Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, “Waldstein”
In essence, as Charles Rosen has suggested, Beethoven greatly expands the expressive range of Classical form. Concurrently, Beethoven also significantly expands the function and weight of the coda. No longer functioning as a mere appendage, it becomes a structural pillar for resolving the accumulated tension and instability. This characteristic redistributing of weight within the formal outline is frequently coordinated according to Alan Tyson “with the withholding of the harmonic resolution at the moment of recapitulation.” Beethoven’s transfer of the “symphonic ideal” into his piano sonatas is most acutely seen in the monumental “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” Sonatas, Op. 53 and 57, respectively. Here the composer adopts epic designs that become powerful musical declarations. In the “Waldstein”, according to Joseph Kerman “it is the “Adagio Introduzione”, which makes momentous preparations for the finale and give this sonata its characteristic symphonic sweep.” The “Appassionata”, in turn, is planned on even broader lines and greatest extremes.
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, “Appassionata”
Form was no longer a fixed schemata, but in Beethoven’s hands becomes a process containing developmental elaboration and goal-directedness. At the fundamental level of this process stands the substitution of a distinct and bare thematic configuration for a lyrically inspired theme. Amongst this theoretical and philosophical discussion of the middle-period Sonatas, we should not forget to mention an entirely practical aspect as well. In 1803, Beethoven received a surprise gift, “un piano forme clavecin” from the celebrated Paris instrument maker Sebastien Érard. Although Beethoven was generally not entirely happy with the instrument, he clearly could appreciate some of the changes in construction. For one, the range of the keyboard had been expanded, which in turn produces much greater resonance. Heavier felt-covered hammers and the emergence of steel-reinforced frames on which to string heavier wires led to an increase in volume, and the invention of the double escapement mechanism allowed notes to be rapidly repeated. Although Beethoven complained that, “the English-type action was incurably heavy,” some of the highly explosive and violent effects that emerged in the “Waldheim” and “Appassionata” sonatas would have been unthinkable on his regular Walter piano!
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