Piano Sonata No.9

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata No.9 in E major

Op. 14/1

About this work

By the time Beethoven wrote this sonata, his ninth, he was already displaying a strongly individual voice in his piano works and would shortly embark on his First Symphony (1800) and other large works. Perhaps less compelling than its predecessor, the celebrated "Pathétique," this Sonata is an immensely interesting work, containing many subtle turns, surprises, and fresh ideas. Cast in three movements -- Allegro, Allegretto, Rondo (Allegro comodo) -- this composition begins with a lively, optimistic theme, against repeated chords in the left hand which accompany, and goad, the main narrative line. Initially a harbinger of light and joy, the main theme, introduces some tension when repeated, and the mood slightly darkens. In Beethoven's musical narrative, it seems, an initial mood, or impression, often leads to unexpected developments, creating a richly textured poetic substance. Thus, for example, when the second subject appears, its four descending notes transform the musical canvas into a space ruled by different varieties of doubt and mystery, considerably expanding the emotional and intellectual range of the narrative. Eventually, this episode proceeds to a triumphant ending, and the exposition material is repeated. The development section begins with the main theme transformed, but then a new idea comes to the fore. Somewhat derivative, this idea ushers in a rather atypical development episode. Although this is quite surprising from an intellectual standpoint, the appearance of this theme seems utterly natural, a logical outgrowth of a remember discourse. In the reprise, which follows this brief excursion, the main theme occurs with new accompaniment -- ascending scales in the left hand -- which imparts an ecstatic character to the music. A brief, brilliant coda concludes the movement. The ensuing Scherzo, though it carries the normally lively marking of Allegretto, operates as the slow movement. There is much tension in its restless main theme, and even the brighter music of the trio sections is not free of a sense of struggle. The finale begins with a rush of energy which traces a downward-moving trajectory. Despite the downward motion, the mood is one of wit, playfulness, and humor. While the second theme introduces some calm, the narrative line is driven by fast rhythms. Interestingly, there is some thematic development in this Rondo, which sounds almost symphonic.

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