Piano sonatas (Beethoven)

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his 32 piano sonatas between 1795 and 1822. Although originally not intended to be a meaningful whole, as a set they compose one of the most important collections of works in the history of music.[1] Hans von Bülow called them "The New Testament" of the piano literature (Johann Sebastian Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier being "The Old Testament").[2]

Beethoven's piano sonatas came to be seen as the first cycle of major piano pieces suited to concert hall performance.[1] Being suitable for both private and public performance, Beethoven's sonatas form "a bridge between the worlds of the salon and the concert hall".[1] The first person to play them all in a single concert cycle was Hans von Bülow, the first complete recording is Artur Schnabel's for the label His Master's Voice.

List of sonatasEdit

Early sonatasEdit

Beethoven's early sonatas were highly influenced by those of Haydn and Mozart. Even so, he began to find new ways of composing his sonatas. His Piano Sonatas No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 11, 12, 13, and 15 were four movements long, which was rather uncommon in his time.

  • Opus 49: Two Piano Sonatas (composed 1795–6, published 1805)
  1. Piano Sonata No. 19 in G minor
  2. Piano Sonata No. 20 in G major

Middle sonatasEdit

After he wrote his first 15 sonatas, he wrote to Wenzel Krumpholz, "From now on, I'm going to take a new path." Beethoven's sonatas from this period are very different from his earlier ones. His experimentation in modifications to the common sonata form of Haydn and Mozart became more daring, as did the depth of expression. Most Romantic period sonatas were highly influenced by those of Beethoven. After 1804, Beethoven ceased publishing sonatas in sets and only composed them as a single opus. It is unclear why he did so.

  • Opus 31: Three Piano Sonatas (1802)
  1. Piano Sonata No. 16 in G major
  2. Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor ("Tempest")
  3. Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major ("The Hunt")

Late sonatasEdit

Beethoven's late sonatas were some of his most difficult works and some of today's most difficult repertoire. Yet again, his music found a new path, often incorporating fugal technique and displaying radical departure from conventional sonata form. The "Hammerklavier" was deemed to be Beethoven's most difficult sonata yet. In fact, it was considered unplayable until almost 15 years later, when Liszt played it in a concert.

Performances and recordingsEdit

In a single concert cycle, the whole 32 sonatas were first performed by Hans von Bülow.[3] A number of other pianists have emulated this feat, including Artur Schnabel (the first since Bülow to play the complete cycle in concert from memory), Claudio Arrau, Alfred Brendel and Maurizio Pollini.[4] Daniel Barenboim has performed the complete cycle many times in cities around the globe, including Tel Aviv, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Prague, New York, and his hometown of Buenos Aires.

The first pianist to make a complete recording was Artur Schnabel, who recorded them for the British recording label His Master's Voice (HMV) between 1932 and 1935.[5][6][7] Other pianists to make complete recordings include Claudio Arrau,[8] Vladimir Ashkenazy, Wilhelm Backhaus, Daniel Barenboim (twice: for EMI and Deutsche Grammophon), Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Malcolm Binns and Ronald Brautigam (on period pianos), Alfred Brendel (three times: once for Vox and twice for Philips, 1970-77 and 1992-96), Paul Badura-Skoda, Rudolf Buchbinder, John O'Conor, Annie Fischer, Claude Frank, Richard Goode, Maria Grinberg, Friedrich Gulda, Jenő Jandó, Wilhelm Kempff (twice, in mono and stereo for Deutsche Grammophon), Stephen Kovacevich, Mari Kodama, Anton Kuerti, Igor Levit, Paul Lewis, John Lill, HJ Lim, Louis Lortie, Yves Nat, Garrick Ohlsson, Kun-Woo Paik, Alfredo Perl, Maurizio Pollini, Bernard Roberts, András Schiff, Russell Sherman, Robert Taub, Gerard Willems and Fazil Say.

Known for their Beethoven, both Solomon and Emil Gilels began recordings of the sonatas, but neither completed the set. Whereas Solomon suffered a career-ending stroke, Gilels died in 1985 before he could finish his own set.

Glenn Gould, Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter, and Rudolf Serkin recorded selected sonatas, but never recorded the complete series.


The Op. 106 sonata was orchestrated by Felix Weingartner for a Romantic era orchestra.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c Rosen (2002), accompanying note
  2. ^ "A Panoramic Survey of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106: Composition and Performance". Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  3. ^ "Carnegie Room Concerts". Archived from the original on 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  4. ^ http://www.princeton.edu/~gpmenos/C_Arrau_at_60.html
  5. ^ "Artur Schnabel". www.bechstein.com. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  6. ^ Bloesch, David (1986). "Artur Schnabel: A Discography" (PDF). Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal. 18-1/3: 34.
  7. ^ Beethoven Complete Piano Sonatas in Two Volumes, ed. by Artur Schnabel, Alfred Masterwork Edition, Publisher's Preface
  8. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20110519080528/http://patachonf.free.fr/musique/arrau/discographie.php?p=b#Beethoven


  • Rosen, Charles (2002). Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-09070-3.
  • Tovey, Donald (1999). A Companion to Beethoven's Piano Sonatas. Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. ISBN 978-1-86096-086-4.
  • Taub, Robert (2009). Playing the Beethoven Piano Sonatas. Amadeus Press. ISBN 978-1-57467-178-0.
  • Behrend, William (1988). Ludwig Van Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas. Ams Pr Inc. ISBN 978-0-404-12861-6.
  • Matthews, Denis (1967). Beethoven piano sonatas. British Broadcasting Corporation.
  • Drake, Kenneth (2000). The Beethoven sonatas and the creative experience. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-21382-2.
  • Harding, Henry Alfred (2010). Analysis of Form in Beethoven's Sonatas. Nabu Press. ISBN 978-1-176-31116-9.

External linksEdit