Piano Sonata in D, Biamonti 213 (1792-93?) mp3 version (20.198 mB)
Author: Mark S. Zimmer
This composition was fully sketched by Beethoven in a more or less continuous melody line; the first Allegro is nearly complete (only the left hand is missing occasionally), the Andante less so, and the final Allegro is very much fragmentary. The original is found the in Kafka Miscellany in the British Museum, pages 90r-95r. The paper appears to be that used by Beethoven at the end of his time in Bonn.
After consideration, it appears clear that this work (which is not given a name by Beethoven) is a work in three distinct movements, although the third movement is anticipated through a lengthy quotation in the first movement. As such, it seems to be an unrecognized piano sonata. We present here Willem's completion of the continuity draft, in both MIDI and mp3 formats. The completion sticks quite closely to the continuity draft, with a few necessary expansions to the Finale to deal with some crude transitions that surely would have been reworked had Beethoven finished the sonata.
Joseph Kerman, who transcribed this sketch, gives it as title: "Composition (fantasia?) in D/d". It is easy to understand why Kerman uses the word "fantasia", as well as his question mark. The piece has the size of a full-blown sonata (21 minutes), but the structures of all 3 movements deviate from what one expects of a sonata, therefore it seems not quite right to call it that. But it isn't a fantasy either, because it lacks the rapid mood changes and the improvised character you associate with a fantasy. It is more something halfway between Sonata and Fantasy; therefore we propose to call it a "Sonata quasi una Fantasia". Of course, Biamonti 213 dates from some 10 years before opus 27, the two sonatas which Beethoven called "Sonatas quasi una Fantasia" himself (opus 27 nr.2 being the famous "Moonlight" Sonata).
It is perhaps true that many, if not all, pieces by Beethoven represent, in one way or another, a fine balance between the formal rules of classical structures on the one hand, and the freedom of improvisation on the other hand. The formal rules help to give the music its strength, while the freedom adds freshness, and avoids the formal rules of becoming rigid. It seems that Biamonti 213 gives a very surprising, and unique solution for finding a balance between these two principles, which is the more surprising because this is such an early piece. The even earlier Trio WoO 37 (from 1786) demonstrates that Beethoven was already capable of writing a perfect sonata form, therefore the deviations from the classical structures in Biamonti 213 should on no account be mistaken for a lack of compositional skill. On the contrary, the structure of Biamonti 213 is, in spite of all its oddities, wholly convincing.
The mood of the first movement is mainly one of a light and somewhat flimsy gaiety. Much of the writing is contrapuntal, but it suggests more than it really is (cf. Hess 64, also on this site). This confirms the date of origin as from before Beethoven's lessons with Albrechtsberger. However, one should not be dismissive of such writing, rather, one should appreciate the new possibilities it offers.
The head motif (D - C# - D) is the same Brahms, almost a century later, would use in his Second Symphony. At 1 minute 6 seconds into the recording a new theme, in the minor mode, occurs, which will later turn out to be the main subject of the Finale. The bass line for this theme is D - C# - D (-A), so clearly it stems from the head motif. In fact, the whole first movement is pervaded by its head motif, there being hardly a bar in which it doesn't occur in some way. In this respect this movement is rather like the first movement of the Fifth Symphony (and of course I mean this only in a technical sense, because the moods of the two movements are totally different).
If you are really desperate to discover a formal structure for this first movement, then perhaps one can say that only now, after the quote from the Finale, a loose and irregular Sonata Form follows, with a first subject at 1:47, second subject (also based on the head motif) at 2:06, closing group at 2:40, short development at 2:50, a false recapitulation at 3:24, and, still under the same trill chain, the actual recapitulation at 3:33 (although it deviates almost immediately from the exposition) and a coda at 5:14.
The first movement ends, surprisingly, not with the tonic of D, but on the dominant 7 of G, establishing the transition to the Andante, which follows without a break (at 5:33). The Andante is in ABA form, with a long coda; however, the motif from the first bar recurs in the middle of the B section (at 7:37 and again at 7:54), where it gains considerably in momentum. At 8:17 the music sounds both heavy and gentle, as if we are rocking an elephant on our lap (Beethoven explicitly doubles the leading note, C#, one octave lower).
The coda starts with an effect that is subtle as well as dramatic: the music flows gently in the key of G, when it is being interrupted by 3 quiet and strange B flats in the bass - the music tries to continue its flow in G, but is now halted by 3 equally mysterious E flats (at 9:22). It is as if, in the words of Cristina Barbieri, "we are facing something that is difficult to face". After a confused silence, the music resumes in the remote key of E flat, where the motif from the first bar recurs once again, now with doubled note values, sounding like the tolling of the death bells (apparently, the elephant did crush us after all!)
The Finale (at 11:21) starts with an agitated introduction based on the head motif from the first movement, in E minor at first, then modulating to D minor, reaching a climax with two fatalistic chords (11:46) . The theme that had already been quoted in the first movement now establishes itself as main theme of the Finale: having faced "that what is difficult to face", the flimsy gaiety and friendly gentleness of the first two movements are swept aside, and we see the human condition in a new, bleak and uncompromising light. This music anticipates in many ways Beethoven's second style period.
Not only does this 'sonata quasi una fantasia' have links to op. 27 nrs. 1 and 2, but there are some unmistakable echoes of it contained in the sonata op. 28 (the "Pastoral"), also in the key of D major, with movements in D minor. The first movement, with its easy loping 3/4 theme, has much the same feeling that we find in Biamonti 213. The insistent D-C#-D motif of the finale here also finds expression in the bass line of the 2nd movement of the Pastoral. The Finale of Biamonti 213 also features numerous ascending arpeggios on A chords that are present (as arpeggios of A7) just before the final section of the fourth movement of the Pastoral. The same motif, as arpeggios on B7, overlapping just as in the finale of op. 28, appears after the theme of the 2nd movement is stated in this sonata. Other small details found in op. 28 underscore its ties to this early attempt, indicating that even though apparently uncompleted, this sonata had not fallen out of Beethoven's memory. Perhaps the concept of this sonata quasi una fantasia was split up amongst these three works?
The 2nd subject (13:33) consists at first of the main theme of the Finale, but now transposed to the major key, immediately followed by a very simple, new theme, indicating that in spite of our grim understanding of reality, cheap cynicism has taken no hold over us: the capacity to love has remained. The hymn like melody that occurs at 14:11 may not exactly "embrace the millions", but seems capable of holding close at least several dozens.
At 19:40, there is a passage that sounds rather abstract. It is remarkable because it is harmonically highly unstable. Like Mozart sometimes does, Beethoven comes close to the brink of atonality here. The real significance of this is not that Beethoven envisions music 2 centuries in the future, but the widening of the harmonic rhythm.
The music reaches a dramatic climax (20:31) and our world is being destroyed by a single diminished 7 chord at 20:59. Over a shattered bass line, remnants of the main subject complain softly. A rising chromatic scale provides for a final gesture of defiance.