Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, was composed between 1804 and 1805, and was published in February 1807 in Vienna. It is dedicated to Count Franz von Brunswick. Its nickname, “Appassionata” (Italian for “Passionate”), was not given during Beethoven’s lifetime, being labelled in 1838 by the publisher of a four-hand arrangement.
This sonata falls within Beethoven’s middle period, along with the “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53, and the “Les Adieux” Sonata, Op. 81a. These works, along with his “Eroica” Symphony and “Emporer” Concerto, make up a group of works written while Beethoven was coming to terms with his impending deafness, and are credited as being some of the earliest and most influential masterpieces of the Romantic era.
The Appassionata is perhaps his most difficult piano sonata outside of the “Hammerklavier” Sonata. It has three movements.
The opening theme of this movement is among the most famous of opening themes in the piano sonata repertoire. It begins with a downward arpeggiation of a root position F minor triad in both hands, before arpeggiating back up, always with dotted eighth rhythms. The theme is then reinstated in the Neapolitan key of Gb major. Such heavily stressed usage of the Neapolitan is one example of Romanticism in Beethoven’s middle period. The Neapolitan was only spritzed into compositions before, but here Beethoven makes it a highlighted flavor:
Andante con moto
This movement begins with a chorale section. It is the slow section, but the middle and late sections of the piece are saturated with 32nd notes. It flows attaca into the third movement.
Allegro ma non troppo – Presto
The last movement begins with repetitions of a diminished seventh-chord at a fortissimo. It is odd to begin a movement such, indeed, it does not feel like the beginning of the third movement. Thereafter there are very rapid 16th note runs, which carry into the main theme. The movement later goes into a presto section, which begins with chords and continues with even faster right hand runs than before. It ends with the keyboard being set ablaze with lightning-fast F minor arpeggios in both hands, descending to the very bottom of register.
Some editions of Beethoven’s sonatas include:
- Breitkopf & Härtel
- Henle Verlag
- Peters (edited by Claudio Arrau)
Some notable performers with recordings of this piece include:
- Claudio Arrau
- Daniel Barenboim
Captain Thaddius’ Hot Take:
Another great challenge for a graduate-level pianist, this piece has many technical and emotional hurdles that will confound most pianists. The piece itself is beautiful and profound. Beethoven wrote such epic keyboard sonatas, with very pianistic passages and original, forward-looking harmonic progression.