About this work
The Piano Sonata No. 20 was probably written around the time Beethoven composed the Third and Fourth sonatas, but because it was published in Vienna in 1805, nearly a decade after it was written, it was assigned then-current opus and sonata numbers, placing it amid works from the composer's middle period. Similar circumstances caused Beethoven's B flat Piano Concerto to appear as his Second, even though it predated the First. Owing to his perfectionist tendencies, Beethoven often suppressed works in his early years, either revising them later for publication, or determining after reflection that they in fact did meet his high standards. Still, he withheld many early works from publication for life, apparently never satisfied with them. In the case of this sonata and its immediate predecessor (No. 19), it was Caspar van Beethoven, the composer's brother, who decided they were worthy of publication. Against the composer's will, he presented them to a publishing house, thus allowing posterity to hear works that might otherwise have gotten lost or destroyed. It is believed that, had Beethoven himself released this sonata for publication, he would have called it a sonatina, owing to its modest proportions.
The Piano Sonata No. 20 is cast in two movements, Allegro ma non troppo and Tempo di menuetto. It is a straightforward work, featuring little of the sophistication evident in most of the other piano sonatas. The first movement features an aristocratic theme, delicate yet stately. It, and a more playful second theme undergo only minimal development before recapitulating at the end, making for a simplified sonata form.
The second movement of the Piano Sonata No. 20 shares a melodic theme with the Minuet of the Op. 20 Septet. Because the Septet was the later piece (1799-1800), Beethoven's suppression of the sonata and reuse of one of its themes suggests that he perhaps planned to scrap the piano work altogether. But the composer was known to recycle melodies, in some instances several times. This Minuet features a charming melody that, along with its accompanying material, is repeated several times, varying somewhat in appearance, but remaining simple and unsophisticated.
Curated by Chanda VanderHart, Pianist and Musicologist