What does a Beethoven sonata have to do with the Resurrection? The recording I wanted to share with you this morning is my own. It is a recording of my favourite piece for piano solo - Beethoven's second last sonata, Opus 110.
I'd like to focus today on the third movement (8:50 in the recording). It begins with a piano imitation of a recitative and aria - usually performed in an operatic setting by single vocalist. At the beginning, she stands alone and renders a very fragile, melancholy tune. Once the aria comes to a cadence (12:10 in the recording), seemingly out of nowhere, Beethoven transforms the minor mode into major, and a solo aria into a fugue (a polyphonic piece that consists of a three, four or five melodies being presented at the same time). Suddenly what was one becomes many, and what was hopeless becomes uplifting. Beethoven gives himself no harmonic time to prepare this modulation, nor does he give us any reason to suspect that it is forthcoming. The transformation of the musical material seems to happen despite what has come before, not because of it.
The form of this sonata is complex, but this modulation is the one aspect of the form I'd like to focus on today. At a later point (15:00 in the recording), the singer returns to confront her despair once again before the piece culminates in a triumphant chorale (18:40 in the recording).
To me, this is a very poignant piece. The structure, or the form of this sonata, is organized in the same way as the Resurrection story. Did Beethoven have the Resurrection in mind when writing it? Probably not, since there is no narrative to this sonata, there are no "program notes". Rather, it is what the music itself is that communicates this to us. Even if Beethoven did not intend to represent the Resurrection through this piece, a great piece of music always communicates more than it is conscious of saying.
I hope you enjoy! Hope you are staying well, and we shall see each other soon!