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Piano Sonata in D major 'Pastoral', Op 28

1801; No 15

The nickname of ‘Pastoral’ attached to the D major sonata Op 28 came into being shortly after it first appeared in print, and it is not inappropriate. Both its outer movements make prominent use of a rustic ‘drone’ bass, initially heard on its own, and in the case of the first movement, that bass part consists simply of a reiterated note D. The idea is one that may remind us of the famous repeated-note timpani solo that begins Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. In the sonata, the regularly repeated D runs throughout the nearly forty bars occupied by the main theme, with Beethoven momentarily departing from it only at those points where the melodic line alights on the same note, with a strategically placed sforzato.

Following the reiterated unaccompanied bass note of its initial bar, the first harmony presented in the Op 28 sonata is a discord leaning away from the tonic, as though the piece were starting in mid-stream. Beethoven reintroduces the drum-taps of his beginning in a coda which has them receding into the distance, to bring the piece to a pianissimo close with scraps of the main melody floating above the bass-line.

Beethoven’s second subject is no less smooth and seamless than the first, and perhaps for this reason he also brings into play a more disjunct closing theme—a syncopated melodic line above a staccato accompaniment in imitation of horns. In view of the generally amiable nature of the exposition, the development section is altogether darker and more dramatic. It unfolds throughout in the minor, concentrating on a fragment of the principal subject with ever greater intensity, until eventually the music comes to rest on a long drawn out chord. At this point, Beethoven interpolates, as if from afar, and in a distant key, a fragmentary version of the closing subject, first in the major, and then—following a pause—in the minor.

The slow movement, in the minor, is like some processional march. As he so often liked to do, Beethoven has its melody given out legato by the right hand, above a staccato accompaniment in the left. The theme’s second half, featuring an obstinately repeated pungent dissonance, unfolds over a repeated pedal-note which recalls the reiterated bass of the opening movement. Following the more rustic-sounding middle section in the major, Beethoven writes his reprise in the form of a variation; but there is also a coda which reintroduces the middle section’s sharply defined rhythm, while at the same time reaching a climax on the same dissonance featured in the second half of the movement’s march-like opening theme. The closing bars introduce a sighing two-note figure surmounted by a deeply expressive turn-like phrase which brings the piece to an end in an atmosphere of deep nostalgia.

Following the scherzo, the final rondo returns to the pastoral charm of the sonata’s opening movement. Not that Beethoven could ever write a large-scale piece of this kind entirely devoid of tension: its central episode is a piece of closely worked counterpoint based on a ‘winding’ chromatic subject, and it reaches a climax of considerable force before the rondo theme returns in all its innocent simplicity. Moreover, rather than allow the movement to sink to a resigned close, as he had done in the opening Allegro, Beethoven adds a ‘presto’ coda in the form of a variation on the rondo theme, to bring the sonata to a dizzying conclusion.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2018


Beethoven: Beethoven Unbound
Studio Master: SIGCD527Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Opp 2/3, 13 & 28
This album is not yet available for downloadSACDA67605Super-Audio CD
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Opp 2/3, 13 & 28
James Rhodes 5
Studio Master: SIGCD371Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: Allegro
Track 1 on CDA67605 [10'49]
Track 1 on SACDA67605 [10'49] Super-Audio CD
Track 7 on SIGCD371 [12'19] Download only
Track 7 on SIGCD527 CD11 [11'53] Download only
Movement 2: Andante
Track 2 on CDA67605 [6'46]
Track 2 on SACDA67605 [6'46] Super-Audio CD
Track 8 on SIGCD371 [6'11] Download only
Track 8 on SIGCD527 CD11 [8'05] Download only
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Track 3 on CDA67605 [2'31]
Track 3 on SACDA67605 [2'31] Super-Audio CD
Track 9 on SIGCD371 [2'22] Download only
Track 9 on SIGCD527 CD11 [2'38] Download only
Movement 4: Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo
Track 4 on CDA67605 [4'47]
Track 4 on SACDA67605 [4'47] Super-Audio CD
Track 10 on SIGCD371 [5'38] Download only
Track 10 on SIGCD527 CD11 [5'34] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD371 track 7

Recording date
17 May 2013
Recording venue
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Raphaël Mouterde
Recording engineer
Mike Hatch
Hyperion usage
  1. James Rhodes 5 (SIGCD371)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: June 2014
    Download only
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