Sonata in F major, op. 24 ‘Spring’ (Beethoven)

Program note

tulips of many different colours
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Sonata in F major, op. 24 ‘Spring’

Adagio molto espressivo
Scherzo: Allegro molto
Allegro ma non troppo

The fifth of Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and violin was published in 1801, the same year as its predecessor, Op. 23 in A minor. Whereas that work was troubled, agitated, and difficult, the F major sonata is sunny, equable, and fresh, so that the nickname someone has given it seems less objectionable than some other such arbitrary titles. Among near-contemporary works of the composer, one somewhat similar in mood is the Op. 28 piano sonata, the Pastoral, while the key of F major was later to seem suitable to Beethoven for the development of similar sentiments on a far greater scale than in the Sixth Symphony.

This is not to say that the Spring Sonata is a small-scale work. Not only is it the first of its genre in Beethoven to have four movements, but each except the scherzo is developed with considerable breadth. Breadth and flowing lyricism immediately strike the attention in the memorable first subject. In fact, as with other memorable themes of his, it took Beethoven some effort to fashion its final form, which combines spontaneity and inevitability. The character of the movement is thus set from the outset – though there is some agitation and drama later, particularly when the recapitulation turns towards the second subject group. The basic contrast is between the essentially melodic first idea and a more broken up, dramatically exchanged second subject. The main theme returns in the coda where its first measure is developed, setting its seal even more firmly on the movement.

The slow movement, in B flat, is again distinguished by breadth of phrase and warm feeling, while the mood is more serious. Exposition is exceptionally closely shared by the instruments, each doing what it can best; the violin detaching itself to present the first theme cantabile, the piano heightening the intensity by varying it with repeated notes. In concluding the dialogue with trills on both instruments Beethoven provides an early example of his ability to raise a decorative device to an expressive function.

Breathtaking concision marks the scherzo which abruptly contrasts a syncopated exchange (the violin follows the piano a beat behind) with a trio in rapidly running notes. This prepares the listener by way of contrast for a return in the last movement to the lyricism and flow of the first. Formally this is a rondo, and because of the subtlety with which the refrain is altered and variously shaped, the effect is of almost uninterrupted development and variation. The contrast comes when, in the second couplet of the rondo, the music shifts into D minor. When the refrain returns some remote keys are explored before the coda uses a little virtuosity to provide an effective concert conclusion.

© David Garrett
Republished with the permission of Symphony Services Australia

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