The duet by Arthur Devis. Photo credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Sonata for piano (four hands) in D major Op.6 (1796-97, Beethoven aged 26)
Dedication not known
1. Allegro molto
2. Rondo: Moderato
Background and Critical Reception
If it’s not too confusing a statement, Beethoven’s output for piano duet could be counted on the fingers of one of those four hands. We have already seen how imaginatively he writes for this combination in the Variations on a theme of Count von Waldstein, but here he returns for a short, two-movement sonata.
It is thought this brief piece, at little more than five minutes, was used for teaching. Peter Hill, who recorded the piece with Benjamin Frith for Delphian Records in 2019, writes that ‘the duet Sonata’s opening Allegro molto could be used as a textbook examples of how to write a classical first movement.’ He also writes affectionately of ‘the exchanges between the pianists that culminate (at the ends of the exposition and recapitulation) in arpeggios that ripple between and across the four hands.’ He also notes the ‘operatic feel’ of the second movement Rondo.
There is an impish quality about this piece, as though Beethoven wanted to have some fun with whoever was chosen to be by his side at the piano. A simple theme, a call to arms, leads to some fun between the parts in the first movement, with a few mischievous asides.
The Rondo has an elegant main subject, while its second theme is suddenly loud, as though it wants to grab your attention and talk over your conversation. It proceeds very naturally.
Recordings used and Spotify playlist
Peter Hill & Benjamin Frith (Delphian)
Amy and Sara Hamann (Grand Piano)
Louis Lortie & Hélène Mercier (Chandos)
Lang Lang & Christoph Eschenbach (Deutsche Grammophon)
A stylish and fun interpretation from Hill and Frith. Even if you hadn’t seen the cover of their recording you would guess how much fun they had putting it together! The Hamann sisters are very good too, if a bit jarring with their dynamic contrasts in the second movement. Their second version, on a fortepiano after J.A. Stein from 1784, is almost comical as the ear adjusts – but ultimately good fun.
Also written in 1797 Eberl 2 Sonatas for piano four hands Op.7
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