♫ So, that brings us to the op. 14 sonatas. Whereas the op. 49s were written around 1795, these works date from 1798 and 1799. That is to say, they are more-or-less from the same era. Nevertheless, they are really an entirely different kettle of fish. If the op. 49s were barely identifiable as Beethoven, with the op. 14s, we are not just back in true Beethoven territory, but back to works that support the premise of this course: that each one of these sonatas is distinctive and, in some meaningful way, unlike any of the others. So, we’ll start with Op. 14 no. 1, in E Major. And this sonata is distinguished, in part, by what Beethoven chose to do with it AFTER it was completed: this sonata was transcribed, by Beethoven, for string quartet. So, this is interesting for many reasons, one of which is that while Beethoven was to write perhaps the greatest body of string quartets in the history of the genre, at this point, he had yet to write any. In fact, when he transcribed this sonata, he was just about to start writing the D Major String Quartet, op. 18 no. 3, the first that he wrote. So it may be that making this transcription was, at least in part, a preparatory exercise for Beethoven. It’s crucial that I say “in part”, because the truth is, transcriptions were a way of life – and, more to the point, a source of income – for Beethoven. That aforementioned Septet became a trio for piano, clarinet, and cello; the violin concerto became a piano concerto; The Grosse Fuge for string quartet, in a reversal of the op. 14 no. 1 story, became a work for piano 4 hands; the quintet for piano and winds became a quartet for piano and strings; and on and on and on. Now, I’m sorry to be negative – I seem to be doing a lot of that in this lecture! – but more often than not, these transcriptions add no value to the original works, and in fact, usually something is lost in translation – sometimes something significant. Instrumental timbre is not as critical to Beethoven’s music as it is to that of some other composers – Mozart for sure – but he didn’t always take a lot of care over these transcriptions, and therefore they often sound simply less suited to their new instruments. Beethoven made these transcriptions to earn money, and also so that his music could find a wider audience – they assured that a larger group of amateur musicians, home musicians, could have a go at them. I would say that op. 14 no. 1 is something of an exception to this rule: the decision to transcribe this sonata for string quartet does have something to do with the work’s inherent nature. In the first movement in particular, the overwhelming majority of the music is written in four voices: either four voice chords, or a melody with a three part accompaniment, or the same passage played four times successively, in different registers – basically, all the different styles of four part writing that we find in the quartet literature. What’s fascinating, though, is that if listening to the piano sonata version makes you think that op. 14 no. 1 sounds like it should be for string quartet, hearing the quartet transcription reveals that it actually is far more idiomatic to the piano than it is strings. There is passagework that, while not especially idiomatic for the piano, really doesn’t suit string instruments at all, forcing them to cross strings at very inopportune moments. The spacing of the chords is a bit wide, which can work on the piano, but which is awkward and lacking in resonance for the four strings. Even the key reveals how problematic the transcription was: Beethoven changed it from E major on the piano to F Major for the quartet, but any string quartet player will tell you that F Major is one of the most unfriendly keys to play in, from the point of view of intonation. So, the part writing of this sonata might suggest a string quartet, but ultimately, it’s all piano sonata. Let’s hear the exposition of the first movement. ♫ So, from many points of view, I think the closest analog for this sonata is the F Major, Op. 10 no. 2. ♫ This similarity will come more to the fore in the second movement. But here, the (limited) similarity is a question of character: what I would call gentle humor. In op. 10 no. 2, it’s a bit more about the humor; here, the emphasis is more on the gentleness. And in the opening phrase, you already can see two different forms of “quartet” writing: first, the melody getting a three voice, off-the-string chordal accompaniment, ♫ and then the second half of the phrase being these scampering sixteenth notes that come in four voices, successively. ♫ (This is plenty inconvenient for the strings, but that didn’t stop Beethoven from writing a similar passage much later in life, in the quartet op. 59 no. 3 – convenience was never high on Beethoven’s list of priorities. The first theme is quite leggiero; the second theme is even gentler. ♫ While there’s plenty of character in this music, nothing in this movement is in any way aggressive, or even forceful. I said that the op. 14s are ultimately dwarfed by the other early sonatas, and beautiful as this movement is, it lacks that bit of edge that makes op. 10 no. 2 memorable. A new level of drama does arrive, though, with the development. It begins in a minor key and stays there for pretty much its entire duration. At first, the material is closely related to the opening of the piece, but soon, Beethoven makes the unusual choice to introduce a new theme – developments don’t generally contain new material. And this theme is actually more intense and personal than either of the main ones in the exposition. ♫ At the very end, the development again makes reference to the opening. ♫ But the combination of this development being dominated by new material and it remaining stubbornly in minor throughout means that the development is a surprising continuation of a work that begins so benevolently. The benevolence returns in the recapitulation, and the movement is capped by a short coda which really drives home its overall character: dolce, light, not especially intense. At first, there are flatted seconds, ♫ which recall the development inasmuch as they make the music hover between major and minor, ♫ but in the final phrase, which disappears into the ether, every dark cloud has been removed. ♫ There is an ethereal quality to this ending, and to much of the movement – “ethereal” is not one of the first one hundred words I’d use to describe Beethoven, generally, but nevertheless, this movement has his thumbprints clearly on it.