where I don’t have to yap about Mannheim…

14 thoughts on “Op.2 No.1

  1. Thanks a lot for this interesting lesson! An amateur like me needs this kind of guidance sometimes, in order to understand what’s “between the lines”, hence getting a more in-depth understanding of the music.

    It will be interesting to see if you can guide me further into the world of Beethoven’s … you see, I have always had a dual opinion of him. Brilliant composer of some true masterpieces, of course, but there is also something that repels me from time to time … My thoughts almost automatically forms the phrase “difficult music from a difficult mind” when I listen to Beethoven. Sure all these portraits of that angry face help giving that impression, also the knowledge that he got deaf and bitter.

    Maybe he was bitter because he was born in the wrong century. 😉 I am sure he would have been a mega star of rock if he had lived today. On the other hand, rock would probably not had sounded the way it does today, if Beethoven not had laid the foundation 150 years ago … Well, somehow you can always hear a bit of Beethoven in modern rock music, can’t you?

    I’m looking forward to the Moonlight Sonata!

  2. “Between the lines” is very well put! Actually, it didn’t feel like that much work because it’s fun to write about something that one is very passionate about. And I benefit from it myself, having to articulate certain things and it makes me think a little harder.

    Oh, you will see: Beethoven has a fantastic sense of humor in his music! Angry and bitter maybe sometimes…but also a very passionate human being, and now you got me the idea to post some of his letters here! They are fantastic.

  3. Exactly, when you write with passion you don’t notice that you work at all, you are “in the flow”. (That’s how you can spot real passionate work, right? That it is not hard … just intense. And that you afterwards feel like you have been on a tour to … um, a galaxy far far away …)

    Sense of humour in his music? Hm, show me …

    Nice idea to show his letters. BTW, the only curiosity I happen to know about LvB is that his handwriting was rather sloppy and hard to read (why is this not surprising?) Therefore the name of his famous piano piece “Für Elise” is probably just a result of a misreading.

  4. Dear Per,

    This is all very interesting to me. I enjoyed seeing the piano that Beethoven used and wondered at it’s switch of black to white keys and visa-versa. Kind of reminds me of the left-handed piano today – that has the curve of the piano on the left and plays treble with the left hand. *secretly wonders what THAT would do to the Beethoven sonatas.

    Well, as I see it, Beethoven had an abusive father and ran away from home seeking solace. He immediately found it – but did not know what to do with it once he met Haydn. In my mind, Haydn was the perfect ‘father.’ He was kind, forgiving, and understood the place where Beethoven was at. He even helped him work through some ‘stuff.’

    I hear, in the first sonata – Beethoven – having run away from home, searching up every alley he can find looking for the place he should now be. Of course, I think he would have stuck with Haydn had his mother not died and he had to go back and attend her funeral – but you hear not only the ‘help’ that Haydn was giving him systematically and musically – but the love that Haydn poured out on him.

    Haydn, if I remember right, was also a ‘street kid.’ He was kicked out of the chorale he sang in when his voice changed. His family wasn’t wealthy and he was forced to eek out an existence at quite a young age. This forced both him and later Beethoven to become extremely skillful at what they did to simply survive the times.

    But, they were both different. Beethoven immediately put his skills to expressing what he was feeling. In this piece, I hear Beethoven – a young boy – running away (almost in a panic). He could no longer take what was happening to him and he runs in very many directions – not sure exactly what he should do since he is still very young.

    Then, you have this beautiful adagio. To me, this is Haydn simply taking Beethoven in and talking to him. Not overbearing or harsh – but simply giving him reason and telling him that he has talent. Beethoven may resist being taught at this point – but he comes back to Haydn later in his life and almost says ‘he taught me everything I know’ in terms of understanding of making music ‘sing.’ The Opus 28 would be one of my examples (also in 3/4) that ‘sings’ itself. And, some of the singing middle movements that Beethoven seems to come up with effortlessly. In fact, the first movement of the Opus 28 reminds me of Beethoven’s impression of Haydn – and then the contrast between Haydn and his father in the Andante of the Opus 28.

    You can’t force a person to be a musician – even if they already are one in the highest degree. Beethoven’s father was like Mozart’s father – if I remember right – and thought that making a prodigy was a systematic process. However, he was often drunk and beat the boy for not practicing. Haydn, a musician – understood the tender, and almost religious (if not taught him about G-d) and loving way that music comes to us. To listen to inspiration and to ‘go with it’ gently and not force it. I believe it was Haydn that taught Beethoven to listen to nature. To go for walks. To become ‘at peace’ with himself and G-d. Well, that’s all for now. Susan

  5. Dear Per,

    I forgot to say ‘thanks’ for all the information about the Manneheim ‘rocket/s’ and for helping to inform us as to the methods to Beethoven’s madness. Vienna was also a definining place for Beethoven, and he learned to refine his ‘feelings’ and add a bit of class and at the same time to be ‘in their face.’

    For instance, in Vienna – you’d have orchestras that played so refined that they wouldn’t THINK of doing what Beethoven does in measure 146 of the Opus 2 No 1. Just basically stops everything like a policeman at an accident site. Right there, near the end. I’m wondering if that almost gave Haydn a heart attack. I mean, this kid is supposedly inheriting Mozart’s style from Haydn and the kid is putting roadblocks already in his music.

    He MAKES people think. What has just happened? But, he is very sneaky. He sets everything up like a staged accident. Well, that’s all for now. Susan

  6. PS I think what Beethoven has already done in the first movement – in his unusual use of a backwards and upside down ‘picardy third’ – in the sense that in this measure 146 we are expecting major – and we get diminished. Perhaps this is one of Beethoven’s first cracks in the sonata to create a larger form.

    The minuet/trio of the Opus 2 no1 – is changed suddenly in the second sonata to be a Scherzo. That was an unusual development also. Showing that Beethoven liked to break boundaries and wasn’t interested in conforming totally to Viennese politeness.

  7. First of all, thanks for all the comments! It’s interesting (however “risky”, but that’s evident of course) to see it from a psychological angle as you do here. Very true, Beethoven had a family situation which was never happy, not in childhood and later trying to take care of his nephew Karl was also a disaster.

    What is interesting is how could he develop such an amazing sensitivity with this kind of early life?

    To be fair though, his Father’s quest for the young Ludwig to be a child prodigy also made him see very good teachers as a boy, who helped him get support from rich and influential people very early on.

    I don’t think that Beethoven refused to be taught actually…he just thought Haydn was not spending enough energy as a teacher. As I understand it he WANTED to learn but didn’t think Haydn cared enough.

    Now, to get more info on Haydn’s influence on Beethoven, any suggestions?

    Yes, in the second sonata the minuet becomes a scherzo. Is that the first time in history perhaps? I’m not sure.

    It is certainly possible that someone with a calm, nice childhood would not have written this as a first sonata…

  8. Dear Per,

    I enjoy reading your blog and your answers. You are a very thoughtful person. From all I have learned about Haydn – and that is typically from college music history textbooks – he wasn’t hard to reach at all. He was in fact, the other way around. It was Beethoven that was a bit of a ‘sass master.’ Perhaps if his attitude was not so good at the beginning – it could start one off on a bad footing – but from all I have read Haydn bent over backwards to make sure that Beethoven had all the necessary information to go forward. What Haydn did far outshone any of the connections his father provided. After all, his family was dirt poor and couldn’t afford weekly lessons. I don’t think that he got more than 10 lessons in total throughout his entire youth – but I could be wrong. However, his father DID ask him to practice and perform in the middle of the night for groups of friends that would come over – drunk – and not really interested as his father would be in his playing. It was a ‘monkey’s audience.’ Haydn, on the other hand – wasn’t pushing Beethoven to perform – but to listen to the Masters and learn. To be quiet – stop thinking of himself so much – and to take things in systematically so that he could become a composer/pianist and not just pretend that he had an education.

  9. I believe that actually the only ‘real’ teacher that was provided to Beethoven in his youth besides his own father was Christian Gottlieb Neefe -the court organist. I have no idea if he offerred his services to the young Beethoven for free or not – but perhaps it was the first real start for Beethoven in learning about courtly matters.

    Haydn introduced Beethoven to Johann Albrechtsberger – counterpoint teacher. And, also took informal lessons from Antonio Salieri! for vocal composition since he had lived in Vienna since 1766. The contacts in Vienna were much more impressive than those in Bonn – but the ones in Bonn were the ones that got him in. His Bonn employer was MAximilian Franz whose brother was the Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II.

    According to my textbook ‘Concise History of Western Music’ – ‘Beethoven had rooms in one of the houses of Prince Karl von Lichnowsky’ and was able to start travelling to Prague for concerts and whom he played private concerts for in his palace in Vienna. Also, Prince Lobkowitz kept a private orchestra that played at Vienna and some Bohemian country estates and ‘bought rights to first performances of some of Beethoven’s works.’

    Prince Kinsky, Archduke Rudolph (younger bro of Francis II) – other patrons as well – Jerome Bonaparte, king of Westphalia, German-Bohemian Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, and of course Baron Von Swieten. I think Haydn provided the ‘link’ to all these people by giving Beethoven the extra lessons that he did and training him – although at the time Beethoven liked to think he was self-made.

  10. Something else that Beethoven was probably introduced to was the masonic link that Mozart, Haydn, and a few others were a part of. Haydn preferred what some would call ‘good’ masonry and didn’t much care for the myth and magic. If there is such a thing as good masonry – it would be that most of the jobs back then were assigned to people according to the trades that their families might have possessed for generations.

    In Germany, people were even named for their trades! The name cooper, for instance, was a group of people who made flasks or barrels to hold various things – including beer and whatever else. Anyways, I’m sure Haydn initiated him into the ‘masonic’ traditions so that there was an element of ‘help’ at all times from Haydn on that basis, too. Haydn was unusual because when he gained so much fame and applause for ‘the Creation’ oratorio – he gave all the glory back to G-d and pointed up and said ‘don’t give me the credit’ or something like that.

    Beethoven often mulled over the example of Haydn – so different than that of many others who were full of themselves. Haydn was specifically and unusually different. I would go so far as to say that he was the George Washington of music. He had high ideals and he deemed a certain organization and planned humanization of this earth by a Creator. Others recognized the devil and gave him more credit than the creator – by making the performer more important than the performed works. Beethoven picked up on this and was never concerned about his personal looks or how he came across to audiences. He was all about the music.

  11. Susan,
    althouh I find your suggestion of how Beethoven’s own background is integrated with his music very interesting and thoughtful, I have to agree with Per that it is a risky interpretation.
    When it comes to artists, their private life and their works, I have found that many people often overdo the psychological explanations and connections. Recently I made a reflection about this in a mail to a friend, although it was about writing rather than music. I wrote “if this theory is true, noone would interpret my novel better than my closest relatives, who know me the best”. No, it is NOT true.
    I said it myself here the other day, that I think of Beethoven’s music as “difficult music from a difficult mind”. But I think I’m learning now … and maybe I would be even more open-minded about the music if I had no idea whatsoever of who Beethoven was, what he looked like, anything at all.

    Still, I like to read about your ideas, as they stimulate the imagination quite a lot and help to give a new view on the music … but they can be untrue as well as true.

  12. I would say I’m on both sides here. But, I will move this discussion over to the “Forum”, is that OK? Just a little organizational thing to have the site and the comments more easy to follow…

  13. Sure! And, Christina, I appreciate and understand what you are saying. However, the fact that Haydn was agreeable and helpful to Beethoven is an important thing to me. Haydn was not as difficult as some make him out to be. As far as I have read, he was quite the other way. A very cheerful, upbeat, helpful man who many called ‘papa’ Haydn.

  14. Cheers for doing this, mate. It really helps. I’m mostly self-teaching myself, so websites like this REALLY help me!

    Beethoven is the Man!

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