Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 21 (Waldstein) in C major, Op. 53

Beethoven in 1818 (from Beethoven 9 Symphonies by Karajan & BPO. DG-1963)

This sonata was composed in 1804, in Beethoven’s middle period, during which his works took on great leaps in transitioning from late classical idioms to romantic era, with innovation in many ground-breaking works, such as his “Eorica” Symphony. I would characterize the experience of listening to this piece as refreshing and delightful.

1. Allegro con brio

The opening theme starts on lower register of the piano, with a series repeating chords, sounding anxious but forward-looking:

The second theme sounds like a chorale, contrasting to the first theme with more relaxed mood as well as slower rhythm:

then it’s augmented with triplets above the melody, and soon these triplets dominate the progression leading to the repeat of the themes in the exposition part of the piece. This triplet rhythmic pattern is later heavily used in the development section, and also seen in the last movement:

There is a recording of live lecture[1] by renowned Hungarian pianist András Schiff on the Waldstein sonata (probably a cut from a longer lecture or series), in which he stated that the piece has the power of an orchestra, particularly seen in the development of the first movement.

2. Introduzione: Adagio molto

This movement is such a short Adagio that it practically serves as a prelude to the finale. Its only theme is a slow, solemn yet tranquil melody played on the lower register:

There is no separation between this short movement and the finale. We don’t hear a resolution at the end, rather, the very last note (fermata on G) is the beginning note of the Rondo.

3. Rondo: Allegretto moderato - Prestissimo

This Rondo follows ABACABA form with a coda. The first (A) theme is a beautiful lyrical melody played on the bright high register by crossing left hand, underpinned by rich texture created through dense sixteenth note accompaniment on the lower range and full pedal down:

The B episode is a contrasting dance-like rhythm, led by triplet broken chords then followed by thumping octaves on the lower register:

The C episode comes after the repeat of the main theme, and has similar style like B, but now accompanied by flying triplets alternating between left and right hand:

The much expanded coda, almost double the length of that in the first movement, also doubles the tempo of the main theme:


[1] Lecture on Waldstein by András Schiff
[2] Booklet of Beethoven 9 Symphonies by Karajan & BPO. DG-1963)
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