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By Basilio Fernndez Morante

Much has been written on Beethovens piano sonatas, considered by

Hans von Blow as the most significant collection of pieces in the piano
repertory, following J. S. Bachs Well-Tempered Clavier as the New Testament follows the Old.1 The case to be examined here, that of Sonata no.
29 in B-flat Major, op. 106, is a paradox. It is usually described as monumental and majestic, and at the same time enigmatic or labyrinthine,
and it exercises a curious fascination over performers, musicologists, and
listeners. It is regarded with a kind of reverence, which tends to form an
impenetrable barrier, preventing us from seeing beyond certain superficial aspects of the piece. These can be summed up as its vast dimensions
and its difficulty, which anyone can detect just by looking at the score or
listening to the work. Given that information on this sonata, though
plentiful, is dispersed, comprising a diverse range of facets (biography,
musical analysis, psychology), the aim of this study is to draw together
the majority of the most vital keys to understanding its scope.
First, we need to remember that the first sonata in which Beethoven
included the German noun Hammerklavier (pianoforte) in the title was
no. 28, op. 101, a work which anticipates some elements of its successor.

Beethoven had begun to introduce German terms in his Six Lieder,

op. 75, and in Piano Sonata no. 26, op. 81a. The traditional tempo markings in Italian at the beginning of each movement are replaced in
Sonata no. 27, op. 90, by expressions in German on the character of the
movement, and in opus 101 (1816) this is extended to the actual title of
a piano sonata: Sonate / Fr das piano-forte / oder - - Hmmer-Klawier.2
Basilio Fernndez Morante is a professor of piano at the Conservatorio Superior de Msica Joaqun
Rodrigo, Valencia, Spain, and holds a doctorate in psychology from the Universitat de Valncia. During
his career as a pianist he has collaborated with numerous orchestras and chamber ensembles, including
the Orquesta de Valencia, the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, the Bayerischen Rundfunks
Orchester, and the Berlin Philharmonic.
1. Alan Walker, Hans von Blow: A Life and Times (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 341.
2. Letter from Beethoven to Tobias Haslinger, between 9 and 23 January 1817, in Ludwig van Beethoven, Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, ed. Sieghard Brandenburg, 7 vols. (Munich: G. Henle, 199698), letter
no. 1065, 4:1112.


Notes, December 2014


This assertion of linguistic identity on Beethovens part is due above all

to the patriotic and anti-Napoleonic feeling aroused by the recent
Congress of Vienna and the composers increasing expressive needs.
Indeed, he continued using the term Hammerklavier for the next two
sonatas, though opus 109 was not published as such.3
The first Hammerklavier contrasts in many respects with its successor.
Opus 101 is compact, intimate, and poetic, and foreshadows many
stylistic features of Beethovens late works: an introduction to the last
movement anticipating the material that follows, use of contrapuntal
techniques (canon in opus 101, fugue in opus 106), and, above all, recapitulation of the opening theme in the last movement (cyclical form)
and explicit relationships between the themes used in different movements (fig. 1), leading to works like the fantasy-sonatas of Schubert,
Liszt, and so on. Indeed, opus 101 was a work much admired by
Romantic composers, from Mendelssohn and Schumann to Wagner.4

In the course of time the name Hammerklavier became inseparably attached not to opus 101 but to Sonata no. 29, op. 106. The composer undertook his last keyboard works using a (Broadwood) English-action
piano, which contrasted with the Viennese-action instruments he had
been using up until then. It has been suggested that the use of the term
Hammerklavier may possibly have been related to this new piano; however,
it has more to do with the assertion of nationalist feeling mentioned
above, given that he received the new instrument around mid-1818,
when the work was in its final stage of composition. Indeed, opus 106 exceeds even the range of the Broadwood.5
Many factors came together in the creation of this work. The years between 1807 and 1812 were one of Beethovens most fruitful periods.
During that time he composed four symphonies (nos. 58), piano
sonatas (opp. 7881a), the Emperor Piano Concerto, the Mass in
C Major, and various chamber works. From that point onward his output
was drastically reduced, and he entered a dark period, the start of which
is variously dated by different authors: 1812, with the completion of his
last violin sonata, op. 96 (Maynard Solomon), 1813 (Lewis Lockwood),
or even 1816, when he finished the Sonata op. 101 (Barry Cooper).6 In
3. Letter from Beethoven to Adolph Martin Schlesinger, 6 July 1821, in Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, letter no. 1434, 4:443.
4. William Kinderman, Beethoven, 2d ed. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 218.
5. William S. Newman, Beethovens Pianos Versus His Piano Ideals, Journal of the American Musicological Society 23, no. 3 (Fall 1970): 493.
6. Nicholas Marston, In the Twilight Zone: Beethovens Unfinished Piano Trio in F minor, Journal
of the Royal Musical Association 131, no. 2 (2006): 227.

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


Fig. 1. Sonata op. 101: relationship between the first five notes of the first movement, and
below this, the basic notes of the canon in the last movement (marked with a +), in retrograde. Adapted from Philip Barford, The Piano Music, II, in The Beethoven Companion,
ed. Denis Arnold and Nigel Fortune (London: Faber, 1971), 155.

any case, as Solomon observes, the question of Beethovens productivity

during the period between 1816 and 1820 is a complicated one.7 Let us
look at some of the developments which led to the composition of opus
The first point to highlight is a decisive event already mentioned
above: the Congress of Vienna (181415). This marked an improvement
in Beethovens almost perennially precarious financial situation. His
popularity reached new heights, with the help of Johann Nepomuk
Mlzel and his publicity skills, and the concerts in late 1813 and early
1814 were the most successful of his career up to that time.8 However,
the compositions of that period (Wellingtons Victory, op. 91; Christ on the
Mount of Olives, op. 85; Polonaise for piano, op. 89, etc.) diverted Beethovens attention toward sociopolitical ideals, though these are of some interest in themselves.9 The fact is that his ephemeral activity during the
period of the congress deflected Beethoven from creative projects that
involved tackling substantial musical problems, and this plunged him
into a serious stylistic crisis.10
At the same time his finances began to depend almost exclusively on
Archduke Rudolf, as Prince Lobkowitz went bankrupt and Prince Kinsky
was killed in a riding accident. In 1815 his brother Karl died and the
7. Maynard Solomon, Beethoven (New York: Schirmer Books, 1977), 250.
8. Rudolf Kolisch, Tempo and Character in Beethovens Music, Musical Quarterly 77, no. 1 (Spring
1993): 9192.
9. For an analysis of the importance of the works of this period in Beethovens life, see Nicholas Louis
Mathew, Beethovens Political Music and the Idea of the Heroic Style (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University,
10. Nicholas Cook, The Other Beethoven: Heroism, the Canon, and the Works of 181314, 19thCentury Music 27, no. 1 (Summer 2003): 324.


Notes, December 2014

battle over custody of his nephew began, and as if all that were not
enough, his deafness by late 1816 was practically total, as was his isolation. The letters he wrote in mid-1817 to his closest friends in Vienna,
Nikolaus Zmeskall and Nanette Streicher, express great sadness and despair.11 The years 181617 are among the best documented in Beethovens life, a time when, paradoxically, his life was empty, he was almost
always ill, and his musical output came to a standstill.12 Indeed, between
1812 and 1816 the only works he completed were An die ferne Geliebte,
op. 98, the opus 90 and opus 101 piano sonatas, and the opus 102 cello
As late as 1817, just before he began work on the Sonata op. 106, practically the only piece Beethoven completed was the lied Resignation, WoO
149, which was perhaps the attitude with which he faced the prospect of
his own premature death. Written in D major and based on thirds, it has
certain parallels with the second subject of the final fugue of opus 106,13
and despite the major tonality, it contains a heartrending text by
Haugwitz: Go out, my light! What you lack is gone; you will not find it
here!14 This helps us to understand Beethovens own words in a letter to
Ries, in which he tells him that opus 106 was written under painful circumstances.15
For all these reasons, the composer was facing a tremendous artistic
and existential crisis. Opus 106 marks a turning point. The process of its
creation was the longest of any of his piano works, lasting from mid-1817
until August 1818, and it ushered in a period (181824) during which he
once again tackled large-scale works such as the Missa Solemnis, the Ninth
Symphony, and the Diabelli Variations. Beethoven was facing the challenging task of rekindling his motivation and looking for new forms of
expression. Starting from the traditional methods and forms used by the
composers who served as his points of reference (Haydn, and especially
J. S. Bach), he aimed to transcend those limits once and for all. In one of
Beethovens surviving sketchbooks, next to notes on the first movement
of the Ninth Symphony and on the Hammerklavier Sonata Op. 106 in
B  major, containing a great fugue, there are two passages copied from

11. Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, letters nos. 1161 (21 August 1817), 4:1012; and 1164 (25 August 1817),
12. Jean and Brigitte Massin, Ludwig van Beethoven, Essais, 9 (Paris: Club franais du livre, 1955), 293.
13. Nicholas Marston, From A to B: The History of an Idea in the Hammerklavier Sonata, Beethoven
Forum 6, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 97127.
14. For a detailed study of the parallels between An die ferne Geliebte, Resignation, and the Hammerklavier
Sonata, see Sylvia Bowden, Mademoiselle Maxemiliana Brentano and the English Edition of Beethovens Op. 106, Musical Times 153, no. 1920 (Autumn 2012): 2752.
15. Die Sonate ist in drangvollen Umstnden geschrieben; letter from Beethoven to Ferdinand Ries,
19 March 1819, Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, letter no. 1295, 4:262.

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


the fugue in B  minor from Book I of J. S. Bachs Well-Tempered Clavier,

two passages copied out of Bachs The Art of the Fugue (Fugue IV, which
shows the elaboration of the theme in reverse), as well as a passage
copied from a treatise on the fugue by F. W. Marpurg.16
In tackling the new work, Beethoven decided to start from his own favorite among his piano sonatas (along with opus 57): opus 22 (1800),
which has remarkable parallels with opus 106. There are further parallels between the Sonatas op. 106 and op. 10 no. 3 (Marston, From A
to B), and even with the Quartet op. 130, which initially included the
Grosse Fuge, later published separately as opus 133. There is a striking relationship between the Sonata op. 22 and the Quartet op. 18 no. 6, just
as there is between opus 106 and opus 130.17
The Hammerklavier was to be dedicated to the one patron of
Beethovens who remained faithful to the end: his pupil and friend
Archduke Rudolph.

Archduke Johannes Joseph Rainer Rudolph (17881831), youngest

son of Emperor Leopold II, began taking lessons with Beethoven in
piano and music theory around 1803. A deep friendship soon developed
between the two of them, and this continued until the composers final
years, with Rudolph as his composition pupil. Despite the continual wars
in which the House of Austria was embroiled during the early nineteenth century, Rudolph was the only one of Beethovens patrons that
maintained his personal and especially financial support after the death
of Prince Kinsky and the bankruptcy of Prince Lobkowitz. He is therefore a key figure in the last decades of the composers life, and it is not
surprising that Beethoven should have dedicated as many as fourteen
compositions to him (table 1).
As well as being a notable pianist, Rudolph composed works for piano
and small chamber groups, outstanding among which are the Forty
Variations, op. 1 (1819), the Sonata for clarinet and piano, op. 2 (1822),
and a variation on Diabellis famous waltz (1823), specifically a fugue
(fig. 2).18 We cannot exclude the possibility that Rudolphs fondness for

16. Anno Hellenbroich and Bruce Director, On Questions of Motivic Through-Composition in

Beethovens Late Work, EIR: Executive Intelligence Review 25, no. 35 (4 September 1998): 78; online at (accessed 27 August 2014).
17. Sterling Lambert, Beethoven in B : Op. 130 and the Hammerklavier, Journal of Musicology 25,
no. 4 (Fall 2008): 43472.
18. For a thematic catalog of Rudolphs compositions, see Susan Kagan, Archduke Rudolph, Beethovens
Patron, Pupil, and Friend: His Life and Music (Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon, 1988), 31345.


Notes, December 2014

Table 1. Works by Beethoven dedicated to Archduke Rudolph, in chronological order

Piano Concertos no. 4, op. 58 (1808), and no. 5, op. 73 (1811)

Piano Sonata no. 26, op. 81a (1811)
Fidelio, piano transcription, op. 72b (1814)
Violin Sonata no. 10, op. 96 (1816)
Piano Trio in B-flat Major, op. 97, Archduke (1816)
Piano Sonatas no. 29, op. 106 (1819), and no. 32, op. 111 (1823)
Grosse Fuge, op. 133 (1827), and piano transcription for four hands, op. 134
Missa Solemnis, op. 123 (1827)
(Other minor pieces, canons)

Fig. 2. Vaterlndischer Knstlerverein (182324), a collection of variations by various

composers on an original waltz by Diabelli. Opening measures of variation 40, composed
by Archduke Rudolph, headed by the initials S.R.D. (Serenissimus Rudolfus Dux).

fugato was one more factor that influenced the very extensive use of
counterpoint in the final stage of Beethovens career as a composer.19
The help he gave to Beethoven, particularly of a financial kind, went
much further. He was his great ally in the legal disputes over custody of
his nephew Karl and his emotional support at the most difficult times.
Moreover, as Lockwood points out, the archduke lent him several rooms
in the palace for rehearsals and, in particular, gave him access to the
great musical library that Rudolph gradually amassed over the years.
Information on the reception of the Hammerklavier Sonata following its
publication in 1819 is scarce, although it is clear that from the beginning
the first two movements were greatly appreciated, the third less so, and
19. Lewis Lockwood and Jessie Ann Owens, Beethoven and His Royal Disciple, Bulletin of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences 57, no. 3 (Spring 2004): 5.

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


the final fugue hardly at all, which suggests that the period was not yet
ready for Beethovens late works.20

Let us now discuss the most important aspects of the work from the
compositional point of view. These have been studied at length by other
authors, and are vital to an understanding of the scope of the work.21
Composing this sonata represented a real challenge for Beethoven;
shortly before publishing it, he wrote that in the past he did not know
how to compose; he knew now.22 The many innovative procedures he
uses, together with the enormous dimensions of the work, give us an
idea of the complexity of the initial project.
The structural novelties of the work have three main facets. First,
Beethoven redefines the concept of tonality. The traditional role of the
dominant is nullified and replaced by harmonic shifts to keys a third
away from the original, with a striking use of G.23 The themes of all the
movements are also based on the interval of a third (as we shall see in
figure 4), and this lends unity to the work and opens the way to romantic
sonatas and fantasias.
Second, there is a constant conflict between B  and B  , which reflects
an attempt to move beyond traditional forms, a new counterpoint, a new
way of interpreting sonata form, and at the same time a source of vital energy throughout the whole work.24 This conflict is present from the opening theme to the subject of the final fugue itself, recurring after the recapitulation in the first movement and with particular violence in the
second movement. It gives rise to notable structural effects, such as a

20. William S. Newman, Some 19th-Century Consequences of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata,

Opus 106, Piano Quarterly no. 67 (Spring 1969): 1217 (part 1); no. 68 (Summer 1969): 1217 (part 2).
21. See Donald Francis Tovey, A Companion to Beethovens Pianoforte Sonatas: (Bar-to-Bar Analysis), rev.
ed., with preface and notes by Barry Cooper (London: Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music,
1998), 21542; Barford, The Piano Music, II, 15569; Charles Rosen, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart,
Beethoven, expanded ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), 40734; Charles Rosen, Beethovens Piano
Sonatas: A Short Companion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 21829.
22. Alexander Wheelock Thayer, The Life of Ludwig van Beethoven, ed. Henry Edward Krehbiel, 3 vols.
(New York: The Beethoven Association, 1921), 2:381.
23. Rosen, The Classical Style, 40722. The range of modulations over the course of the sonata is striking and extends from six sharps to six flats, but there is not a single modulation to F major, the dominant of the initial key. On the other hand, the key of B minor appears in all the movements, more or less
24. There is a striking clash between F minor and F  minor in one of Mozarts last works, the Fantasia
KV 608 (reflected by Schubert in the Fantasia for piano four hands, D. 940). Note that Beethoven had a
copy of the manuscript of this work; see Neal Zaslaw, Wolfgang Amad Mozarts Allegro and Andante
(Fantasy) in F Minor for Mechanical Organ, K. 608, in The Rosaleen Moldenhauer Memorial: Music History
from Primary Sources: A Guide to the Moldenhauer Archives, ed. Jon Newsom and Alfred Mann (Washington,
DC: Library of Congress, 2000), 32740; available at
/moldenhauer/2428141.pdf (accessed 27 August 2014).


Notes, December 2014

displacement of the climax toward the end of the recapitulation. Thus

the formal scheme of the sonata is modified in the interests of the dramatic purpose and balance of the work as a whole.
These features have been emphasized in many studies of the sonata,
but less attention has been paid to the third facet, rhythm, especially the
metrical conflict of duple versus triple time. The use of rhythm as a
source of tension is mentioned by Tovey, Rosen, and others, but as
Ormesher points out, its significance has tended to be overshadowed
by the concentration on harmonic considerations, and no one has fully
explored its role as the factor which, perhaps more than any other, generates the Herculean struggle that is the very essence of this work.25
Finally, general aspects worth highlighting include the amplification of
compositional elements for maximum expressiveness, with an extreme
range of intervals (from a third to a seventeenth in the opening theme)
and an extreme dynamic range, from (the only sonata that begins
with this marking) to  (end of the third movement), and contrasting
textures (homophonic, melody with accompaniment, contrapuntal).
Even traditionally ornamental elements (trills) become expressive devices, especially at the ends of movements.
The first two movements of the Hammerklavier replaced Beethovens
original idea of composing a cantata for Saint Rudolphs day, 17 April
1818, as a tribute to the archduke, a point to be discussed in the next section. The surviving sketches include a version of the main opening theme
of the sonata (fig. 3), which fits the words Vivat, vivat Rudolphus!26
The second movement, sketched as a minuet and then turned into a
scherzo, is the most insignificant in the work, though only in appearance.
In the middle of one of the drafts of this movement Beethoven wrote: A
small house here, so small that there is barely room for one. Only a few
days in this divine Brhl! Longing or yearning, liberation or fulfilment.27
The Adagio sostenuto of opus 106 is the longest piece Beethoven ever
wrote for solo piano, and the only one in the key of F-sharp minor, apart
from the slow movement of Piano Quartet no. 2, WoO 36, which he composed at the age of fifteen. It is a third down (enharmonically G flat)
from the B flat of the previous movements. It has an expressive profundity with which it is difficult to find anything comparable in the com25. Richard Ormesher, Beethovens Instrumental Fugal Style: An Investigation of Tonal and
Thematic Characteristics in the Late-Period Fugues (Ph.D. diss., University of Sheffield, 1988), 99 and
26. Edwin Fischer, Beethovens Pianoforte Sonatas: A Guide for Students and Amateurs, trans. from the
German by Stanley Godman, with Paul Hamburger (London: Faber & Faber, 1959), 103; Lockwood,
Beethoven and His Royal Disciple, 5.
27. Massin, Ludwig van Beethoven, 338. Brhl is a river near the Austrian town of Mdling, where
Beethoven spent the summer of 1818 and finished the remaining movements of the Hammerklavier.

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


Fig. 3. Initial fanfare that opens the first movement of Sonata op. 106

posers other works.28 When the sonata was completely finished and
about to be published, Beethoven added the first two notes which form
the first measure.29 The contrasting textures mark the movements dramatic development of sonata form. The main subject is homophonic in
character, written like a hymn, solemn in its anguish (una corda). A new
aria-like subject emerges, this time in ascending thirds, and now tre corde
and con grandespressione, an unusual indication in Beethoven. The third
subject is a melody in the major mode, made up of just a few notes and
a static harmony. Through the use of unison and of the diminishedseventh chord, the tragic character of the movement extends from the
opening to the final chords, which include a Picardy third (A  , enharmonically B ), finally expressing the achievement of the goal: to transcend suffering.30 The expressive device of two tied notes with express indication by Beethoven of a change of fingering (m. 165), also used in
other works such as opus 110, continues to be a subject of debate among
musicologists and performers.31
To conclude such a work, Beethoven did not launch straight into the
final fugue. He composed an introductiona distinctive feature of this
sonatawhich anticipates new compositional forms, starting with the notation itself. From the final F  chord of the third movement, the music
descends to an F  , which unfolds over every octave of the keyboard, now
28. For an extensive and stimulating interpretation of the expressive resources used throughout this
movement, see Robert S. Hatten, Interpreting Expression: the Adagio Sostenuto from Beethovens
Piano Sonata in B , Op. 106 (Hammerklavier), Theory and Practice: Newsletter-Journal of the Music Theory
Society of New York State 19 (1994): 117.
29. Letter from Beethoven to Ferdinand Ries, 16 June 1819, in Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, letter no.
1309, 4:278. In this letter, as well as adding the opening measure of the third movement, Beethoven indicates the metronome marks, to be discussed later, which show that he structured the sonata in five movements, beyond the traditional four and in line with the last string quartets.
30. Hatten, Interpreting Expression, 14.
31. See Paul Badura-Skoda, A Tie Is a Tie Is a Tie: Reflections on Beethovens Pairs of Tied Notes,
Early Music 16, no. 1 (February 1988): 8488.


Notes, December 2014

without measure lines and with a sixteenth-note pulse. It makes three

attempts to continue, separated by pauses and based on descending
thirds, trying out ideas in increasingly quick tempos with stronger contrapuntal tendencies, all of which are rejected. The constant search
for new paths throughout the sonata is made musically explicit in this
introduction. This brings us to another arpeggio, this time in A, ranging
again over every register: once again the movement is structured around
an interval of a third. These two notes, F and A as the origin of the
arpeggios, form, in turn, the beginning of the fugue. Thus all the movements are connected by the interval of a third (fig. 4).
The structure of the fugue is marked by its modulations, once more in
thirds, so that the sections are progressively interlinked in a manner midway between rondo and variation form. The fundamental pillars are
subject 1, energetic and vigorous, in the tonic B-flat major; subject 2, in
B minor (again the B /B clash), conveying a mixture of sadness and a
feeling of loss; and finally subject 3, in D major, in the manner of the
Benedictus from the Missa Solemnis (in the same key and based on
thirds).32 Thus the effect of the process is similar to the previous movement: whereas in the third movement, suffering (F  ) is transcended only
with the Picardy third in the final chords, in the concluding fugue vital
energy (subject 1) is threatened by suffering (subject 2), and then,
through a kind of religious resignation (subject 3), it manages to transcend it by uniting subjects 1 and 3, as a definitive resolution.33 In this
final section, with the two subjects played simultaneously until the ending, unwaveringly fixed at last in B , the objective has been achieved.
The conflicts raised earlier in the sonata are resolved only in the last
movement, through the development of new tonal and rhythmic procedures which articulate the introduction, the main subject, and the fugue
as a whole.
Having examined the genesis, context, and general structure of
the work, let us now consider the purely interpretative aspects of the

Disappointingly for researchers, neither the original manuscript nor

the Boldrini sketchbook, regarded as the most important for this work,
has survived.34 The first edition of opus 106 was published in 1819, ini32. Marston, From A to B, presents an alternative view of the role of D major in the sonata, both at
the start of the third movement (mm. 11112) and in the final double fugue (mm. 11222).
33. Hatten, Interpreting Expression, 14.
34. For further details of the sketches and notebooks for opus 106, see Marston, From A to B, 98

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


Fig. 4. Common structure in thirds (between the circled notes) of the main subjects in
the various movements of Sonata op. 106 (adapted from Tovey, A Companion, 221)

tially in Vienna, by Artaria, with two versions of the title, one in French
and the other in German (indicating pianoforte and Hammerklavier respectively), and was dedicated, as we have seen, to Archduke Rudolph. A few
months later it was published in London, by The Regents Harmonic
Institution, first without a dedication and subsequently dedicated to
Antonie Brentano.35 In a letter to Ries, his London publisher, Beethoven
even suggested changing the order of the movements, for which the
most plausible explanation is purely economic: once the sonata had
been published in Vienna, his only interest in the English edition was to
obtain some financial benefit.36
35. Alan Tyson, The Hammerklavier Sonata and its English Editions, Musical Times 103, no. 1430
(April 1962): 23537.
36. Rosen, Beethovens Piano Sonatas, 228.


Notes, December 2014

From these original publications in 1819 up to the present day, countless editions of opus 106 have appeared. There were some ninety or so
in the nineteenth century alone, half of them in complete editions of
the sonatas, and the rest in individual editions.37 Table 2 summarizes the
details of some of the most widely used, most of which are included in
Newmans list.38
Among these we can distinguish two main types. First, there are those
that seek to reproduce the first edition as objectively as possible
(Schenker, Wallner, Haushild, Gordon); in recent decades this type of
edition has been considered an urtext, a controversial, imprecise concept with many limitations.39 A second type consists of revised editions
that constitute a reinterpretation of the original source (Schnabel,
Tovey, Pauer and Martienssen, von Blow); in these, very often, we cannot distinguish between Beethovens original indications (metronome
markings, articulation, etc.) and those added by the editor. These two
types of editions must be treated as complementary and not as mutually
exclusive for a rigorous study of the score, as neither is sufficient on its
own: the concept of a definitive edition is an illusion.40
Studying a work on the basis of a single edition, an unfortunate habit
of many piano teachers, can give rise to serious confusion. In the case we
are examining, opus 106 originally began in duple meter (alla breve),
and yet in Blows edition we find a quadruple 4 time signature, regarded as inexplicable in Schnabels edition a few decades later. Both
views, from such eminent figures in the history of piano music, must be
taken into consideration, not summarily rejected, when analyzing and
seeking to understand the sonata, even though we must subsequently
make our own decisions on interpretation. As Kinderman observes, new
editions of Beethovens sonatas are not necessarily an improvement on

37. Newman, Some 19th-Century Consequences, part 1:16.

38. William S. Newman, A Chronological Checklist of Collected Editions of Beethovens Solo Piano
Sonatas Since His Own Day, Notes 33, no. 3 (March 1977): 50330.
39. William Drabkin, Building a Music Library, 1: The Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Musical Times 126,
no. 1706 (April 1985): 216. For a fuller exploration of the evolution of the term interpretation and of
different editorial approaches, see Cristina Urchuegua, Critical Editing of Music and Interpretation:
Critical Editions for Critical Musicians? Text: An Interdisciplinary Annual of Textual Studies 16 (2006):
11329. The highly revealing comments of Hummel, a contemporary of Beethoven, on his own works
call into question the limits of the authority of urtext editions; see Walter Schenkman, Beyond the
Limits of Urtext Authority: A Contemporary Record of Early Nineteenth-Century Performance Practice,
College Music Symposium 23, no. 2 (Fall 1983): 14563.
40. For an analysis midway between two editorial extremes and Schenkers idealist concept of the
score, see Nicholas Cook, The Editor and the Virtuoso, or Schenker versus Blow, Journal of the Royal
Musical Association 116, no. 1 (1991): 7895.

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


Table 2. Editions of the Sonata op. 106

Year of

Editor (publisher)


mid- to late

Matthias Artaria
The Regents Harmonic Institution
Carl Czerny? (Haslinger)

First edition


Ignaz Moscheles (Cramer,

Addison & Beale)
William Sterndale Bennett
(Leader & Cock)
Charles Hall (Chappell & Co.)


Franz Liszt (Holle)

at latest

Ignaz Moscheles (Hallberger)



1890 (revised by
Walter Macfarren)
1865 (separate edition),
1870 new edition
1898 (revised by Khner and A. E.
Bosworth), 1915 (H. B. Bosworth),
1925 (Watson and Protiwinsky) and
1995 (Zen-on Library)

Beethoven Werke
(Breitkopf & Hrtel)
Carl Czerny (Simrock)
Louis Khler (Peters)

Numerous (B.& H.,

Kalmus, etc.)
Numerous reprints
1910 (Khler/Ruthardt; Peters)
and 1943 (Novello)
Hans von Blow/Sigmund Lebert
1894 (Schirmer) and
(Stuttgart, J. G. Cotta)
1904 (Lengnick)
Carl Krebs (Breitkopf
First Urtext, based on the 1862
& Hrtel)
edition. 1953 (Schirmer) and Kalmus
Eugen dAlbert (Forberg, Leipzig)
1917 (Martens; Carl Fischer)
Alfredo Casella (Ricordi)
Schenker (Universal)
1975 (Dover)
Frederic Lamond
1969 (Musytschna Ukraina)
(Breitkopf & Hrtel)
Pauer (Peters)
1949, 1952 and 1961
(Pauer & Martienssen)

41. These dates are those of the second state of Haslingers edition (probably supervised by Czerny),
which includes opus 106; it was omitted from the first state (182832?) because Haslinger could not obtain permission from Artaria. See Sandra P. Rosenblum, Two Sets of Unexplored Metronome Marks for
Beethovens Piano Sonatas, Early Music 16, no. 1 (February 1988): 6061.
42. Publication of the first issue of Moscheless edition of the sonatas probably began in 1834, but the
plate numbers of the two parts containing opus 106 indicate a terminus a quo for this sonata of 1838,
and it had certainly appeared by 1841; see Alan Tyson, The Authentic English Editions of Beethoven, All Souls
Studies, 1 (London: Faber & Faber, 1963), 103. Leonardo Miucci, who has made a detailed study of
Moscheless edition, has confirmed these dates to me in a personal communication.
43. Sterndale Bennetts editions of Beethovens piano music are undated; these are the dates suggested in Rosemary Williamson, William Sterndale Bennett: A Descriptive Thematic Catalogue (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 501.
44. In final proof by January 1856, according to Robert Beale, Charles Hall: A Musical Life, Music in
Nineteenth-Century Britain (Aldershot, Hants, Eng.; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 73 and n. 196.

Notes, December 2014

Table 2 continued
Year of

Editor (publisher)



Schnabel (Ullstein)


1935 (Simon & Schuster), 1949

(Curci) and 1970 (Muzyka)
Revised edition in 1938
Modern editions

Craxton/Tovey (ABRSM)
Wallner (Henle)
Claudio Arrau (Peters)
Kendall Taylor (Melbourne, Allans PTY)
Istvn Mrissy /Tams Zszkaliczk
(Budapest, Knemann)
Peter Hauschild (Wiener Urtext)
Takahiro Sonoda (Tokyo, Shunjsha
Barry Cooper (ABRSM)
Stewart Gordon (Alfred Publishing)
Robert Taub (Schirmer)


previous ones,45 and in our technological era perhaps the time has come
to explore for ourselves the possibilities available to us in the digital
archive of the Beethoven-Haus on matters related to the musical text.
The edition by Liszt (1857), rarely reprinted by comparison with many
other editions of Beethovens sonatas, deserves to be examined separately. There are certain differences between this edition and Beethovens original in articulation and dynamics, although Liszt does not add
suggestions indicating his own interpretation, as he did in his editions of
works by Weber, Schubert, and Chopin.46 As Newman notes, this could
be regarded as a first virtual urtext, judging from Berliozs review of
Liszts premiere of the Hammerklavier in Paris.47 Curiously enough, there
is evidence that in his last years Liszt taught on the basis of Blows edition of the Beethoven sonatas, one of the most invasive, and one which
constitutes, above all, a treatise on interpretation in its period, late
romanticism, and shows us how far removed its conception of textual
fidelity was from that of today.48
45. William Kinderman, A Place in the Sun: Recent Editions of Beethovens Piano Sonatas, Clavier
Companion 4, no. 2 (MarchApril 2012): 2226. In this article the author compares four of the most recent editions of Beethovens sonatas: Barry Cooper (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music,
2007), Stewart Gordon (Alfred, 200210), Robert Taub (G. Schirmer, 2010), and Norbert Gertsch and
Murray Perahias ongoing revised edition for Henle.
46. For a more thorough analysis of Liszts revision of Beethovens sonatas, see William S. Newman,
Liszts Interpreting of Beethovens Piano Sonatas, Musical Quarterly 58, no. 2 (April 1972): 200; and
Wang-Hsuan Wu, Beethoven through Liszt: Myth, Performance, Edition (D.M.A. diss., University of
Texas at Austin, 2007), 50.
47. Newman, Liszts Interpreting, 202.
48. Kenneth Hamilton, After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2008), 205.

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


Fig. 5. First movement of Sonata op. 106, final measures of the transition to the
recapitulation in the edition revised by Franz Liszt in 1857

The most controversial passage in the sonata, still vigorously debated

by musicologists and pianists, is undoubtedly the measures leading to the
recapitulation in the first movement (mm. 22327). A progression in rising sixths ends with an A  , which leads enharmonically to the initial tonic
B  (fig. 5).
There are no discrepancies in the two first editions, published in
Vienna and London, although there is a sketch by the composer himself
and another copied by the Beethoven scholar Nottebohm from the
Boldrini sketchbook (now lost), in which Beethoven constructs the harmony preceding the recapitulation on an A  (fig. 6).
Precisely because it leads from one section of the movement to another, this passage is structurally important, and the resulting harmonic
change is very different: the A  creates a conventional dominant chord
to the tonic, and the A  produces an enharmonic modulation to the
tonic. Both positions have had distinguished advocates: A  (Alfred
Brendel, Paul Badura-Skoda) as well as A  (Edwin Fischer, Daniel Barenboim, Andrs Schiff). Similarly, the various editions of the work are divided: some give the A  (Liszt, almost all the urtexts, Blow, Schnabel),
others indicate A  (Casella, Kohler/Ruthhardt, Schenker, Cooper), and
some even include both versions (Pauer and Martienssen, Lamond).
Those who defend the A  base their arguments on Beethovens sketch
(fig. 6) and point out that Beethoven frequently omitted accidentals (such
as the proposed natural here) by mistake, arguing also that if Beethoven
had intended an A  he would have written the upper note as E  instead
of F  , that the sixteenth-note progression GG  (=A )AA  (=B ), also
used, for example, in the String Quartet op. 130, is more likely than the
whole-tone step G  A  , unparalleled in Beethovens work, and that the
return to the tonic through the dominant is so characteristic of the composer that it must have been intended here.49 By contrast, those who
49. Paul Badura-Skoda, Should We Play A  or A  in Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Opus 106?
Notes 68, no. 4 ( June 2012): 75157.


Notes, December 2014

Fig. 6. Left: surviving sketch of the first movement (British Library, London). Right:
Nottebohms copy of the Boldrini sketchbook, now lost (Marston, From A to B, 101)

defend the enharmonic modulation highlight its unconventionality,50 in

keeping with the whole spirit of the Hammerklavier itself, and also cite
other works with similar modulatory processes, such as the Eighth
This question cannot be definitively resolved and does not admit of
the categorical statements which have sometimes been made. The existence of the sketch only allows us to claim that at a certain stage in the
genesis of the movement, and in a very different tonal context, Beethoven clearly intended A rather than A  .52 The avoidance of the dominant
inherent in the A  reading needs to be considered in the context of the
remarkable absence of dominant F-major tonality throughout the work
(see pg. 243 above). It is also perhaps worth mentioning that Liszt, who,
of all editors (apart from Czerny and Moscheles), was in principle closest
to the composer himself, read an A  , adding a superfluous accidental to
avoid any ambiguity (see fig. 5).53 Although the recovery of the original
manuscript might throw some further light on the problem, it would not
provide a definitive answer, since another dilemma involved in urtext
editions would arise: when the sources diverge, which is considered to
represent the composers true intentions, the initial autograph or the
first edition revised by him? The most important thing in this respect, as
in the field of interpretation in general, is to form a judgment based on
the greatest possible amount of information. That judgment, which will
not necessarily remain fixed over time, must guide our interpretation as
a whole.
50. As, for example, Schnabel, in whose opinion all available arguments in favour of a (even the references to the rules of harmony) are too weak, in view of the superior manifestation of genius inherent
in the a  , Ludwig van Beethoven, Complete Piano Sonatas in Two Volumes: Historic Edition with Preface in
English, Spanish, Italian, German, and French, ed. Artur Schnabel, Alfred Masterwork Edition, 2 vols. (Van
Nuys, CA: Alfred, 2006), 2:306. The A  reading is also defended in Richard Hauser, Das Ais in der
Sonate Op. 106, Beethoven-Jahrbuch 6 (196568): 24359.
51. Barford, The Piano Music, II, 159.
52. Marston, From A to B, 100.
53. This point is not addressed by Badura-Skoda, who holds Blow responsible for promulgating the

A , arguing that the more natural-sounding A  would have been printed and played everywhere, had
not the German conductor and pianist Hans von Blow put his finger on this sore spot (Should We
Play, 751).

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106



In 1819, the same year that the first edition of the Hammerklavier appeared, Hummels Sonata in F-sharp Minor, op. 81, was published in
Vienna. It is a very ambitious work, which has features in common with
Beethovens opus 106: very fast metronome markings, formidable technical demands, an innovative idiom, and fugal passages in the last movement. According to one tradition (which Solomon describes as farfetched), Beethoven composed opus 106 in competition with this
unplayable sonata by Hummel.54 It was one of the best-known works in
the period, but with the passage of time it has not remained in the piano
repertory, despite its influence on such major works as Franz Liszts
Sonata in B Minor. The Hammerklavier, however, had a very powerful
impact on the evolution of music, as Beethoven himself anticipated.55 A
host of composers have used opus 106 as a reference for their own
works, from Brahms56 (Piano Sonata, op. 1; Piano Concerto no. 1, op. 15;
Capriccio, op. 76 no. 1; Second and Fourth Symphonies), Mendelssohn
(Piano Sonata no. 3, op. 106), Liszt (Sonata in B Minor), Wagner (Piano
Sonata), Paul Dukas (Piano Sonata), Boulez (Second Piano Sonata), to
the transcription for symphony orchestra made by Felix Weingartner in
Franz Liszt was one of the composers who most admired this sonata,
even making a transcription of the third movement for strings, and it was
the last one he performed in his life.58 He is credited with the public premiere of the Hammerklavier, in 1836, in two recitals at the Salle rard in
Paris, confronting his pianistic rival of the time, Thalberg.59 The work
was apparently not often played at this time, though between 1833 and
1836 the young William Sterndale Bennett studied it at the Royal
Academy of Music in London, having been instructed to purchase it by

54. Solomon, Beethoven, 300.

55. While the composition of opus 106 was in progress, Beethoven said to Czerny: I am writing a
sonata now which is going to be my greatest (Barry Cooper, Beethoven, 2d ed. [New York: Oxford
University Press, 2008], 281). Moreover, it is said that when Beethoven submitted the manuscript to the
Viennese publisher, Artaria, he told him: Now there you have a sonata that will keep the pianists busy
when it is played fifty years hence (Solomon, Beethoven, 300).
56. For fuller information on the influence of the Hammerklavier on Brahmss works via Nottebohm,
see Marie Rivers Rule, The Allure of Beethovens Terzen-Ketten: Third-Chains in Studies by Nottebohm and Music by Brahms (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011). Newman
(Some 19th-Century Consequences, part 2) also analyses the parallels with the sonatas of Czerny
(op. 268), Mendelssohn, Brahms, Wagner, and Dukas.
57. For further information on this work, see Ernest Newman, The Hammerklavier Sonata for
Orchestra, American Mercury 22, no. 86 (February 1931): 24144.
58. Fischer, Beethovens Pianoforte Sonatas, 103.
59. Prodhomme points to earlier performances by Liszt himself in 1821, very badly, undoubtedly,
but with feeling (Newman, Some 19th-Century Consequences, part 1:12).


Notes, December 2014

his teacher, the Beethoven specialist Cipriani Potter, with the words: Go
and ask for the Sonata that nobody plays.60
Performers of opus 106 after Liszt include Mortier de Fontaine
(1843),61 Moscheles (1845), Arabella Goddard (1853),62 Clara Schumann (1856), Hans von Blow (1860), Anton Rubinstein (1881),
Frederic Lamond (1885), and Ferruccio Busoni (1892), who made an
extensive analysis of the final fugue.63 In the twentieth century, numerous recordings of the work were made, many of which are included in
table 3.
As we can see more clearly in table 4, the difference between the shortest and the longest duration is especially marked in the third movement
(11 minutes), followed by the first (7 minutes) and the fourth (3
minutes). In the overall duration of the work the range is almost eighteen minutes (3553 minutes), in recordings very close in date (1973
75). Bearing in mind that the duration of Beethovens other sonatas
never exceeds the thirty minutes of opus 7, and considering the versions
that deliberately follow Beethovens metronome marks as closely as possible, a complete performance of the Hammerklavier could last somewhere
around Schnabels forty-one minutes (1935). Of the fifty-one recordings
examined, only ten (20 percent) are of this duration or less. At the other
extreme, sixteen (31 percent) are over forty-five minutes, and five
(12 percent) even exceed fifty minutes.
These figures support the conclusion that there is a predominant tradition of performance with slower tempos than those indicated by
Beethoven, a point to be discussed in the next section. These observed
differences obviously have nothing to do with an artistic assessment of
the performances. One must avoid making simplistic statements or judgments about a performance based solely on the duration of a work or a
movement expressed as a numerical value, as music critics are prone to
do. A rigorous comparative analysis of the recordings of opus 106 must
60. James Robert Sterndale Bennett, The Life of William Sterndale Bennett (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1907), 33. (The author, W. S. Bennetts son, presumably heard this anecdote from his
father himself.)
61. Liszts pupil William Mason, in his Memories of a Musical Life (New York: The Century Co., 1901),
31, cites Mortier de Fontaine (18161883, a pupil of Hummel) as the first to play the Hammerklavier
Sonata in public. However, as far as we know there are three documented performances of the
Hammerklavier by Mortier de Fontaine and none of them is earlier than Liszts first performance in Paris,
since the first was in Germany in 1843 (Newman, Some 19th-Century Consequences, part 1:13).
62. A pupil of Kalkbrenner and Thalberg, often cited as the first person to play opus 106 in public in
Britain, though according to Harold Schonberg it had already been performed in London by Alexandre
Billet in 1850 (Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists, rev. ed. [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987],
63. Analytical Exposition of the Fugue in Beethovens Sonata, op. 106, third appendix to his edition
of The Well-Tempered Clavichord (New York: G. Schirmer; Leipzig: Fr. Hofmeister, [1897]), 195205; analysis reprinted at (accessed 27 August 2014).

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


Table 3. Summary of fifty-one performances (19352007) of Beethovens Sonata op. 106,

with duration of each movement and total duration of the work (lowest and highest values
are highlighted)




Total Reference

Artur Schnabel (1935)

Wilhelm Kempff (1936)
Louis Kentner (1939)
Mieczysaw Horszowski
Solomon Cutner (1952)
Wilhelm Backhaus (1952)
Yves Nat (1954)
Egon Petri (1956)
Ernst Levy (1958)
Claudio Arrau (1963)
Wilhelm Kempff (1964)
Friedrich Gulda (1967)
ric Heidsieck (1969)
Claude Frank (1970)
Friedrich Gulda (1970)
Rudolf Serkin (1970)
Alfred Brendel (1970)
Glenn Gould (1970)
Yvonne Lefbure (1973)
Grigory Sokolov (1975)
Sviatoslav Richter (1975)
Christoph Eschenbach
Maurizio Pollini (1977)
Paul Badura-Skoda (1978)
Annie Fischer (1978)
Bernard Roberts (1979)
Vladimir Ashkenazy (1980)
Rudolf Buchbinder (1982)
Peter Serkin (1983)
Emil Gilels (1983)
Daniel Barenboim (1984)
Tatiana Nikolayeva (1984)
Andrea Lucchesini (1987)
Jen Jand (1988)
Anton Kuerti (1989)
John OConor (1992)
Galina Sandovskaya (1992)
Richard Goode (1992)
Alfred Brendel (1995)
Garrick Ohlsson (1998)
Vladimir Feltsman (1998)
Seymour Lipkin (2004)

08:56 02:41 18:04 11:15 40:55 CD TIM 205216-303

08:53 02:49 18:26 12:03 42:11 LP Brunswick Polydor 95020
10:28 02:59 16:31 12:58 42:56 CD Pearl GEMM 9480





CD Vox CDX2-5500
LP EMI 2XEA 5713-14
CD Decca 4757198
CD EMI CZS 7 62901 2
LP Westminster XWN 18747
CD Marston
CD Decca 0289 478 3694 0
CD DG 4777958
CD Brilliant Classics 92773
CD EMI 0946 367620 2 9
CD Music&arts CD 4640
DVD Euroarts 2558698
CD Sony MPK 44838
DVD Emi DVA 4901229
CD Sony SMK 52645
CD Solstice SOCD 238
CD Praga CMX 356022






CD Emi classics 85499

CD DG 449 740 2
CD Astre E 8698
CD Hungaroton HCD 31629
CD Nimbus NI 1774
CD Decca 425-5902
CD Teldec 2564 66074 5
CD Pro Arte CDD 260
CD DG 453 221 2
CD DG 0289 463 1272 8
CD Olympia OCD 568
CD EMI CDC 7 47738 2
CD Naxos 8.550234
CD Analekta FL 2 3007
CD Telarc CD 80335
CD APC 101.009
CD Nonesuch 79211
CD Philips 446 093-2
CD Bridge 9262
CD Nimbus 2561
CD Newport CD 60173/3

Notes, December 2014

Table 3 continued



Markus Becker (2004)

Alexander Meinel (2004)
Daniel Barenboim (2005)
Andrs Schiff (2006)
Idil Biret (2006)
Gerhard Oppitz (2006)
Paul Lewis (2006)
Mitsuko Uchida (2007)
Ronald Brautigam (2007)





Total Reference

CD CPO 777 239-2

CD Querstand VKJK0427
DVD Emi Classics 3 68994 9
CD ECM New series 1948
CD IBA 8.571269
CD Hnssler HAEN98207
CD H. Mundi HMX 2901905
CD Philips B0009419-02

Table 4. Descriptive statistics on the duration of recordings of Beethovens Sonata op. 106

1st mvt.
2nd mvt.
3rd mvt.
4th mvt.
Total time









Cases = 51

therefore combine technical aspects of the work performed with the particular features of the performers (overall approach, coherence over the
work as a whole, and artistic and communicative value or results), which
are often very individual. These points cannot all be grasped in a single
listening and will not necessarily coincide with our preconceived ideas.
Thus an artistic assessment of such disparate approaches as those of a
historicist orientation (Brautigam, Badura-Skoda), the Russian school
(Richter, Gilels), the Hungarian orthodoxy ( Jand, Schiff), and others
that are overtly personal (Sokolov, Gould) must naturally range far beyond the duration of the movements expressed in minutes and seconds,
and would require an extensive study in itself. For example, we saw earlier that the first movement of opus 106 originated in the initial idea of a
cantata. The choral origin of the piece is used by Edwin Fischer and
Andrs Schiff respectively as an argument against and for Beethovens
tempo indication, each in his own sense within the context.64 The fact is
64. Fischer, Beethovens Piano Sonatas, 103; Andrs Schiff, Schiff on Beethoven: Part Seven: The Middle
Period, parts 34, Sonata in B-flat Major, opus 106 no. 29 (Hammerklavier), lecture (2006) available at,,1943867,00.html; or at
/schiffbeethovenlecturerecitals (accessed 27 August 2014).

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


that what is often repeated in academic circles is almost self-evident: there

can be tempos, fast or slow, that do not work depending on the resources
employed, the instrument, the acoustics of the auditorium, and so on.
This brings us to the heart of the other most controversial aspect of
the Hammerklavier Sonata: the debate about the tempos.

The letter in which Beethoven sent Ries the additional first two measures of the third movement has already been cited above. This same
letter specifies the following metronome marks: first movement:  = 138;
second movement:   = 80; third movement: = 92; fourth movement:

= 76; and fifth movement: = 144; also indicating that the first movement should be Allegro and that assai should be removed.65
There is a certain measure of agreement in regarding these original
tempos of Beethovens as too fast.66 As early as 1841, Moscheles commented that the marking for the first movement produces so fearful a
prestissimo as Beethoven could never have intended, and recommended reducing it to  = 116.67 Undeniably, given the difficulties of
every kind distributed throughout the work, the metronome marks do,
in principle, seem very fast. The pianists and critics who question their
validity usually do so on the basis of their own subjective response, arguing that the marks do not reflect the composers true intentions, or that
they are due to a faulty metronome, or to the unfortunate effects of
Beethovens deafness, which supposedly made him think in mental tempos faster than the real ones, or simply pointing out the manifest difficulty (or even impossibility) of performing the work and expressing its
vast content at that speed. A further factor that may have contributed to
the reluctance to accept Beethovens metronome markings is his famous
comment to Schindler: No more metronome!, a remark which may
have been another of Schindlers inventions.68 However, in the light of
Stadlens painstaking research on Beethovens metronome marks, it is
unlikely that these were significantly distorted by a faulty metronome,

65. Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, letter no. 1309, 4:27880. In the copy of this letter published in Franz
Gerhard Wegeler and Ferdinand Ries, Biographische Notizen ber Ludwig van Beethoven (Koblenz: bei
K. Bdeker, 1838), 14850, and reproduced in Beethovens smtliche Briefe, ed. Alfred Christlieb Kalischer,
5 vols. (Berlin; Leipzig: Schuster & Loeffler, 19068), letter no. 764, 4:1517, the markings for the second and fifth movements are given erroneously as  = 80 and  = 144, respectively.
66. Fischer, Beethovens Piano Sonatas, 103; Alfred Brendel, Alfred Brendel on Music: Collected Essays
(Chicago: A Cappella Books; London: JR Books, 2007), 85.
67. [Anton Schindler], The Life of Beethoven, Including His Correspondence with His Friends, Numerous
Characteristic Traits, and Remarks on His Musical Works, ed. Ignace Moscheles, 2 vols. (London: Henry
Colburn, 1841), 2:252 n.
68. Anne-Louise Coldicott, Performance Practice in Beethovens Day, in The Beethoven Compendium:
A Guide to Beethovens Life and Music, ed. Barry Cooper, 28089 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991).


Notes, December 2014

and in general there are strong indications that they were carefully established and seriously intended.69
We have to start from the principle that using the metronome does
not mean maintaining the same beat from beginning to end; it represents a base speed, and this, in turn, excludes total subjectivity without
sacrificing the artistic freedom inherent in musical interpretation.70
There is evidence that the tempo of a piece, for Beethoven, originated as
an integral part of the actual conception of the music.71 It is no coincidence, then, that in general, bearing in mind the meter and the figurations used, Beethoven habitually used the same indication for similar
tempos and, most importantly, for movements of a similar character.
Therefore if a given tempo proves impossible in practice, this could
merely indicate the limitations of our technique.72
As we have already seen, Beethoven was consciously using an innovative musical language that was not always understood by his contemporaries. This could be the origin of the reluctance to accept his markings
as representing his real intentions, as a direct consequence of which they
are rarely observed in performance practice. Deviations from Beethovens
original tempo have thus been gradually consolidated over time, perpetuated as a fossilized tradition, to the point of producing highly distorted
results in some cases.73 A handful of interpretations by prestigious performers of the period are all it takes to form an inexorable kind of sacred
musical heritage, which becomes part of the collective consciousness of
listeners. Sir Georg Solti highlights his experience as a student in the
1920s, when Beethovens metronome markings were already considered
wrong, and recalls this at the end of his life as a kind of fairy tale, since
he had finally come around to the view that these marks of Beethovens
give a good approximation of the tempos the composer intended.74
69. Peter Stadlen, Beethoven und das Metronom, in Beethoven: Das Problem der Interpretation, 2d ed.,
ed. Heinz-Klaus Metzger & Rainer Riehn, Musik Konzepte, 8 (Munich: Text und Kritik, 1985), 1233.
This volume was first published in 1979, and an English version of Stadlens article, Beethoven and the
Metronome, appeared in Soundings (Cardiff ) 9 (1982): 3873. Stadlen had previously published a different article under the same title, Beethoven and the Metronome, Music & Letters 48, no. 4 (October
1967): 33049.
70. For Hummel, variations of tempo were not only permissible but indispensable, within certain laws
of moderation. If a relatively conservative figure like Hummel accepted such liberties, all the more reason to follow this line of interpretation in a much less conservative composer such as Beethoven
(Schenkman, Beyond the Limits, 16162).
71. Kolisch, Tempo and Character.
72. In the classical period the procedure for choosing the appropriate tempo was not based on analyzing the score; it was rather a matter of looking for an effective way of performing the piece starting from
the tempo indication, on which there was already a certain degree of consensus without the need for a
metronome. The idea that the correct tempo has to be comfortable may therefore be a mistake, and
strictly speaking a great many elements should be taken into account, ranging from the acoustics to the
particular instrument (Rosen, Beethovens Piano Sonatas, 47).
73. Kolisch, Tempo and Character.
74. Georg Solti, Memoirs (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 214.

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


Fig. 7. Evolution of the total duration of Beethovens Sonata op. 106 in fifty-one recordings
from 1935 to 2007

Returning to opus 106, it has already been made clear that there is a
tradition of performance tending, in practice, toward slower tempos
than the original markings, since of the fifty-one performances examined, only one in five is at or below the duration we are taking as a reference. In figure 7 we can see a rising trend in the total duration of the
work from 1935 to 2007, with some exceptions.
Even though a performance tradition predominantly contrary to those
markings can be observed, Beethovens intentions seem unequivocal. As
we have seen, the Hammerklavier was a challenge for the composer himself
and, as such, a very carefully thought-out and considered work. Although
he himself emphasized that the metronome must be used with caution,
the fact is that if his markings are followed, an overall performance time


Notes, December 2014

of forty-one minutes does not diverge excessively from his earlier great
sonatas, and particularly from the total duration of his last quartets.
Moreover, those much-criticized markings are consistent with other elements of the text. Kolisch notes that the Allegro of the first movement of
opus 106 is the fastest of all Beethovens works in duple time with this
marking, which range from  = 112 in the First Symphony to  = 138 in
this movement.75 It is an extreme tempo for a sonata which, as we have
seen, is conceived as extreme in every sense: dynamics, registers, intervals. In 1842, Czerny, who had studied the sonata with Beethoven himself, described the composers prescribed tempo for the first movement
as unusually quick and impetuous, but unlike Moscheles he did not
argue for a reduction, and evidently regarded it as representing the composers intention, arguing that the difficulty arising from it could be
overcome with sufficient study.76 Liszt maintained Beethovens original
tempos in his edition (only in the third movement did he propose a
slightly slower marking of = 84). William Mason describes how Liszt expressed tremendous indignation at a slow performance of the work.77 In
recent decades there has been a greater willingness than previously to
take Beethovens metronome marks seriously and to regard the enormous difficulty of achieving them, and the tension created thereby, as
deliberate and essential to the character of the work, a view trenchantly
expressed by Kaiser, for example.78
The most unplayable movement at the original tempo is perhaps the
fugue. As Lederer points out, however, it is crucial to understand that
the overall character of the movement is aggressive and violent, and that
its contrapuntal textures bristle with difficulty. As a fugue, the movement
is inevitably more intellectually driven; so while its three subjects are
strong in character, their development is guided by contrapuntal logic,
rather than by the drama of sonata form: Beethoven did not intend that
the fugue be loved, but rather that it be listened to in awe.79 The relatively widespread view of this sonata as grand and monumental, often
just because of its length, leads people to choose particularly slow tem-

75. Kolisch, Tempo and Character, 279.

76. Carl Czerny, On the Proper Performance of All Beethovens Works for the Piano, Czernys Reminiscences of
Beethoven and Chapters II and III of the Complete Theoretical and Practical Piano Forte School Op. 500, facsimile of the English translation of Czernys ber den richtigen Vortrag der smtlichen Beethovenschen Klavierwerke
(Vienna, 1842) published as The Art of Playing the Ancient and Modern Piano Forte Works (London: R. Cocks
& Co., n.d. [1846?]), ed. and with a commentary by Paul Badura-Skoda (Vienna: Universal Edition,
1970), 64. For Schindlers testimony that Czerny had often studied opus 106 with Beethoven, see p. 16.
77. Mason, Memories of a Musical Life, 1035.
78. Joachim Kaiser, Beethovens 32 Klaviersonaten und ihre Interpreten (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1984;
various printings), 5089.
79. Victor Lederer, Beethovens Piano Music: A Listeners Guide (Milwaukee: Amadeus Press, 2011), 113.

A Panoramic Survey of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106


pos, and reduces the field of vision to merely superficial issues. The
dimensions and technical demands of the work are unparalleled. But
this should not divert us from its essence: confronting an existential challenge full of energy, with no room for contemplation. In short, it is a decision in which performers have to form a critical judgment of both the
weight of tradition and their personal preferences, and to be aware of
the consequences on an expressive and a structural level: as in life itself,
a small decision can have momentous consequences.80
To sum up: on the one hand, the new harmonic, structural, thematic,
and dynamic elements open the way to the musical language of the latenineteenth-century French school, and even to the new forms of piano
writing that were to emerge in the twentieth; in addition, as a whole,
they manage to maintain a constant friction, a sense of continuous struggle throughout the whole work. This conflict, as we have seen, reflects
Beethoven confronting a serious personal and artistic crisis, surpassing
himself in compositional terms, and also facing a vital challenge to overcome the intense isolation to which he was subjected by the events mentioned earlier. The solitude manifested in the Hammerklavier, especially
in the third movement, never left him, as the slow movements of his last
sonatas and quartets show.81
This study has sought to provide some keys to interpretation that may
help to penetrate beneath the surface of this formidable sonata. The
challenge life posed for Beethoven, in painful circumstances, was extreme, as we have seen, and he responded to it with an artistic renaissance, reaching new heights, in the most difficult conditions. Nevertheless, many areas remain to be explored, given that some of the issues
raised here deserve a whole study in themselves: an analysis of the various editions and their evolution, as well as a systematic examination of
interpretative practice based on recordings, with reference to the original tempos and markings, taking into account connections with other
works, especially the opus 130 quartet and the opus 133 fugue.82 If
Beethoven believed in 1818 that this sonata would keep pianists busy for
fifty years, he was wrong: it was to do so for several centuries, and not just
pianists, but also scholars.
translated by Charles Davis

80. Janet M. Levy, The Power of the Performer: Interpreting Beethoven, Journal of Musicology 18,
no. 1 (Winter 2001): 3155.
81. For an extensive review of the emotional and spiritual dimension of the Hammerklavier, see J. W. N.
Sullivan, Beethoven: His Spiritual Development (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927; various reprints), 20310.
82. Lambert, Beethoven in B .

Notes, December 2014


This article draws together a range of perspectives on one of the

supreme works in the piano repertoire, Beethovens Sonata no. 29,
op. 106. Composed in extreme circumstances, it takes sonata form to the
limit, while at the same time revealing a search for new ways forward.
From its first appearance right up to the present day, its complexity has
distanced it from the general public, and even from many performers.
The main object of this study is to provide elements that enable us to
understand what is, in stylistic terms, one of the composers most atypical
pieces. For this purpose it examines biographical, contextual, and structural aspects of the work, as well as questions of interpretation on the
basis of the various existing editions and of fifty-one performances,
which confirm a widespread tradition of slow tempos, despite Beethovens precise and consistent indications.

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