On playing op.2 no.1

This might be more interesting to pianists/teachers, but maybe not?

Here is a first version of first movement:

This sonata is short, but I find it awkward to play, musically. Somehow it’s not so clear how “full-blooded” the drama should be. Both first and last movements are clearly Sturm und Drang, but it’s how far one should go with it that is difficult to me.

Q. First theme: more stately, firm…or with a certain nervousness and urgency?

I go more on the latter. Especially since the left hand is like it is. I also feel that we hear a motive that has the potential to build something dramatic and also will be played in a more openly dramatic way later. But that’s part of the tension, that we are not given that right away.


Then, should the attack be bouncy or with more “pinch” on every staccato. I go with the more bouncy choice, I think it sounds better but also because Beethoven’s pianos didn’t have as short staccatos as today’s, the dampers were not as precise (which, of course, doesn’t automatically mean he wouldn’t want it).

It’s hard to do what I want to do: NOT having an accent on the top note (Ab). I want first notes to be staccato “drive” which lands on a figure under a slur. Under the slur the figure should be more espressivo, and very easily there can be both an accent on the first note under the slur as well as the last not under the slur. Which is the LAST place there should be an accent in my opinion. Especially for the last accent it’s a technical difficulty, you’ll have to lighten up the hand and kind let it go upwards a little like a baloon when playing that figure to be able to have a quasi-diminuendo on the triplet.

This is especially hard since there is a kind of crescendo-feeling. And helas, I don’t really achieve what I want to do, which is why I might re-record this part:

On the other hand, to make too much of a dim. on the triplets might make the music lose momentum and drive?


Before the fermata, many pianists makes a ritardando, sometimes a huge one. I can’t understand why, I think it takes away the dramatic effect of the fermata and the rest. A very light ritardando is almost inevitable, but my wish is it shouldn’t be heard as a ritardando.


In bar 10-14, how much pedal? It’s obviously a more calm, lyrical part, but do we mess up the theme too much by using pedal? Again, my reference goes to Beethoven’s piano: on his piano, by holding the chords under the triple-plus-staccato motive, the overtones and the unprecise dampers would create something of a half-pedal, I think. It would just sound to much like a chicken in there to play a dry staccato. So, a fast and light foot is needed there, using half-pedal to adjust quickly to what the ears catch.


For the second theme (the rocket upside down), Schiff tells the audience (BBC) that the clash of natural E in the right hand and the Eb in the left is violent and shocking for the time. No disrespect at all to Schiff, but…I don’t know about that. You can find hundreds of things more violent in C.Ph.E. Bach’s music, not to talk about the violent dissonances you can find in J.S. Bach’s fugues.

I hear it more like an appoggiatura on an off-beat: as melodic tension. Then my choice is to not have a crescendo to the second E, where the sf is, but rather to start with a slight espressivo on the top and almost go diminuendo down. But when I recorded this a month ago, I was more into giving the theme a little bit of a “sneaky” character, “untrustworthy” sounds like a weird character of a theme, but that’s a little what I was after. So it came out like this:

I might change it…or not.


For the closing part, I’m pretty happy with how it came out. It’s kind of a “freedom” feeling, after all these interrupted, short motives there is finally a long, nice sweep over the keyboard. And that sweep is also, I think, a sort of appreciation for the instrument, Beethoven’s love for the piano. I mean, try to do this on any other instrument? And here I’m pretty sure Beethoven would have loved the way this sounds on a modern piano:


5 thoughts on “On playing op.2 no.1

  1. Giving my humble amateur opinion here, I follow your ideas about the left-out accent on the top note. That is a good idea because otherwise it would have been too … predictable, hence boring. But actually, maybe it was a bit too much diminuendo in the second shot? I found it slightly hesitating, “shy”, so to speak. So, something between …

    Bar 10-14: I think the result was very good, very enjoyable. I hope you keep it exactly like that.
    On the other hand, who am I to judge such a thing?
    On the third hand 😀 , I guess you play for my ears as well as for everybody else’s, so I keep my right not to shut up.

    The second theme: I don’t know. I’m not sure. 😕 What are your other ideas about it, if not making it “sneaky”?

  2. I certainly want to play for people’s ears, and I value your opinion, Christina.

    The predictability angle I like a lot, I didn’t think of it, but you are right I think.

    I think I wait a little too much before the high note on the second rocket…I think that gives the shy impression…and think I’ll try to fix that.

    For the second theme, I’ll try to find a take where I do the first note in the upside-down rocket more singing, more espressivo. I’ll try to put up the score of those sections, too, so it’s easier to follow.

  3. I guess you think I’m ironical when I say that this is exciting. But no, I’m deadly serious. This is an insight in your work (I mean WORK, not just the result) that makes me feel very privileged. I have never been so close to work of this kind, at this level, before.

    Thank you SO MUCH!

  4. Dear Per,

    Although I don’t agree with Arthur Schnabel on some of his fingering – i do agree that perhaps the first note of the first bar is staccato. All the rest follow this staccatoed pattern. It reminds me of one sneaking away – and this was how he left home. Tip-toeing. What is surprising, is that Beethoven doesn’t pick up on the subtilty of Viennese style right away and suddenly writes/hears his father crashingly finding out Beethoven is gone in bars 5,6,7. In Viennese style – the sforzandos would be ‘in context.’ Here, obviously – Beethoven is making a point to bring in huge contrast and ‘shock value.’ It’s almost like he is so sure his father will mimic and yell his innermost secrets to the world.

    But, once Beethoven is out on his own – the sforzando’s become ‘in context’ and quieter within the piano dynamic. For instance, in measures 22/24.

    **In some ways – I marvel at the opening of this sonata because also, in a fatalistic way – it has a premonition of his deafness.

    OK. going on – I’d say that by the time we get to the development – we have less of facination with sforzando as a dynamic and more of it as a specific place to make surprise turns. In Beethoven’s youth – that would be the first of his youthful mistakes. He takes some wrong turns. He realizes some of them don’t lead anywhere. It is at this very early stage of his life (and possibly before) – he becomes very ‘idealistic’ about what should and should not be. Of course, i never knew Beethoven personally – so I am reading his music like a letter and assuming this is so.

    You know, there is a sort of ‘coda’ at the end of the first movement starting after the ‘transition’ to the coda with all the triplets. That was something new in Sonata form, too, wasn’t it? Not sure if Haydn had anything to do with that.

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