Michael Alec Rose: Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 10/2

Beethoven’s early F Major sonata is one of my favorites, too. On the other hand, my favorite Beethoven sonata is the one I happen to be playing, or listening to, or thinking about, at the moment.

Everything you write about the piece is thrilling. Humor, vitality, reconciliation, lyricism: yes! The dialectical synthesis of the lyrical and the rhythmic: yes! A hybrid of Haydn’s and Mozart’s melodic gifts: yes!

There’s one thing I’m guessing you didn’t feel the need to mention, just because it’s so obvious, but it’s crucially important to me: in the absence of a slow-tempo movement (unique, I think, among the thirty-two in this regard), Beethoven goes into the highest possible gear to ensure the dramatic contrasts at work both within and between his three “up-tempo” movements.

The Allegretto is one of the breakthrough pieces of my life.  The first time I played the cadential music beginning at bar 23, I was so stunned by the event, it helped set the course of my life’s work.  It would be difficult for me to cite anything more dissonant (in a contextual sense) than those rinforzando chords in 23 and 24. But then! But then! The spirit of these suspensions carries over and is utterly transformed in the theme of the Trio, when the repeated notes make their pianissimo way to the glorious suspension on the downbeat of 41. Beethoven was obsessed by this melodic idea of the Trio: the static rhythm of a single pitch arriving at a culminating discord.  We hear its fullest realization in the second subject of the Eroica’s first movement. When I taught my Beethoven & Beatles course for many years at Vanderbilt, the resonance of this characteristic Beethovenian anacrusis with the melody of “You Never Give Me Your Money” was inevitable, and entirely audible to my students.

Another irresistible and lovely connection for this Trio is with the A-Flat Major Moment Musical of Schubert, with the same repeated-note suspension over the bar line, but also (more profoundly), a similar preoccupation with enharmonic multivalence: A natural and B double flat for Beethoven, E natural and F flat for Schubert.

It is impossible to speak of these things without  understanding the absolute coincidence of the technical and the spiritual dimensions.

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Michael Alec Rose is a composer and Professor of Composition at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. With violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved, he directed an exchange program between Vanderbilt and the Royal Academy of Music in London (2005-2016), with many performances of his music at venues across the U.K. He has received numerous commissions for chamber, vocal, symphonic, and theatre works, and awards for his university teaching.  Rose is the author of Audible Signs: Essays on a Musical Ground (Bloomsbury, 2010).

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