1798: Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 in C minor

THURSDAY, November 19, 2020 – 7:14 AM

Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 in C minor, age 27

Like all three sonatas of his Op. 10, it is dedicated to Anna Margarete von Browne, the wife of one of Beethoven’s patrons, a Russian diplomat in Vienna.

The sonata is divided into three movements:

  • Allegro molto e con brio in C minor
  • Adagio molto in A♭ major
  • Finale: Prestissimo in C minor

I have not picked on recording as clearly my favorite, so I’ll just list a few and you can decide or vote:

Daniel Barenboim

The playing is fine, and it’s always great to be able to see pianists as they play, but the extreme closeups of his face in the 2nd movement are quite narcissistic and altogether totally annoying, and if I have to see one more closeup  of his face I think I’m going to scream. But that’s not his fault. The camera person should be fired.

Claudio Arrau

I won’t bother explaining, but for me this is just better and perhaps the best. The weakness for students is that there is nothing to see, but Arrau was a pure musician in every way. When I was young I heard him live, and I will never forget that experience.

Ben Lepetit, only 10 ages old

I wish I had the whole sonata, but only the 1st movement is linked. I want to keep an eye on this kid, who would be 13 this year. Often when you hear pre-teens playing this well, they sort of disappear around age 13 and then reappear a few years later as they beging to win awards.

1st movement

Composers of this time period seems to pick the key of C minor for darker and more dramatic ideas, and later Beethoven’s 5th symphony would be in this key. I’m very partial to works in minor, so this would be a very enjoyable sonata to teach. For me it is very interesting to compare Beethoven’s use of minor with Haydn. Haydn seemed to use mode changes – from major to minor – as more of a form matter than personal expression. Beethoven’s use of minor is much more personal.

2nd movement

The move to Ab major is a double morph, and I like it far more than a move to Eb major, the relative major. Beethoven used the same key change in his 5th symphony.

3rd movement

The third movement is in sonata form, which is a tiny bit unusual because the last movement of sonatas and symphonies are more often rondos – though using sonata form is not a bit surprise. One mystery for me is why more sonatas in minor do not have triumphant endings in major, which is quite common in symphonies.


Leave a Reply