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Piano Sonata No.23 in F-, Op.57 'Appassionata'

by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

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Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, opus 57, colloquially known as the Appassionata, is considered one of the two great piano sonatas of his middle period (the other being the Waldstein sonata, opus 53). It was composed during 1804, 1805, and perhaps 1806, and is dedicated to Count Franz von Brunswick. The first edition was published in February 1807 in Vienna.

While the early Sonata No. 8, Pathétique, was named by Beethoven himself, the Appassionata was so labeled in 1838 by the publisher of a four-hand arrangement of the work.

The Appassionata was considered by Beethoven to be his finest piano sonata ever, described as a "brilliantly executed display of emotion and music".

An average performance of all three movements of the Appassionata sonata lasts about 23 minutes.

The sonata has three movements:

Allegro assai Andante con moto - attacca Allegro, ma non troppo - Presto The first movement is a sonata-allegro with no repeats in 12/8 time and is roughly 10 minutes long. The movement moves quickly through startling changes in tone and dynamics, and is characterised by an economic use of themes. The main theme, in double octaves, is quiet and ominous. Just after a four bars the main theme is repeated in G-flat major, creating a great contrast. There is a short but important recurrent four note motif reminiscent of the main theme in Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. In the recapitulation the fortissimo outbreak is triumphantly shifted to F-major. The second theme begins as a free inversion of the main theme. As in Beethoven's Waldstein-sonata the coda is unusually long, containing quasi-improvisational arpeggios which span most of the (early 19th-century) piano's range. The choice of F-minor becomes very clear when one realizes that this movement makes frequent use of the deep, dark tone of the lowest F on the piano, which was the lowest note available to Beethoven at the time.

Beginning of the second movementThe second movement is a theme and variations on a slow, quiet, hymn-like tune in D-flat major, comprising two eight-bar sections that both repeat; the second section starts in A-flat major. The variations are as follows:

similar to the original theme, with the left hand playing on the off-beats. an embellishment of the theme in sixteenth notes. a rapid embellishment in thirty-second notes. Instead of repeating, the left hand and right hand each take sections of the theme in turn. a reprise of the original theme, with small changes. Instead of ending on a quiet note, the closing pair of diminished 7th chords, the first pianissimo and the second fortissimo, strike like a thunderbolt and lead without pause into the third movement. Beethoven ends the third (scherzo) movement of his Symphony No. 5 with unresolved tension. Without pause between movements, the fourth movement follows with triumphant fanfare. Likewise here, there is also a brief moment of unresolved tension ending this middle movement (a more brief delay than in the Fifth). The third movement is a sonata-allegro in which, very unusually, only the second part is directed to be repeated. The movement is based on a perpetuum mobile theme, with rapid sixteenth notes that are only interrupted for brief moments in the development and coda. The coda, when it arrives, contains a totally new theme in binary form, which is very percussive. It leads into a climax in unwavering F minor and its dominant seventh, which eventually crashes down in a manner similar to that of the Op. 27 no. 2 sonata. The movement is mysteriously complex and fast-paced in nature. It has some short melodic fragments and canons. The movement has been called many things by music critics — passionate, despairing, and breath-taking.