Piano Sonata No.2

Robert Schumann

Piano Sonata No.2 in G minor

Op. 22

About this work

The work now known as Robert Schumann's Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 (1833-1838), was not, in fact, the composer's second such work in order of composition. The so-called Sonata No. 3, really a reworking of the Concert sans orchestre of 1836, acquired its present identity only after Schumann revised the earlier work (including the restoration of a scherzo removed before publication) in 1853. The Second Sonata, Schumann's last large-scale work in the genre, is the most streamlined of the composer's completed piano sonatas; within its very manageable and clearly organized confines one finds some of the composer's most characteristic music for the keyboard.

A great deal has been made of the first movement's rather humorous tempo indications. Straightaway the pianist is asked to play "so rasch wie möglich" (as fast as possible), only to find in the coda the marking "schneller" (faster), and, in the concluding bars, "noch schneller" (even faster)! Capricious as such markings may seem at first glance, Schumann's musical intent is crystal clear

The first theme, which commences with no introduction, is a relentlessly forward-moving idea set atop a percolating arpeggiated texture in the left hand. The driving syncopations that Schumann forges into a transitional passage transform into a gentler second theme in the relative major. The pause in rhythmic intensity is brief; even before the development commences, the incessant sixteenth notes have reestablished themselves. Both ideas are played out in the development and the recapitulation, and, per Schumann's standard practice, are not substantially altered from their original form. The movement draws to a close with a forceful coda.

The Andantino, a melodious little ABA form in a gently rolling 6/8 meter, is one of the most charming movements Schumann ever penned. The Scherzo is so compact as to startle the listener: 64 bars suffice for its presentation, and, unusually, only eight of these are marked for repetition. The snappy rhythm of the primary idea lends the Scherzo a most witty flavor, while the brief trio section recaptures the gentle syncopations of the first movement's second theme.

Both Schumann and Clara Wieck (not yet Mrs. Schumann) felt the Sonata's original finale to be ungainly and technically recalcitrant, so in 1838 the composer provided a new, much-improved (if somewhat "square") final movement. The replacement finale is a good example of hybrid sonata-rondo form; that is, the basic "ABACA (etc.)" scheme of a rondo is organized so as to correspond to the three primary sections of a sonata-allegro. The mood and texture of the refrain theme (A) recall the first movement, while the suppleness of the secondary theme, marked "etwas langsamer" (somewhat slower), is suggested by several internal ritardandos. Schumann brings the work to an electric end by appending a prestissimo passage marked "Quasi cadenza" to the main body of the movement.