Beethoven’s set of three sonatas that made up his Op 10 was nevertheless published in Vienna in September 1798 with the description ‘for the Harpsichord or for the Fortepiano’. No doubt this was just an attempt by the publisher to get the people who still owned a harpsichord to buy them, as it would take a large stretch of the imagination to think of them as harpsichord music. Czerny, who left us an invaluable document entitled On the Proper Performance of all Beethoven’s Works for the Piano Solo (now published by Universal and edited by Paul Badura-Skoda), called the Sonata in D major, Op 10 No 3 a ‘grand and significant’ piece, and indeed it is the first masterpiece in the cycle of sonatas. The opening Presto requires a meticulous attention to detail which is often neglected—beginning with the opening that is marked piano until the sforzando on the pause (there is no crescendo, however tempting it might be to insert one). As with so much early Beethoven, a bravura technique is required, but that alone is not enough. The magnificent slow movement, Largo e mesto, is a very intimate utterance. Sir Donald Tovey (whose edition of the Beethoven Sonatas is I think still one of the best), gives the following advice: ‘The details of phrasing and tone-colour have been provided with extraordinary precision by Beethoven himself; and if you simply make sure that you are playing what is written you will go far to realize the tragic power that makes this movement a landmark in musical history. Do not try to understand before you do as Beethoven bids. The people who “understand” great music beforehand will never see anything in it except a mirror of their own minds. The player who obeys orders faithfully will be constantly discovering their real meaning.’ I have quoted these words in full as I feel they are of the utmost importance.
Out of the despair of this movement, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, arrives the Menuetto, taking us back to the major key. I feel it shouldn’t arrive smiling and insouciant, but rather be conscious of what has preceded it—at least until the Trio begins, where Beethoven’s humour takes over. How easy yet clever it is to present its subject in the left hand with two different articulations—once detached, once slurred.
The Rondo finale is unusual. No ‘big theme’ here; simply a rather insignificant motive of three rising notes upon which he constructs the whole movement. Czerny witnessed the fact that Beethoven often used such sparse material to improvise an entire piece. Its inventiveness, abrupt changes of mood, expressive pauses, and especially its capricious ending that dissolves into thin air make it a challenge to the performer. Tovey tells us that in some early editions, some ‘silly person’ inserted a crescendo at the end to make it, presumably, more effective.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2006