Listening to Beethoven #144 – Piano Sonata no.9 in E major Op.14/1

Tageszeitenzyklus: Der Morgen (The times of day: The morning) by Caspar David Friedrich

Piano Sonata no.9 in E major Op.14/1 for piano (1798-99, Beethoven aged 28)

1 Allegro
2 Allegretto
3 Allegro comodo

Dedication Baroness Josephine von Braun
Duration 14′

Listen

written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven made a rapid return to the piano sonata in 1799, publishing another two works as his Op.14 – moving on quickly from the Pathétique sonata. These pieces are slighter than that particular work, leading Angela Hewitt to speculate that they may originally have been intended for publication together, but were kept apart because of their musical differences.

Hewitt also notes the suitability of Beethoven’s writing for a string quartet – as does Lewis Lockwood, who suggests the piece may have begun life in that way before becoming a piano sonata. That suspicion would be confirmed three years later when Beethoven himself arranged the sonata as a quartet, transposing it up a tone to F major. This, says Lockwood, allowed him ‘to take advantage of the viola’s and cello’s open C strings while adjusting sonorities and dynamics to fit the medium and make the work idiomatic for quartet’.

As Lockwood reports, this was a matter of some importance, confirmed by Beethoven himself in a letter: ‘I firmly maintain that only Mozart himself could translate his works from the keyboard to other instruments, and Haydn could do this too – and without wishing to compare myself to these two great men, I claim the same about my keyboard sonatas.’

Thoughts

There is an attractive rocking motion in play at the start of this work, and an intimacy giving the listener a one-on-one experience. It is set in a relatively unusual key for Beethoven until now, E major – which gives it an open sound. Often the right hand is left alone as a sole melody, with a wandering phrase giving it the profile of a Baroque invention.

The second movement is inward looking, with a gentle lilt to the rhythm as Beethoven switches to the minor key. This is a small but decisive shift, the music attractive but more thoughtful.

By contrast, the third movement throws off these preoccupations with a lovely, flowing triple time theme. Reverting back to the major key, Beethoven uses a figuration he would revisit a whole lot later for his Piano Sonata no.30, also in the same key. Again the suggestion, with the stripped back parts, is that Beethoven has been immersing himself in music of the Baroque period, Bach and Handel in particular.

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)

Once again some fine versions are on offer. Alfred Brendel is perhaps the most eloquent, and Hewitt herself is fluent too. Paul Badura-Skoda, playing a Broadwood piano from around the time this piece was written, appears to be in something of a rush, with quick tempi for the outer movements and no repeats. His version is fun, however.

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 1799 Méhul Adrien, Ariodant

Next up Piano Sonata no.10 in G major Op.14/2

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