Piano Sonata No.1

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata No.1 in F minor

Op. 2/1

Recommended recording

Curated by Guy Jones, Head of Curation

About this work

Though this sonata is obviously an early piece, it still sounds very much like Beethoven in its driving rhythms, muscularity and overall sonic world. It is a fairly serious piece, too, but does not contain much that anyone would assess as profound or innovative. Still, it is a strong composition, even though it shows outside influences: for all the composer's stylistic traits throughout the work, it cannot be denied that the voice of Mozart is present, most notably in the first movement. Beethoven was still evolving his style at this point in his career and had not yet even written an important work for orchestra. For whatever flaws one might point out in this composition, it nevertheless fully deserves to be in the company of the other sonatas comprising the mighty canon of 32. Beethoven dedicated this sonata to composer Joseph Haydn. A typical performance of it lasts from 16 to 20 minutes.

The first movement begins with a bouncy theme that hints at seriousness but remains rather bright and energetic. It must be noted that it seems to have been lifted from the finale of the Mozart Symphony No. 40, whose main theme only differs significantly in its key of G minor. Two more themes appear, the former a bit more serious and darker. The development section turns more intense, focusing on the drive and darker aspects of the thematic material. Ultimately this Allegretto con brio is solidly constructed, if unadventurous, and its thematic similarity to the Mozart Symphony serves in the end to illustrate the quite different ways the two composers treated the same material.

The ensuing Adagio derives its main theme from the slow movement of Beethoven's Piano Quartet, No. 3, WoO. 36. The melody is serenely joyful in its pristine Classicism, and while it is rather simple and direct, it is also effective in capturing a mood of ecstasy and bliss.

The Menuetto third movement (Allegretto) is robust and not intended to sound danceable. It is full of color and features an attractive trio, after which the main material is reprised.

The finale (Prestissimo) may be the most Beethovenian movement here. It begins with a manic rush of energy, the theme seemingly in frantic pursuit of something elusive. The alternate subject is playful and comparatively dainty, featuring upper register sonorities that could hardly offer greater contrast. This movement is in sonata form, and so after the reappearance of the main theme, there is a quite effective development section, which ends as it sort of grows back into the recapitulation.

Done