Woman at a Window by Caspar David Friedrich (1822) The woman in question is the artist’s wife
Piano Sonata no.9 in E major Op.14/1 for piano (1798-99, Beethoven aged 28)
3 Scherzo: Allegro assai
Dedication Baroness Josephine von Braun
written by Ben Hogwood
Background and Critical Reception
‘An exquisite little work’. The verdict of esteemed musicologist Donald Tovey, proving that in the lesser-known piano sonatas of Beethoven, there are gems to be discovered.
Lewis Lockwood writes of this piece as a ‘paired opposite’ to Op.14/1, encountered yesterday, describing it as ‘a foray into the smaller-sonata world; it is almost a sonatina…with a charming first movement…a slow, simple C major variation movement and a curt finale marked Scherzo that is actually a Rondo.
This piece has an innocuous beginning, floating in as though from the outside with a dreamy melody on the right hand. Beethoven settles immediately into an easy flowing style, bringing Bach to mind at the very end as the piece resolves in the manner of one of his keyboard preludes.
The second movement is a lightly playful march, slow but resolute – and with an offbeat emphasis that makes you feel Beethoven is not quite walking in a straight line. The silences keep the listener on the edge, though, as though Beethoven intends to make you jump sooner or later! He does exactly that at the end, having proceeded through just three charming variations.
The third movement is stop-start, phrased like an irregular story. When it flows it is incessant and brimming with enthusiasm, but often Beethoven will stop the flow for a shorter phrase, an aside to the listener, emphasising the human aspect of how the piano phrases work. Any parallels this time would be more with C.P.E. Bach in his free, ‘fantasia’ way of thinking.
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)
Claudio Arrau (Philips)
The sense of enjoyment coarses through each of the selected readings of this sonata. Some, like András Schiff or Emil Gilels, take their time with the first movement but retain a special intimacy throughout. Paul Badura-Skoda enjoys the surprise element at the end of the second movement, as does Angela Hewitt, while the throwaway nature of the final bars of the piece are relished by the likes of Claudio Arrau.
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 Ferdinando Paer La Camila ossia il Sotteraneo
Next up 8 Variations on ‘Tändeln und Scherzen’ WoO 76