Beethoven – Piano Sonata 14 in c♯, Op. 27/2 (1802)

The first movement of this sonata is marked alla breve, requiring a slow two, not four, in the bar, and “without damper,” implying depression of the damper pedal throughout. András Schiff, to compensate for the greater sustaining capacity of the modern piano, depresses the pedal only one-third. The effect produced is of a dissonant sonority that blurs the changes of harmony. With the count of two in the bar, the speed of the ostinato triplets obviates any tedium of motion; and the ever heightened blur of sonority, I find, is entirely convincing; moreover, the cumulative effect becomes one of exceptional musical daring rather than a reverie of passing tranquility. In fact, remarks Schiff, this movement is more related to the funeral march of Op. 26 and the death scene of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Beethoven, Op. 27/2, first movement, autograph

Beethoven, Op. 27/2, first movement, autograph

The remarkable sonic texture is thrown into even higher relief because the second movement requires, as a high contrast, great clarity and precision of sound. All three of the movements are effectually in C sharp minor, with the second movement notated in the enharmonic equivalent of D flat. The finale, which is propulsive, also relies exceptionally on the use of the pedal. Note for instance the two semiquavers, in both treble and bass, that are the apex of the two bars of climbing arpeggios: the passages are piano throughout, but the sudden sforzando coupled with the depression of the pedal for only a single beat causes the notes to sound by contrast much louder than they actually are.

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