Beethoven Piano Sonata Op 109 No 30 in E major [Anastasia Huppmann]


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Beethoven Piano Sonata Op 109 No 30 in E major by Anastasia Huppmann

Beethoven Sonata Op 109

Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major Op. 109 is the antepenultimate of his piano sonatas. In it, after the huge Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106, Beethoven returns to a smaller scale and a more intimate character. It is dedicated to Maximiliane Brentano, the daughter of Beethoven's long-standing friend Antonie Brentano, for whom Beethoven had already composed the short Piano Trio in B♭ major WoO 39 in 1812. Musically, the work is characterised by a free and original approach to the traditional sonata form. Its focus is the third movement, a set of variations that interpret its theme in a wide variety of individual ways.

That has been much speculated and philosophized about the character of the individual keys. Often it has also been doubted whether the keys have any meaning at all.

But it is precisely in the last three piano sonatas of Beethoven, which in a certain way may be regarded as a pianistic summary of Beethoven's world of ideas, that the choice of keys is certainly no coincidence, but well-considered.

This becomes clear when one recalls the role played by the keys in Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio. C minor and C major stand for the evil and the good, for tyranny and freedom, for darkness and light, for hell and heaven.

In the same opera, Fidelio, E major is the key of Leonore, who in the E major part of her great aria climbs into heroic pathos of loving self-sacrifice. The idea of salvation through the "eternal feminine" (Goethe) is certainly also reflected in Beethoven's mysterious "immortal lover". Against this background, it can hardly be a coincidence that the Sonata op. 109, dedicated to "Miss Maximiliana Brentano", is in the key of E major.

One of my great teachers, Paul Badura-Skoda uses to say to this sonata:

“The music is a woman, a woman is the music intended. - Stay, you are too beautiful, seems to be the secretive message. The root E lingers throughout the sonata. If the harmony lingers on long stretches, then all love and care must be given to the garlands, the embellishment of the melody. As changeable as the valuation of the word beauty may be. In no sonata did Beethoven spread her cornucopia richer. "

This movement consists of a theme with six variations of differing character and piano technique.


The movement opens with a 16-bar theme. The dotted notes emphasise the second beat of the bar, giving this song-like theme something of the character of a Sarabande.

Variation 1

This variation keeps the tempo of the theme. Compared with the quartet-like theme, it is more pianistic. The melody is an octave higher, thereby becoming more emotional. It is formed like a "ceremonial Waltz".

Variation 2

This variation is marked leggiermente. Whereas the theme and first variation were a binary phrase structure, here we have three variations collated and presented as one. The first texture is a call and response which strongly recalls the beginning of the first movement. The second is a two-voice canon in the right hand over a steady quaver accompaniment.

Variation 3 (allegro vivace)

This variation breaks away from the original tempo and is marked allegro vivace. It replaces the theme's 3/4 time signature with 2/4. It is a virtuosic Allegro in a two-part contrapuntal texture reminiscent of a two-part invention. This is the only variation in this movement to end on forte.

Variation 4

This variation is a little slower than the theme ("etwas langsamer, als das thema. un poco meno andante ciò è un poco più adagio come il tema."). It is in 9/8 time. The first half (repeated) is a contrapuntal texture varying between two and four voices. In the second half, between zero and two voices continue in the same vein over an accompaniment of broken chords.

Variation 5 (allegro ma non troppo)

After variation 4, Beethoven abandons numbering the variations and just provides tempo indications at the head of the remaining ones. The reasons are unknown. In spite of this, it is usual to refer to the remaining variations as numbers 5 and 6.
According to Udo Zilkens, the driving rhythmic energy of the fifth variation gives the impression, at least to begin with, of a complex, many-voiced chorale-like fugue.

Variation 6 (tempo primo del tema)

In extreme contrast to the energy and speed of the previous variation, this one begins with a four-bar passage marked cantabile, in quiet, slow crotchets at the tempo of the theme. Its peaceful, static character is emphasised by the repeated B in the top voice.

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