Hyperion Records

Piano Sonata in G major, Op 79
composer
1809/10; No 25; subtitled Sonate facile; Beethoven also suggested the titles Sonatine facile or simply Sonatine

Recordings
'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas' (CDA67662)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas
Details
Movement 1: Presto alla tedesca
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Vivace

Piano Sonata in G major, Op 79
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The miniature Sonata Op 79 is something of an anomaly among Beethoven’s mature works of the kind, and in view of its stylistic simplicity it was once thought to be considerably earlier than its opus number would suggest. However, the composer’s sketches for the sonata’s opening movement are contained in the same book as his drafts for the ‘Harp’ String Quartet Op 74 and the ‘Les Adieux’ Piano Sonata Op 81a, composed in 1809–10. His first idea for the sonata’s opening bars shows it in the key of C major, and with the inscription ‘Sonate facile’. This was the title that had been used some three years earlier for the first Viennese edition of Mozart’s famous C major Sonata K545. Beethoven’s piece was probably commissioned by the composer and publisher Clementi, who owned the autograph score, and issued the sonata in London more or less simultaneously with the first German edition, published by Breitkopf und Härtel. In offering the work to Breitkopf in 1810, Beethoven suggested they should bring it out as a ‘Sonatine facile’, or simply ‘Sonatine’. (Breitkopf chose the latter title.)

The Presto alla tedesca (‘In the German style’) designation of the sonata’s opening movement looks forward to the Alla danza tedesca third movement, likewise in G major, of Beethoven’s late String Quartet Op 130. Curiously enough, the quartet’s theme is an exact inversion of the sonata’s opening subject. Beethoven’s sketch for the sonata’s initial subject shows it in a dance-like form, and in a regular eight bars. The final version is less symmetrical, but Beethoven appears not to have forgotten his simpler original idea, and he returns to it in the movement’s coda, where the melody’s phrases are shared between the pianist’s two hands. Beethoven clearly enjoyed the notion of ending the movement with what sounds for all the world like a contredanse, and he even added acciaccaturas (‘crushed’ notes which make it sound as though two adjacent notes are being played simultaneously) to the melody, as though in imitation of a village band. As for the movement’s central development section, it is mainly based on the main theme’s ‘cuckoo-call’, involving some crossed-hands gymnastics which are by no means easy for beginners to negotiate.

The middle movement is a melancholy barcarolle in the minor, and the sonata comes to a witty close with a rondo whose theme looks forward to another of Beethoven’s late works: its harmonic outline is the same as that of the opening subject in the Sonata Op 109. Following a central episode rather like some miniature ‘Rage over a lost penny’, Beethoven returns to the rondo theme in the middle of a continuing phrase, so that the reprise seems to begin in mid-stream. It is a witty touch, and one that is matched by the charming effect of the work’s gently understated ending.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2010

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