An important part of the Beethoven myth is the idea that he was not bound to any one job or patron but rather wrote what suited him, when it suited. While it is true that he was not employed in the same way Mozart or Haydn were, Beethoven, especially in the early days, still wrote pieces for a purpose, namely money. His first two cello sonatas, Op.5 were composed on the occasion of a visit to Friedrich Wilhem II of Prussia, who fancied himself as a fine amateur cellist. As Beethoven became more established, he began to dedicate pieces to members of Viennese society that supported him much in the same way modern buildings or sporting events are named after those that provide funding.
The Op. 10 piano sonatas were dedicated to the Countess Anna Margarete von Browne, whose husband was Beethoven’s chief patron between 1797 and 1803. Their collaboration resulted in one of the more amusing examples of Beethoven’s scatterbrainedness. After the dedication, the Brownes gave Beethoven a gift of a riding horse, which he promptly forgot about. One of his more enterprising servants hired out the horse and it wasn’t until Beethoven received a large bill for fodder that he curtailed the servant’s illicit entrepreneurial activities and got rid of the animal.
During the late 18th century, it was customary for chamber works to be published in multiples of three. Mozart’s six Haydn quartets and Haydn’s Op 76 quartets are well known examples of this practice. Beethoven worked on Op 10 from 1796-1798. As a set, they are angular and experimental, moving farther and farther away from the influences of his Classical heritage. Despite his erratic behaviour and tempestuous personality, Beethoven made changes to his compositional style rather gradually. The bookends of his oeuvre are miles apart but still very much connected, with each piece representing an indispensable part of the whole.
Sonata in C minor Op 10 No 1 1796-98
Allegro molto e con brio
Often referred to as the Little Pathétique, Op 10, No.1 is appreciated more for its foreshadowing of subsequent compositions than a valuable sonata in its own right. The comparison between the two sonatas (the other is Op 13) doesn’t own anything to the thematic material but rather to the key structure and tempo markings. Pathétique was written in 1798, almost immediately following Op. 10 and it does seem as if Beethoven was using this sonata as a trial run.
The first movement is a fairly standard affair in sonata form. In the second movement, Beethoven is up to his usual trick of using harmony to create melodic tension, choosing rather to innovate in his choice of form. The sonatina form, ABAB, is a sonata without a development section and was quite a popular choice during the Classical period. It is not considered a serious form and indeed many an amateur pianist will recall learning works in this format in their early days.
[redacted to correct error. third movement returning soon!]