Sonata No. 7, C Minor, Piano and Violin, op. 30 no. 2 (1802)

Baptized 17 December 1770, Bonn, Germany.
Died 26 March 1827, Vienna, Austria.

In 1801, after completing his fifteenth piano sonata (the “Pastorale,” in D, Op. 28),  Beethoven supposedly told his friend the violinist Wenzel Krumpholz, “I am only a little satisfied with my previous works.  From today on I will take a new path.”  The composer had, of course, already explored many new paths, but the three Violin Sonatas Op. 30, written in the spring of 1802, do in fact represent a new stage in Beethoven’s handling of that genre and point, in the intensity of their emotional content and technical difficulty, not only to the “Kreutzer” sonata, but also to the great middle period works of the next several  years (the Third and Fifth Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” piano sonatas, and the Op. 59 String Quartets).

Opus 30 exemplifies Beethoven’s already established penchant for composing works in sets of three, each one in a different key and one in minor. The key of C Minor also is significant, for Beethoven expressed some of his most dramatic music through this tonality—previously the “Pathètique” sonata and Third Piano Concerto, and later the Fifth Symphony and the first movement of the last piano sonata, for instance.  Beethoven also continues the traditional four-movement structure of most of the early piano sonatas, but introduces a couple of unorthodox features, such as not repeating either the exposition of the first and fourth movements’ sonata form or the first half of the Scherzo in the Scherzo and Trio that constitute the third movement;  his specific instruction (La prima parte senza repetizione) for the Scherzo serves also to remind today’s performers, who normally do not observe repeats when returning to Minuet or Scherzo sections after the Trio, that it was in fact the practice to make such repetitions in the Classic-Romantic period unless  explicitly countermanded, as here.

Op. 30, No. 2, true to its key, is a very grand piece, full of high tension and drama in its outer movements.  The second movement, marked “Adagio cantabile” but in a qualifying cut-time meter, is a through-composed ABA’ plus coda form in A-flat major; the return of the “A” material and extended coda are elaborately embellished by 32nd-note passagework in the piano accompaniment. Seemingly out of place in this work, however, is the miniature Scherzo and Trio movement, both sections in a bright C major but characterized by a kind of clumsy, oafish humor with accents on the “wrong” beats and even harmonic and rhythmic disjunctions between right and left hands of the piano which, out of context, might appear the work of an unskilled composer—indications, of course, that these effects are quite clearly Beethoven’s intent.  Nonetheless, there is evidence that Beethoven considered either replacing or eliminating this movement.  The finale, a cut-time Allegro in C Minor, keeps the listener off balance by avoiding a tonic harmony until measure 14 but then proceeds in a standard sonata-form (except for the non-repetition of the exposition) with a two-part coda, the second a Presto that brings the movement and work to a blazing conclusion.

Raymond Erickson (2009)