Beethoven: Piano Sonata No 30 in E major, Op 109, 1st movement, Vivace ma non troppo  [4’21”]

Daniel Barenboim, piano

11 Beethoven's hearing trumpets

Hearing trumpets actually used by the mighty Ludwig van — to little or no avail

We have just met Mozart without his periwig, and I find it equally difficult to locate this music among the bonnets, britches and buttoned-up manners of its day (1820).  But then it is late Beethoven, and music doesn’t come more forward-looking than that.  One of the future editions of these playlists may, if I’m spared, look at the standard forms of western classical music using textbook examples, or at least rather clear ones.  This short opening movement of the first of Beethoven’s last great trio of sonatas will not be featuring.    It is, to be sure, an example of sonata form — just a rather unusual one.  But then it is, I repeat, late Beethoven, and music doesn’t come less rule-bound than that.

So much becomes evident very early on, when the lyrical first subject, far from being the substantial opening address we usually find, is no sooner established than overtaken, without benefit of transition, by the arrival (0’13”) of the second group of themes at a vastly slower tempo.  I say there’s no transition, but actually continuity, mediating such extremes, seems absolutely essential to Beethoven’s thinking in this magnificent movement, and the tempo switch sounds not only natural but seamless. The same is true of the return to the opening music at the start of the nominal development section (1’13”), arising out of the orgy of arpeggiation into which the second group has developed.  At this point Beethoven actually manages to slow down the slow music as a way of reintroducing the quick, and still we can’t see the join.  As the development proceeds the first subject works up a head of steam crowned by the arrival of the recapitulation at 1’53”, following which it returns one final time (3’25”) for the restrained and beautiful coda.

It’s a travesty to wrench such a movement from its context, of course, and I can only apologize for doing so.  At least in these new surroundings it leads straight into the next movement, as Beethoven wished, the only slight drawback being that here the next movement isn’t by him …

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