Piano sonatas (Beethoven)

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his 32 piano sonatas between 1795 and 1822. Although originally not intended to be a meaningful whole, as a set they comprise one of the most important collections of works in the history of music.[1] Hans von Bülow called them "The New Testament" of music (Johann Sebastian Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier being "The Old Testament").[2]

Beethoven's piano sonatas came to be seen as the first cycle of major piano pieces suited to concert hall performance.[1] Being suitable for both private and public performance, Beethoven's sonatas form "a bridge between the worlds of the salon and the concert hall".[1]

List of sonatas

Early Sonatas

Beethoven's early sonatas were highly influenced by those of Haydn and Mozart. Even so, he began to find new ways of composing his sonatas. His first four sonatas were four movements long, which was very uncommon in his time, and his Pathétique sonata was the first to have two tempos in a movement.

Opus 2: Three Piano Sonatas (1795)

Opus 7: Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat major ("Grand Sonata") (1797)

Opus 10: Three Piano Sonatas (1798)

Opus 13: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor ("Pathétique") (1798)

Opus 14: Two Piano Sonatas (1799)

Opus 22: Piano Sonata No. 11 in B-flat major (1800)

Middle Sonatas

After he wrote his first 13 sonatas (up to Op. 28), he wrote to Wenzel Krumpholz, "From now on, I'm going to take a new path." Beethoven's sonatas from this period are very different from his earlier ones. He began to abandon the common sonata form of Haydn and Mozart and replaced it with deeper ways of making a sonata. Most Romantic period sonatas were highly influenced by those of Beethoven. After 1804, Beethoven stopped putting sonatas into sets and only composed them as a single opus. It is unclear why he did so.

Opus 26: Piano Sonata No. 12 in A-flat major ("Funeral March") (1801)

Opus 27: Two Piano Sonatas (1801)

Opus 28: Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major ("Pastoral") (1801)

Opus 31: Three Piano Sonatas (1802)

Opus 49: Two Piano Sonatas (composed 1795-6, published 1805)

Opus 53: Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major ("Waldstein") (1803)

Opus 54: Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major (1804)

Opus 57: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor ("Appassionata") (1805)

Opus 78: Piano Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp major ("A Thérèse") (1809)

Opus 79: Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major (1809)

Opus 81a: Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major ("Les adieux/Das Lebewohl") (1810)

Opus 90: Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor (1814)

Late Sonatas

Beethoven's late sonatas were some of his most difficult works and some of today's most difficult repertoire. Yet again, his music found a new path. At this time, his Classical style and hearing completely vanished, replaced by the origins of Romantic music. The Hammerklavier was deemed to be Beethoven's most difficult sonata yet. In fact, it was considered unplayable until almost 15 years later, when Liszt played it in a concert.

Opus 101: Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major (1816)

Opus 106: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major ("Hammerklavier") (1819)

Opus 109: Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major (1820)

Opus 110: Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major (1821)

Opus 111: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor (1822)

Performances and recordings

In a single concert cycle, the whole 32 sonatas were first performed by Hans von Bülow.[3] A number of other pianists have emulated this feat, including Artur Schnabel (the first since Bülow to play the complete cycle in concert from memory), Roger Woodward[4] and Michael Houstoun, who has performed the full sonata cycle twice; first at the age of 40, and then 20 years later in 2013.[5]

Wilbur R. Schnitker of Muskingum University, New Concord, Ohio, performed the complete cycle in 1969 at age 53. All from memory, he played eight recitals in 15 days.[6]

The first pianist to make a complete recording was Artur Schnabel, who recorded them for EMI between 1932 and 1935.[7] Other pianists to make complete recordings include Claudio Arrau, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Wilhelm Backhaus, Daniel Barenboim, Malcolm Binns (on period pianos), Alfred Brendel, John O'Conor, Annie Fischer, Richard Goode, Maria Grinberg, Friedrich Gulda, Jenő Jandó, Wilhelm Kempff, Anton Kuerti, Paul Lewis, HJ Lim, Maurizio Pollini, Bernard Roberts, András Schiff, Russell Sherman, and Gerard Willems. Emil Gilels also began to record the set but died before he could complete it.

In 1970, Daniel Barenboim sets the world record as the youngest pianist ever to record the complete Beethoven piano sonatas (making it between 1967 and 1970).[8] Since 2014, this "record" has been beaten by the Chinese pianist Mélodie Zhao, as she recorded the complete 32 sonatas[9] at age 19, released by Claves Records.[10]

Between 2005-07, at 60 years of age, Kun Woo Paik of South Korea released a complete recording all 32 sonatas for Decca Records.


The Op. 27 sonata was orchestrated by Nathan Kelly for standard symphonic orchestra. The Op. 106 sonata was orchestrated by Felix Weingartner for a Romantic era orchestra.


  1. 1 2 3 Rosen (2002), accompanying note
  2. "Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier - Das Wohltemperierte Clavier - release information". Retrieved 9 September 2011.
  3. Carnegie Room Concerts
  4. Celebrate 88. Retrieved 16 July 2014
  5. Hannigan, Margot (21 August 2013). "Beethoven, Houston a treat for audience". The Nelson Mail. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  6. Recordings, Crabtown Music, Manasquan, NJ; program, poss of author
  7. Beethoven Complete Piano Sonatas in Two Volumes, ed. by Artur Schnabel, Alfred Masterwork Edition, Publisher's Preface
  8. http://www.discogs.com/Beethoven-Daniel-Barenboim-The-32-Piano-Sonatas/release/2056997
  9. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2015/Feb/Beethoven_sonatas_501304.htm
  10. http://www.claves.ch/categories/piano/albums/melodie-zhao-beethoven-complete-piano-sonatas


External links

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