Piano Sonata No. 29 (Beethoven)

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Beethoven in 1818-19 Ludwig Van Beethoven LCCN2003663903.jpg
Beethoven in 1818–19

Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 29 in B major, Op. 106 (known as the Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier, or more simply as the Hammerklavier) is a piano sonata that is widely viewed as one of the most important works of the composer's third period and among the greatest piano sonatas of all time. Completed in 1818, it is often considered to be Beethoven's most technically challenging piano composition [1] and one of the most demanding solo works in the classical piano repertoire. [2] [3] The first documented public performance was in 1836 by Franz Liszt in the Salle Erard in Paris.



Sketches for the slow movement of Piano Sonata no. 29, probably 1818, musical autograph Sketches for the slow movement of Piano Sonata no. 29, op. 106, ('Hammerklavier'), Beethoven, probably 1818, musical autograph, inscription Vincent Novello- Morgan Library & Museum - New York City - DSC06708.jpg
Sketches for the slow movement of Piano Sonata no. 29, probably 1818, musical autograph

Dedicated to his patron, the Archduke Rudolf, the sonata was written primarily from the summer of 1817 to the late autumn of 1818, towards the end of a fallow period in Beethoven's compositional career. It represents the spectacular emergence of many of the themes that were to recur in Beethoven's late period: the reinvention of traditional forms, such as sonata form; a brusque humour; and a return to pre-classical compositional traditions, including an exploration of modal harmony and reinventions of the fugue within classical forms.

The Hammerklavier also set a precedent for the length of solo compositions (performances typically take about 40 to 45 minutes, depending on interpretative choices). While orchestral works such as symphonies and concerti had often contained movements of 15 or even 20 minutes for many years, few single movements in solo literature had a span such as the Hammerklavier's third movement.

The sonata's name comes from Beethoven's later practice of using German rather than Italian words for musical terminology. (Hammerklavier literally means "hammer-keyboard", and is still today the German name for the fortepiano, the predecessor of the modern piano.) It comes from the title page of the work, "Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier", which means "Grand sonata for the fortepiano". The more sedate Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101 has the same description, but the epithet has come to apply to the Sonata No. 29 only. "Hammerklavier" was part of the title to specify that the work was not to be played on the harpsichord, an instrument that was still very much in evidence in the early 1800s.[ citation needed ] The work also makes extensive use of the una corda pedal, with Beethoven giving for his time unusually detailed instructions when to use it.



The work was perceived as almost unplayable but was nevertheless seen as the summit of piano literature since its very first publication. Completed in 1818, it is often considered to be Beethoven's most technically challenging piano composition [1] and one of the most demanding solo works in the classical piano repertoire. [2] [3]

The Piano Sonata No. 1 in C, Op. 1 by Johannes Brahms opens with a fanfare similar to the fanfare heard at the start of the Hammerklavier sonata.


The composer Felix Weingartner produced an orchestration of the sonata. In 1878, Friedrich Nietzsche had suggested such an orchestration:

In the lives of great artists, there are unfortunate contingencies which, for example, force the painter to sketch his most significant picture as only a fleeting thought, or which forced Beethoven to leave us only the unsatisfying piano reduction of a symphony in certain great piano sonatas (the great B flat major). In such cases, the artist coming after should try to correct the great men's lives after the fact; for example, a master of all orchestral effects would do so by restoring to life the symphony that had suffered an apparent pianistic death. [10]

However, Charles Rosen considered attempts to orchestrate the work "nonsensical". [11]

Related Research Articles

Sonata Type of instrumental composition

Sonata, in music, literally means a piece played as opposed to a cantata, a piece sung. The term evolved through the history of music, designating a variety of forms until the Classical era, when it took on increasing importance. Sonata is a vague term, with varying meanings depending on the context and time period. By the early 19th century, it came to represent a principle of composing large-scale works. It was applied to most instrumental genres and regarded—alongside the fugue—as one of two fundamental methods of organizing, interpreting and analyzing concert music. Though the musical style of sonatas has changed since the Classical era, most 20th- and 21st-century sonatas still maintain the same structure.

Sonata form is a musical structure generally consisting of three main sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation. It has been used widely since the middle of the 18th century.

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  1. 1 2 Staines, J.; Clark, D., eds. (July 2005). The Rough Guide to Classical Music (4th ed.). London: Rough Guides. p. 62. ISBN   978-1-84353-247-7.
  2. 1 2 Hinson, M. (2000). Guide to the pianist's repertoire (3rd ed.). Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 94. ISBN   0-253-33646-5.
  3. 1 2 Tyson, Alan (1962). "The Hammerklavier and Its English Editions". The Musical Times . 103 (1430): 235–7. doi:10.2307/950547. JSTOR   950547.
  4. The Classical Style, Expanded Edition, p. 423
  5. Wilhelm von Lenz, quoted in The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection. Ted Libbey. ISBN   0-7611-0487-9. p. 379.
  6. Bekker, Paul (1925). Beethoven (translated and adapted by Mildred Mary Bozman). J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd. p. 134.
  7. Schumann, Karl. Beethoven's Viceroy at the Keyboard In Celebration of Wilhelm Kempff's Centenary: His 1951–1956 Recordings of Beethoven's 32 Piano Sonatas.
  8. Libbey, Theodore (1999). The NPR guide to building a classical CD collection. New York: Workman Pub. ISBN   0-7611-0487-9. OCLC   42714517.
  9. Willi Apel, "Retrograde," Harvard Dictionary of Music (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1969), p. 728.
  10. Human, All Too Human , § 173
  11. Rosen, The Classical Style, p. 446

Further reading

Extensive discussion and analysis is given in Charles Rosen's book The Classical Style (2nd ed., 1997, New York: Norton): ISBN   0-393-31712-9.