Playing Beethoven's 32 Piano Sonatas

Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 2/1

Already in the first of Beethoven's piano sonatas, we hear an almost schizophrenic character embedded in an elegant classical framework. The first, third and fourth movements, in particular, highlight these contrasts. The major-mode Adagio provides some relief from this violent temperament—relief that can be communicated to the listener by maintaining a light and airy touch in the passage work over a well-balanced (i.e, not too heavy) left hand.

I. Allegro

• exposition

NOTES: This opening movement contains some of the barest writing in Beethoven's sonata output. It is difficult to give these stark sonorities a full-bodied sound, especially under the microphone. You can hold the staccato quarter notes longer than you would think and still maintain a crisp sound overall.

II. Adagio - Coming Soon!

III. Allegretto

• minuet

NOTES: As in the opening movement, staccato notes can be held for nearly their full duration. Each slurred two-measure phrase must be shaped carefully, so as not to give the music a clunky note-by-note sound. Draw in some hairpins at first (i.e., crescendo + decrescendo) to facilitate the flow. Beethoven's dynamic markings are erratic, to say the least. I interpret the pianissimo markings as a change in color, rather than a change in volume; as such, you can use the soft pedal at these pp moments.

• trio

NOTES: This passage is quite difficult technically, especially the parallel first-inversion chords in mm. 59–62. To facilitate the passage, make the downbeat of m. 61 your initial goal. This will allow you to gain some momentum by renewing your attack (i.e., drop of the hand). It helps to linger slightly on the high B-flat chord before beginning your descent. Given that this moment is both the climax of the section and the beginning of a phrase, the extra time works well from a musical point of view. Recognize and play around with the invertible counterpoint to differentiate your sound on repeats.

IV. Prestissimo

• exposition

NOTES: The tension of this music can be felt directly in the hands, if not practiced properly from the start. Break up the left-hand triplets in to small phrases, such that you can renew your attack at predetermined moments in the score (the first C in m. 2, for example, is a good place to do so. This will prevent your left hand from seizing up.

Given the severe dynamic contrasts, it is easy to get carried away in the fortissimo passages. No matter what the dynamic, make sure that your playing always has direction (i.e., logical phrasing and local-level dynamic curves). Measures 26–33 are especially difficult in a recording environment, since the mics tend to further entangle an already dense cluster of sound. Focusing your attention on a given melodic line (e.g., begin with the high A-flat in m. 26 and follow that line through) will help to clarify the texture.