Sonata #11 in B flat Major, Opus 22

Composed in 1799 - 1800; Published in 1802

This is the first sonata where, instead of breaking new ground and probing the limits of every precept and process he can, Beethoven appears satisfied to rest on his laurels. Op. 22 is the most “normal” sonata he wrotethe one that most closely adheres to textbook descriptions of the form. Furthermore, it does not portray him in any of his most characteristic moments; it is not especially defiant, tragic, humorous, or brilliant. Nevertheless, he was particularly proud of it, according to a letter that he wrote to his publisher, and his pride is fully justified. Beethoven’s accomplishments to date in this genre are fully summed up in this work. Moreover, it would be hard to find a piece that better exemplifies the piano sonata at the end of the 18th century.

Still, even here, something new is afoot: the degree, and function, of pianistic figuration. The passage-work no longer merely provides self-conscious moments of brilliance as in, say, Op. 2/3: it becomes the very stuff out of which much of the work is cast, and forecasts pieces like the Waldstein and the fourth concerto.

This is also Beethoven’s most elegant sonata to date. From the start of his career, his ‘Haydnesque’ tendency to wring as much melodic content as he can from a few simple motives was present. However, in Op. 22, we also witness a ‘Mozartean’ sense of effortlessness in the way the themes flow into each other, especially in the opening movement. The utterly sublime slow mov’t is one of my personal favorites in the entire canon. With its simple accompanying chords in the left hand, it begins innocently, like a Grade 3 piano piece. However, once Beethoven has stated his material, the movementin a full Sonata formdevelops magically, with an almost unbearable degree of tension in the Development section.

The gracious, trouble-free Minuet begins with upward motion from D to F, as in the opening movement, followed by a turning motif that is derived from the Adagio. The trio is more intense, with most of the melodic interest maintained by the figurations in left hand. Although we “tune detectives,” can be a tiresome lot, we are here justified in noting a strong connection between this theme and an episode in Mozart’s Turkish Rondo.

The final movement is probably the most successful of Beethoven’s congenial, repetitive sonata-rondos. The second theme is reminiscent of that which he used for a set of G major variations familiar to many student pianists. The central section is a little sonatinaa form within a form, as it werein which the main theme is that same G Major tune, while the second theme derives from a figuration that occurs in the first movement. More than one commentator has noted the resemblance between this movement and the finale to the Sonata, Op. 7, but whereas the earlier one ends softly, Beethoven must have decided that a sonata of this scope required a more decisive conclusion than he had provided the first time around.


—Notes by Robert Silverman

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