Beethoven Piano Sonata Op 7

Sonata in E flat major Op 7
Allegro molto e con brio
Largo con gran espressione
Allegro
Rondo: Poco Allegretto e grazioso

Op 7 was written in 1797 and the influence of Haydn and Clementi is very apparent. Despite the debt owed to these Classical composers, Beethoven, always an innovator rather than a follower, made sure his personal style was stamped all over the sonata.

The tempo markings are more emotional than functional, a habit that would become more pronounced in his later works. Rather than just mark the first movement Allegro, he insists on making sure the performer plays quickly and with spirit. He would use the same tempo marking in the opening movement of his Fifth Symphony as well as the 21st piano sonata ‘Waldstein’.

The structure of Op 7 is extraordinarily broad. At over 30 minutes in length, only Op 106 ‘Hammerklavier’ is longer. Unlike Hammerklavier, each of the four movements in Op 7 are roughly the same length.

A notable feature of the first movement is Beethoven’s use of 6/8 meter. This meter was reserved traditionally for last movement rondos in many classical symphonies and wind concerti. He uses it to great effect particularly in the coda where he takes liberties with the bar lines and displaces the rhythm slightly. In the second movement, Beethoven uses another one of his tricks: silence. Leaving gaps of nothing is a very effective way to slow the pace and provides an even starker contrast to the running notes of the first movement.

Although not marked a minuet, the third movement is set in triple meter, is written in binary form and has a trio passage in another key; all hallmark features of a traditional minuet. Beethoven again plays with the form in the final movement. On paper it is a rondo but the lyrical opening theme is highly unusual for the form. He provides some suitably stormy contrasting sections but chooses to ignore the rousing coda typical of rondo form and instead ends the sonata with a string of shimmering pianissimos.

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