Beethoven was born December 16, 1770, in Bonn, Germany. He grew up during a time of great upheaval in Europe as the established order of monarchies was beginning to fall apart and there were many wars and social displacement. Remember this was the time of the American Revolution in 1776, and then the French Revolution in 1798 followed by years of the Napoleonic wars. Beethoven was torn between wanting to be accepted by the aristocracy and sometimes pedaling the story that he was of aristocratic birth, and then on the other hand despising them and refusing to bow to the “way things are done.” This tension, is definitely apparent in his music.
The first excerpt is the Sonata in f minor for piano, Op.2 No. 1, written between 1793-95. The dedicatee is Franz Joseph Haydn, with whom he had initially, a rocky relationship but eventually came to value and appreciate Haydn’s knowledge and skill. Beethoven was only twenty-three years old when he wrote this brilliant piano work. I’d like for you to listen to the Allegro (movement 1) and notice the clear sonata-allegro form structure on which this piece is built. The return to the recapitulation is so exciting with the building upon first just one note in the LH and to which he then adds another and another until the opening theme comes crashing in again. Also, listen to the final movement which is marked Prestissimo, which means very fast. See if you can figure out the form of this movement. The clip of the third movement is of a young man playing for a master class, which is like a public lesson, for the pianist Lang Lang- talk about pressure! I think you will find it interesting to notice what Lang Lang notices and works on with the student. The final excerpt will be of the Cello Sonata in F Major which was also written around this same time, 1796. Listen to the pauses between phrases and how it “breathes” so beautifully. The singing tone of the cello is a good model to have in your head when trying to play a legato, singing tone on the piano.