♫ Because this course has focused so heavily on Beethoven the innovator, Beethoven, the man of big ideas and ambitions, asker of big questions, it's good to be reminded that he did have a quirky side. The sonata op. 54 is by no means the only piece to make you scratch your head and think, “What’s he up to?” Some of his odd concept pieces became influential: An die ferne Geliebte, op. 98, for example, is really the first ever song cycle. Unsurprisingly, given that it was a genre Beethoven was making up as he went along, the piece is a little bit ungainly, in spite of being very beautiful. But it paved the way for some of Schubert and Schumann’s greatest masterworks – Die Schöne Müllerin, Winterreise, Dichterliebe… But some of Beethoven’s other experimental pieces were total one-offs. There are the 2 Preludes Op. 39, each of which, despite being very short, cycles through all twelve of the major keys. There are Scottish folk songs with piano trio accompaniment. There is the Fantasy, op. 77, which is sort of sublimely disorganized. It is to this tradition – to whatever extent such a disparate group of pieces can be considered a tradition – that Op. 54 belongs. But whereas all of these other pieces are isolated works, op. 54, as a piano sonata, is a different story: it belongs to the largest, and arguably most important, set of works Beethoven was to write, a set of works that spans his entire compositional lifetime and includes many of his most iconic works. And it is in this context that we need to look at it, and in which you see what an odd duck it is. Again, this is the sonata op. 54, the sonata no. 22. That means that it directly follows op. 53, no. 21 – the Waldstein – and directly precedes op. 57, no. 23 – the Appassionata. These works, different as they are, are both titanic: hugely ambitious, the first two Beethoven sonatas that truly build inexorably towards their conclusions – extraordinary conclusions, in both cases – and therefore, the first two to anticipate the late period. It’s true that Beethoven often followed a barnstormer with a lighter work in the same genre – the Eroica symphony is followed by the far less attention-seeking fourth; the fifth symphony is followed by the gentler Pastorale. But the fourth and pastorale symphonies, while they don’t have the grit of their predecessors, they are still large-scale and altogether great works. So following the Waldstein with op. 54, which is less than half its length and, more importantly, as quirky as the Waldstein is grand, that's a different matter altogether. And it’s not just a question of how Op. 54 fits in among the piano sonatas: it was written in a period when Beethoven was producing gigantic masterpieces in all sorts of genres, one after another. The Eroica symphony is Op. 55. The three Razumovsky quartets, among Beethoven’s grandest and greatest achievements, are op. 59. The fourth piano concerto and violin concerto are opp. 58 and 61, respectively. In this, the heart of the middle period, Beethoven was always reaching for the rafters, and the results were consistently phenomenal. So why, in the midst of all that, did Beethoven write strange little Op. 54? What did it mean to him? I don’t have an answer, a thesis statement, which is perhaps disappointing, given all the time I’ve devoted to the question! But before we get to the specifics of the piece itself, I wanted to make it crystal clear what an outlier this sonata is – among the 32 piano sonatas, and among the music Beethoven was producing around the same time.