About this work
Beethoven's Sonata No. 28 is a generally subdued work, like its immediate predecessor. Unlike that piece, however, it foreshadows the styles and trends of the future and, though sometimes overlooked, deserves the attention of pianists and listeners. According to Schindler, who was not always a reliable source, Beethoven described the first movement of this sonata as containing "impressions and reveries." The latter word appears to fit the generally dreamy and peaceful mood of this movement. It is short and carries the description "Etwas lebhaft, und mit der innigsten Empfindung" (Somewhat lively, and with the most ardent perception). Obviously, the composer was hoping to draw the pianist's attention to the many subtleties of the piece. The work begins with a peaceful but hesitant theme (Allegretto ma non troppo), whose character suggests that there is a sense of insecurity even in moments of tranquillity. The melody also seems to augur the mellow and quirky side of Brahms' artistic persona. As the movement progresses, the theme varies, intensifying somewhat in the middle section, as well as suggesting a mood of sadness. Serenity returns toward the end of the movement, but now transformed and darker, as if reconciled to a tragic fate. The second movement, bearing the description "Lebhaft, marschmässig" (Lively, restrained march), clearly foreshadows the piano music of Schumann. The mood is joyful, but there are moments of both tranquility and tension in this Vivace alla marcia. It is as if the dual nature of the first movement is expanded here to show a wider gulf, greater extremes of feelings. Still, the movement's mood is predominantly high-spirited. The next movement, marked Adagio ma non troppo, con affetto, bears the description "Langsam und sehnsuchtvoll"; (Slowly and longingly). The main theme is solemn and mournful, but remains serene and untroubled throughout the movement. The music seems a meditation on some past disappointment or loss, but never utters a cry, always sounding at peace, even if there is the suggestion of yearning. The finale begins without pause after the third movement. Marked Allegro, it proclaims joy at the outset with its all-conquering, chipper main theme. This movement carries the description "Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr und mit Entschlossenheit" (Quickly, but not rushed and with determination). Yet, the subdued and reflective nature of most of the previous music emerges, too. It is as if the composer is rejoicing, but not too vigorously in the expectation that the next of life's inevitable vicissitudes might bring tragedy. The masterstroke here is the development: it contains a brilliant fugue, fitting well in this well-constructed sonata-form movement. There follow the usual reprise and coda to close this fine composition. While this work immediately preceded the famous and imposing Piano Sonata No. 29, "Hammerklavier," and was itself preceded by several better-known works, it is a masterpiece.
Curated by Maria Nemtsova, Pianist