Wreck In The Sea of Ice by Caspar David Friedrich (c1797)
Piano Sonata no.6 in F major Op.10/2 for piano (1798, Beethoven aged 27)
Dedication Countess Anna Margarete von Browne
Background and Critical Reception
The three piano sonatas Op.10 were published in 1798, dedicated to Countess Anna Margarete von Browne. As Daniel Heartz notes, ‘women continued to garner most of his dedications of works for keyboard, as was the case with Mozart and Haydn’.
In contrast to the first sonata of the set, in C minor, the F major piece is admired as the joker. Lewis Lockwood says, ‘There is a lot to say about the capacity of the Sonata Opus 10 no.2 in F major to make much from little, a very strong Beethovenian feature. Thus the first two notes of the opening figure suffice to generate much of the later thematic content while always relating back to this germ idea.’
Writing in The Beethoven Companion, Harold Truscott enjoys the composer’s humour in the outer movements and the reflective second, describing the piece as ‘a completely individual masterpiece’. Angela Hewitt, meanwhile, agrees with Daniel Heartz that the second movement ‘minuet’ is…’not very dance-like’, and notes the fusion of Haydn’s wit and Bach’s counterpoint in the finale, ‘but with an exuberance typical of the young Beethoven’.
This is a sonata to put a smile on your face. The playful start introduces the ‘peek-a-boo’ characteristics of the first movement, which is also a great example of Beethoven’s use of silence. It feels like there are several characters playing a game in the first movement. The first comes out in the cheeky and slightly timid opening phrase; the second is more assertive, with many more notes. Beethoven develops his material with freedom, taking it on a tour of several keys, before returning home.
The second movement is deeper in thought, a single stream of consciousness in the minor key that proves a very effective reflection, with some spicy chords. The third movement sounds like it is going to be a fugue, or a Bach invention, but it doesn’t end up that way – and Beethoven returns to playing games, if not quite as mischievously as before.
Recordings used and Spotify links
Emil Gilels (Deutsche Grammophon)
Alfred Brendel (Philips)
András Schiff (ECM)
Angela Hewitt (Hyperion)
Paul Badura-Skoda (Arcana)
Stephen Kovacevich (EMI)
Igor Levit (Sony Classical)
The best accounts of this sonata are (in my opinion) the ones that bring the humour to the front. Angela Hewitt has some lovely characterisation in her first movement, where the timid and detached phrases are countered by rich, flowing episodes. Paul Badura-Skoda’s fortepiano has a crisp attack, particularly in the first movement.
Perhaps the most effective account is that of András Schiff, who successfully combines the humour and Beethoven’s invention from small cells, a reading that keeps the listener hanging.
The playlist below accommodates all the versions described above except that by Angela Hewitt:
You can hear clips of Hewitt’s recording at the Hyperion website
You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!
Also written in 1798 Haydn Missa in Angustiis (Nelson Mass)
Next up Piano Sonata no.7 in D major Op.10/3