Opus 31 Number 2 in D Minor


In addition to my attempts at composing, for the last week I have been relearning the Beethoven Op. 31 No. 2 that I played in undergrad.  Today I officially finished memorizing the first movement, so after my practice session, I came back to look in my handy dandy book about Beethoven and his sonatas, titled “Beethoven’s Pianoforte Sonatas Explained” by Ernst von Elterlein.  In this book, Elterlein has taken an aesthetic as well as theoretical look at each of Beethoven’s sonatas.  Every time I learn another of the sonatas, I always come back to this book to look at what is “under the hood” of that particular piece.  The Op. 31 No. 2, nicknamed “The Tempest” (by a publisher, no doubt) has one of the longer descriptions in the book.  It reads as follows:

“The first movement of this Sonata, allegro, D minor, 4/4 time, is a dramatic presentation of a manly, earnest, passionate, and violent conflict, accompanied by inward struggles.  In the beginning of the movement, the master still betrays indecision; he pauses, reflection whether he shall take the decisive step of not.  Then, all at once, he makes up his mind and the storm bursts forth; at bar 21 the chief theme appears, as Marx says, sternly resolute and full of force, but soon joins itself to a gentler impulse of pain or of supplication; then the feeling becomes more and more restless, and the second theme has a very agitated character.  Now some hard blows resound, as if the struggling spirit were bracing itself for fresh effort.  Then the deep, angry, tumultuous mutterings and rollings recommence.  At the beginning of the second part we hear again the largo tones; ‘the largo question sounds solemnly three times;’ and the response is renewed, but more eager aspiration and passionate struggle.  A moment’s rest comes again, the largo is heard once more in a recitative full of expression, and of sorrowful submission to the inevitable.  Such I take to be the meaning of the recitative.  Then the struggling and striving dies away in low, gloomy mutterings.

“The second movement, adagio, B flat major, 3/4 time, depicts the deepest inward peace and serene happiness.  A religious feeling pervades the chief theme of this movement.  But amid all this repose come occasional outbursts of passion; indescribable emotions rise and swell in the heart; an ardent yearning after higher happiness takes possession of the soul; the agitation is gently soothed, but the yearnings begin again, to be, however, hushed at least.  The whole is a beautiful and richly colored piece of soul-painting.

“The third movement, allegretto, D minor, 3/8 time, consists properly of only two principal subjects; the first quite at the beginning of the movement of four notes only, A, F, E, D; the second of six notes at the interval of a second (F, E, F, E, F, E).  This gives a stamp of originality to the piece, especially to the second tuneless motive, and something of a bizarre tinge is imparted by the almost obstinate repetition of the theme in every key.  What does this movement mean?  A deep agitation through it; a striving after something, as there was in the first movement, but a less active striving, one might say a more resigned effort, accompanied, however, by a bitter, almost gnawing grief.  Over the whole, which Marx speaks of as ‘perfumed with longing,’ there hovers a spirit of fantasy; a humorous feature runs though it, by which the former restless, and even gloomy, character of the movement is essentially modified.  After careful consideration, we feel convinced that this rondo is no mere caprice, and that there is, although we may not be able to explain how, a subtle connection between it and the first movement.  And the sonata on this account gives the impression of a work uniformly carried out.  It may also be noted that, according to tradition, Beethoven had a special preference for this Sonata, and frequently played it in public” (Elterlein, 1903, pp 77-79).

So, overlook Elterlein’s poor writing style and if you aren’t familiar with music, overlook the technical jargon.  My journey seems very similar to this Sonata at the moment.  In the first movement, there is one spot in particular that I can point out to you where up until this point, it is clouds and thunder.  In this particular spot, the clouds have clearly parted to make room for the sun, however temporarily the sun’s appearance is (and in this case, it is only a few bars).  I believe I have gotten to that sunny point, even if it’s only temporarily this time.  That being said, it’s toward the end of the first movement, so if my life is going to mimic the music, I don’t have long until we have an entire movement in a major key (and my favorite major key at that…B-flat).  I guess all there is left to do at this point is ride it out and see if B-flat comes next!


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