great compositions/performances: Artur Schnabel plays Beethoven Piano Sonata No.30, Op.109
Beethoven’s studio (Johann Nepomuk Hoechle, 1827)
Work on Op. 109 can be traced back to early in 1820, even before Beethoven’s negotiations with Adolf Schlesinger, the publisher of his last three sonatas. Recent research suggests that Friedrich Starke had asked Beethoven for a composition for his piano anthology The Vienna Pianoforte School, and that Beethoven had interrupted work on the Missa Solemnis. In the end, though, he offered Starke numbers 7-11 of the Bagatelles, Op. 119.
There is an April entry in Beethoven’s conversation book describing a “small new piece” that is, according to William Meredith, identical to the first movement of Op. 109. In fact, the outline of the movement makes the idea of a Bagatelle interrupted by fantasia-like interludes seem very plausible. Beethoven’s secretary Franz Oliva then allegedly suggested the idea of using this “small piece” as the beginning of the sonata that Schlesinger wanted. Sieghard Brandenburg has put forward the theory that Beethoven had originally planned a two-movement sonata, omitting the first movement. Apparently some of the motivic characteristics that link the first movement with the others were only introduced later. Alexander Wheelock Thayer, on the other hand, put forward the view that the beginning of a sonata in E minor by Beethoven was not developed further and had nothing to do with Op. 109.
Manuscript of Op. 109 (start of the first movement)
For the third movement, Beethoven first sketched a set of about six variations, then a set of nine, and finally a continuity draft for a set of six. The differences in character between the individual variations seem to be smaller in the nine-variation version than in the final printed edition,(p226) but according to Kay Dreyfus this already indicates a “process of exploration and re-discovery of the theme”.(p194)
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