1804-6: Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23 (APPASSIONATA) in F Minor

SATURDAY, September 19, 2020 – 12:14 AM

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23 (APPASSIONATA) in F Minor, around age 30

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (colloquially known as the Appassionata, meaning “passionate” in Italian) is among the three famous piano sonatas of his middle period (the others being the Waldstein, Op. 53 and Les Adieux, Op. 81a). This recording by Richter is world famous among pianists. We just listen and are amazed.

  • 0:01 – Allegro assai, F minor
  • : It’s sonata form, but in this case I just don’t care. It all works. What hits me is that Richter, in this recording assaults my ears. It’s not pretty, or pleasant, or nice. It’s an explosion of contrasts, violent, angry, and when you read about the instruments Beethoven played on, and how much he hated them, you realize he would be absolutely ecstatic to hear this music, played by this man, on a modern grand.
  • Andante con moto:He slips  to Db major, like this: F Ab C becomes F Ab Db, a single morph, and it’s the smoothest way to change keys from minor to major. It replaces the old standard of moving to Ab major, which would be the relative major. He starts with a simple theme and then follows with four four variations follow. Then he returns to the theme. It’s all quiet, and the whole movement is almost childishly simple, a true eye of the storm.
  • Allegro ma non troppo – Presto: After the calm 2nd movement, out of nowhere there is a super quiet diminished chords followed by the same thing with a thunderous sound. This is pure anger again, and adrenaline. Richter plays this faster than anyone else I’ve heard, and his power is absolutely titanic. The coda is faster beyond belief, so you can see why today this sonata is always a home run in concerts when played really well.

The name – Appassionata…

It was not Beethoven’s but rather the invention by the publisher of a four-hand arrangement of the work in 1838. Beethoven had been dead around 12 years. But the name seems to fit, so it caught on and has been used every since.

The year of composition is not clear…

It was composed during 1804 and 1805, and perhaps 1806, and was dedicated to Count Franz von Brunswick. The first edition was published in February 1807 in Vienna. So every account I’ve read gives a different official year for the completed composition.



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