About this work
While this Sonata comes numerically just after the three from Op. 31 (Nos. 16-18), it predates them chronologically by at least five years. Beethoven, ever the perfectionist, suppressed many of his early works, sometimes revising them before finally sending them to the publisher or deciding after close examination that they were fit for print after all. Of course, in many cases, he simply withheld the work from publication for life, apparently never satisfied with it. He seems to have written his Piano Sonata No. 19 around 1797, making it roughly contemporary with Sonatas Nos. 4 through 7. The other sonata from Op. 49, No. 20, is also an early composition, probably begun a year or so before this one. Beethoven's brother Caspar is the party responsible for the sudden appearance of this composition in Vienna, in 1805. He took it upon himself, against his brother's wishes, to send this and its sibling sonata to the publisher, although both works might have surfaced after the composer's death anyway, as did a great many others without opus numbers. Still, it is possible these sonatas might never have survived had it not been for Caspar van Beethoven. The reason the composer was unsure of the artistic worth of this sonata must have had to do with its modest proportions. As for its quality, he must eventually have come to realize that this was a worthy creation. The work is cast in two short movements: Andante and Rondo - Allegro. The first movement, unusual for Beethoven, begins slowly with a rather simple, somber theme. This Andante's second subject group is livelier and brighter the first. The exposition material is repeated, and then the development section begins, focusing on the second theme. It is brief, and like most of the movement, delicate and subtle. There follows a reprise, with some ingenious changes, and then the movement closes quietly. The Rondo second movement is brief and also simply constructed. The main theme is vigorous and probably the most muscular-sounding music in the work. It is a happy but somewhat nervous melody that transforms to a more mellow character in the closing moments. The second theme is a bit more energetic and colorful. This sonata is not difficult to play and its generally uncomplicated and genial nature suggest that the composer might have intended to call this work a "sonatina."
Curated by Chanda VanderHart, Pianist and Musicologist