Piano Sonata No.12

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata No.12 in Ab major

Op. 26 • “Funeral March Sonata”

About this work

Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 12 in A flat major, Op. 26 (1800-1801), was especially popular among the Romantics; even Chopin, who rarely performed Beethoven's music in public, included it in his repertoire. The work reflects Beethoven's ongoing experimentation with the form of the piano sonata; in place of the more conventional sonata-allegro movement, he begins the sonata with a theme and variations, a still-novel innovation that Mozart had introduced a few decades earlier. The opening Andante theme is faintly ceremonial, decorated with a few well-placed turns. The first variation merely uses arpeggios to fill in the spaces between the notes of the theme. The second is more of a surprise, the melody falling to the left hand for a bumptious treatment while the right hand provides accompaniment with rapid syncopated chords. The third variation is almost a minor-mode inversion of the second, slowing down considerably and moving the syncopated accompaniment into the bass. The fourth variation is a capricious treatment of theme with a sputtering accompaniment; the fifth compensates by smoothing out the melody, though it retains a busy triplet rhythm in the left hand. The movement closes with a brief, dignified restatement of the melody. With its surging theme, the short Allegro molto Scherzo is a near-twin to the corresponding movement in the composer's slightly earlier Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21 (1799-1800). The abbreviated Trio has something of the character of a chorale, but Beethoven sweeps all this away so he can get on with the movement that lends the sonata its familiar moniker. The full title of the "Funeral March" movement is "Marcia funebre sulla morte d'un Eroe"; the dead hero is never identified and is likely a mere literary device. Here, the obvious symphonic parallel is the second movement of the composer's not-too-distant "Eroica" Symphony (1803), right down to the irregularly palpitating rhythmic figure. Left-hand drum rolls dominate the contrasting middle section, but the more subdued march proper returns for another statement. This leads unexpectedly and almost without pause into the brisk, bright Allegro, an impetuous little ABA movement with the middle section offering a taste of drama but steering clear of anything too serious. With its perpetual-motion left-hand figures, the music can do little else than simply wind down at the end.

Done