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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world. To listen to KPAC 88.3 FM, simply open the player in the gray ribbon at the top of this page and choose KPAC: Classical Music.

Beethoven Transcends His Time With 28th Piano Sonata

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What is a musical genius to do? Ludwig van Beethoven had been composing piano sonatas with his own technical prowess in mind since he was eleven years old, and thirty five years later he hits a brick wall.

The new ideas and experimentation that stimulated so much of his music wasn't happening. This was the situation Beethoven found himself in 1816. The composer was a crotchety and difficult man at the best of times and after 1815 his physical problems and lack of energy brought his compositional growth to a standstill.

As in the past, it was his music that gave him a reason to live, and two years after his last sonata for piano it was a musical relationship that simulated Beethoven and pushed his imagination in new directions. This not only got him his groove back, it transcended his middle period into the greatest music of his career.

Beethoven's pupil and friend, Baroness Dorothea Ertmann, got him out of his slump. It was her friendship, personality and abilities that pushed the composer to write something with her in mind.

It was his gift to her musical sensitivities and brilliant technique that got the composer thinking in new directions and triggered in Beethoven a fresh start, allowing him to vault into his last and in many ways his most fruitful period.

The "A major Sonata Opus 101" shows us that Beethoven wasn't interested in a formulaic approach to music. The composer gives us three movements that are so different that they don't even seem like they should be joined together.

While the first movement has some aspects of sonata form, Beethoven chooses what works for him and what to leave out. This beginning is long, lush and dreamy and seems more like a lullaby than a typical introduction.

Again the composer uses German to tell the pianist exactly what he wants, this introductory movement is marked, in translation, "Rather lively and with the warmest feeling".

The second movement couldn't be more different with its March like power and rhythm. The structure is in A-B-A form and Beethoven uses a canon-like B section that foreshadows the unusual ending.

An Adagio is the third movement and Beethoven wants it played "slowly and longingly". This music is at first played in chords, like a hymn, and doesn't so much evolve into new themes, but descends with a long bass line that is contrasted with haunting embellishments.

The composer has given us three seemingly unconnected movements and it is the long trills that finally bring about the answer - the hidden fourth movement that springs from the trills and combines a classical era sonata-form with a baroque fugue!

This is the movement that ties together all that come before. Now all the odd, disjointed themes are put in their place in a growing fugue where Beethoven shows us once again that unique ability of his to re-invent himself.

It is in this deceptive fourth movement that the joy and good cheer the composer had been holding back spills out in an orderly manner, thanks to the fugue-like middle section.

Beethoven's most sublime phase of his career, his late period has truly begun.

Hear this introduction to the masterpieces Tuesday morning in the 6 o'clock hour on your Classical Oasis, KPAC  88.3 FM.

Randy was Texas Public Radio's Classical Music Director until 2013 and the longest-serving employee in Texas Public Radio's history. He hosted the very first airshift on KPAC when the station went on the air at 90.9 FM in San Antonio back in November, 1982.