By the time the first two of Weber’s piano sonatas appeared in print, his older contemporaries had already seen many such works published: seventy sonatas of Clementi, thirty-five of Dussek, twenty-seven of Beethoven and four of Hummel were already in wide circulation. Weber was twenty-six when he composed his Sonata No 1 in C major Op 24 in early 1812. The work’s technical demands were so extraordinary that despite the composer’s efforts to teach it to the talented dedicatee, his pupil the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Weimar, the lady could not master it. Part of the problem lay in the size of Weber’s hands. Julius Benedict, another pupil, wrote that they were ‘able to play tenths with the same facility as octaves’ and, further, that with them ‘Weber produced the most startling effects of sonority, and possessed the power … to elicit an almost vocal tone where delicacy or deep expression were required’. Hands of the sort that wrote the music were advantageous to its performance. The requirements include flashing scales and arpeggios, toccata-like double notes, daredevil leaps, driving rhythms and, musically, a sense of dramatic passion.
Written in reverse order, the four movements contain suprises at every turn. Forms, textures, colorations and other elements are contrasted and brought into balance with the virtuosity of a young master—orchestrating at the keyboard with a skill not unlike Beethoven’s. Most spectacular is the finale, dubbed by Weber L’infatigable but now better known by Alkan’s title for it, Perpetuum mobile. Its whirlwinds have never failed to sweep audiences off their feet. Intoxicated by the movement’s potential for elaboration, such composers as Czerny, Henselt, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Godowsky made arrangements of it.
from notes by Frank Cooper © 2011