There are few collections of musical compositions more important that Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. These are the transitional works that signaled the end of the Classical era and the onset of Romanticism. They influenced innumerable composers following Beethoven – their innovative structures, use of counterpoint, dynamic contrast, and general mastery of craft all forever changed the direction of music. Several of Beethoven’s works were so visionary that they would not be appreciated literally for decades after the composer’s death.
Each Sonata is unique, and all have elements and history that make them remarkable. Here are five that have stood out in the test of time:
This is a popular work from Beethoven’s “early period,” reflecting considerable influence from Mozart and Haydn. It portends the dynamic contrasts that would define many of Beethoven’s works throughout his life. It includes a rare instance of hundred twenty-eighth notes.
Arguably the most recognizable of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, “Moonlight” features a highly evocative melancholy first movement. Although this movement sets the tone, the piece is unusual in that the structurally most important movement is placed at the end of the work.
Piano Sonata No. 23 is remarkable for its stark contrasts in dynamics and tone as well as structural innovation. It is a very challenging piece to play, and arguably the most difficult Beethoven wrote until he completed Piano Sonata No. 29.
Regarded as the most technically demanding Piano Sonata Beethoven wrote, “Hammerklavier” is long, complex, and relentless. Like many works in Beethoven’s “late period,” it is highly contrapuntal and includes an extraordinary fugue in the final movement.
This is Beethoven’s final Piano Sonata, and one of few with only two movements. The second movement is a series of variations on a theme, and the third variation in particular is notable for its ragtime or boogie-woogie-like sonority.