The fourth instalment in our Beethoven on Board series is now available on the Online Academy and features the Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 7. This work builds on the expansive elements displayed in the previous three, particularly in the first movement, and shows a greater maturity despite only being composed a few years later. Sandwiched between two sets of three works – Op. 2 and Op. 10 – it certainly stands on its own and is the longest sonata of the entire cycle, bar perhaps the Hammerklavier.
Much like the earlier works, this masterpiece is again not often included in concert programmes. With four wildly contrasting movements, we witness Beethoven from a slightly different angle, a further glimpse into his depth of musical genius: grandeur but also with calmness, gracefulness and charm. With each movement filled with such unique characters, there is much to investigate and admire in this lesser-known work.
1st Mvt – Allegro molto e con brio
The first movement shares a key with Haydn’s last piano sonata in E-flat major which was written in 1794. It certainly inherits a sense of character and the grandeur of Haydn’s work which is perhaps also evident in Beethoven’s last piano concerto, Emperor, also in E-flat major. This large-scale first movement incorporates Beethoven’s hallmark dynamism, refreshing motives, extremely contrasting characters and intriguing modulations.
2nd Mvt – Largo, con gran espressione
This movement starts off with a somewhat fragmented opening and poses a similar question to the second movement from sonata No. 3 – “Is it a song, or is it a monologue?”. Beethoven makes his intention clearer with the titling of the movement: “con gran espressione”. The middle section borrows from the second movement of Sonata No. 2 with the pizzicato accompaniment, however with more chorale-like characteristics. The incredibly extreme intervals, using the full span of the keyboard he had at the time, foreshadows his last Sonata No. 32 from many years later.
3rd Mvt – Allegro & Minore
Despite the confident opening with no upbeat for the first time, we have a somewhat elusive movement compared with Beethoven’s third movements up to this point. Almost too simple in its light-hearted character, there is a strikingly contrasting, and a particularly haunting, middle section in E-flat minor, perhaps reminiscent of Schubert’s Erlkönig.
4th Mvt – Rondo: Poco allegretto e grazioso
Again we have another expanded last movement which continues with the elusive nature of the third movement. Much like the last movement of Sonata No. 2, this one is in Rondo form with a tumultuous section in the middle.
The unexpected modulation to E major towards the end shows another possible homage to Haydn’s last piano sonata in E-flat, where he wrote the second movement in the key of E major. Whereas virtuosic finales were more common in his compositions up to this point, here, Beethoven shows maturity by wrapping up this Grand Sonata with a graceful, quiet ending, with a sense of acceptance and even a touch of charm.
The full set of eighteen videos in which Masa explores background, style, interpretation, technical challenges and practice methods for each of the four movements of this work is now available on the Online Academy. Click here to view or click here to find out more about the Online Academy. Click here to find out more about Masa’s videos featuring other Beethoven Sonatas.
Beethoven on Board
Our Beethoven on Board series will ultimately feature all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas and is being filmed on board The Piano Boat. The Piano Boat is a new way of bringing classical music to audiences in and around London, surrounded by the intrigue and beauty of the canals.
The boat, Rachmaninov, is designed for and dedicated to musical events, carrying a beautiful Steinway Model A grand piano in the concert saloon. Seating 12 in an exclusive, intimate setting, it offers an experience where spectacular music is at the forefront of your experience on the canals. Click here to find out more.