The Path That a Musician Should Take Before Giving a Sonata

Before one can go on stage and present a successful performance, there is a long journey that musician has to cover the completely learn that musical material. The preparation a pianist should always follow include a preliminary time when he should familiarize himself with the repertoire context. Some background information about that composer, or details in regard with the period of his life when he composed that work would help to crystalize the image of the piece. A form analysis of that piece would also be helpful, and some comparison with other similar genres and forms could offer interesting perspectives on that work.

After this step is completed, a pianist can dive in and start practicing the actual music.

Ludwig van Beethoven composed his Piano Sonata Op. 57, No. 23 in F Minor, “Apassionata” between 1804 and 1806, during the period known in music as his second compositional period. The composer himself considered this sonata as one of the most difficult he ever composed. This piece demands high technical skills, and a strongly developed musical understanding for the performer.

In this piece, Beethoven follow the standard setting for a piano sonata with three movements in the fast-slow-fast setting, the same his predecessors Haydn and Mozart used too. However, Beethoven decided to experiment some new aspects with this work.

The first movement follows a standard sonata form, but with a highly enlarged coda, and at least one passage that reminds of cadenzas used in concertos. One innovation Beethoven brings with the beginning of this piece is that he builds the entire movement based on a descending figure containing the three notes of the F Minor chord, the main tonality of the whole piece.

Get quality help now
Writer Lyla

Proficient in: Music

5 (876)

“ Have been using her for a while and please believe when I tell you, she never fail. Thanks Writer Lyla you are indeed awesome ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

An interesting aspect here is that even if Beethoven composed thirty-two piano sonatas there are only two of them in the tonality of F Minor. The other sonata in the same key is Op. 2, No.1, which intriguingly uses the same motive based on the F Minor chord, but this time inverted, in ascending motion. The other motive Beethoven builds his piece is the descending half step figure D-flat-C which will appear in different forms later. This motive is nothing else than a small variation of the four-notes motive Beethoven begins with his Fifth Symphony, composed in the same period of time.

One of the most challenging aspects in the performance of this piece is represented by the capability to create a unified tempo throughout the whole movement. The primary theme of the piece is sectioned in small individual fragments which create a static feeling. This section ends with a cadenza-like passage and with a fermata. The next section is a repeat of the primary theme, which is unusual for a sonata form, since the norm would require a transition. The tempo in this repeated primary material is more stable and the direction of this section is driven by the pulsating eight notes. The transition also offers a feeling of lack of movement which persists in the secondary key area. The secondary theme offers another innovation. Beethoven did not use a different material, but he recycled the material from the first theme. Once the closing theme develops the pulse is much stricter with permanent sixteen notes figures. The same feeling remains for most of the development, and the recapitulation features similar problems with the exposition.

One other performance challenge with this first movement includes the capability of the performer to gradually build the long cadenza-like passage toward the end of the movement. This section, which corresponds to the climax of the piece, demands a high level of virtuosity. More than the technical skills, a pianist has to dynamically control this whole section. A harmonic analysis can help to understand the main harmonies, and which notes are te pillars of this section.

The second movement features a theme and variation which can be interpreted in at least two different ways. The choral-like writing can suggest that this movement may be a representation of a chorale, or it can portray the music for a string quartet. The second option is more plausible because the writing suggests one low voice on the left hand, and three other voices on the right hand. To recreate that sound, a pianist needs to carefully control the pedal, because the sound can easily become to heavy. The touch of the keys also has to be controlled, and the pianist should remain more at the surface of the keys. The opposite of this sound is required for the second half of this movement where there is a long section with thirty-second notes. This technique implies a very high level of agility, where each finger has to be active, especially the last phalanges. A gentle, but in the same time percussive sound is recommended for this section.

The third movement of this sonata is long virtuosic section. The innovation here is that Beethoven does not repeat the first section, like usually, but he decided to repeat the second part. The coda, called by the pianist Andras Schiff a “demonic czardas” is also extremely challenging in terms of high virtuosity, in a very fast tempo.

George Enescu composed his Piano Suite Op. 10, No. 2 in 1903 when he was only twenty-three years old. This work consists of four different movements: Toccata, Sarabande, Pavane, and Bouree. Even if the titles suggest connections with the Baroque period, Enescu wrote this piece in a pretty distant style. There are many influences from the French music in this piece, which Enescu definitely got used with during his studies at the Paris Conservatoire. Another interesting aspect is represented by the setting of the movements with a fast-slow-slow-fast pattern. In a suite, all movements should be in the same key, but the composer also deviated from this pattern with a slightly changed version where the Toccata, Sarabande and Bouree are in D Major, while the Pavane is in B Minor.

The Toccata follows a sonata form and it presents motives that portray the bell sound. One of the challenging aspects for a performer presenting the whole suite is how he can create a dynamical hierarchy through the entire piece. In the Toccata, Enescu marked only once a p dynamic, and every other dynamic sign correspond to the mf to ff range. There are also many places where the composer marks sf and even sff. If someone performs only this movement the dynamic range can go up to extremely loud sound, but if a pianist considers the whole suite, he has to control those high dynamics in comparison with those in the last movement of the work. The highly chromatic passages are also one of the biggest challenges of the Toccata.

The Sarabande in contrast with the previous movement has a dynamic range predominant in the mp-mf area with only isolated ff markings. One of the hardest aspects in the Sarabande is represented by the distinction between the lower voices and the top voice which has to be emphasized throughout the entire section. The performer has to realize this without breaking the long legato lines. This is even more difficult because many times the lower voices are grouped in arpeggiated chords, therefore they have a vertical orientation, while the melody line follows a horizontal development.

The Pavane portrays a processional through the double-dotted rhythm. The general atmosphere is similar with the previous movement but it develops a more sad character, especially through the flute-like melody that stands out right from the beginning of the piece. In this movement there is more dialogue between the top voice, which still has the main role, and the other voices. Toward the end of the movement there are passages that combine virtuosity with an intimate sound, similar to sonorities specific to Debussy and Ravel. The ppp markings suggest that this is the lowest point in terms of dynamics in the entire suite.

The Bouree presents many motives similar to Romanian folk dances. Enescu develops the first two measure throughout the whole movement with intriguing harmonies. In terms of dynamics, this movement is the loudest, with many places suggesting a fanfare-like character. This final movement can also e interpreted as the final victory after the emotional struggle from the previous two movements.

[bookmark: page1]Pedaling is ​one of the most important aspects of piano performance. Some of the most important pianists presented their opinions regards pedaling. Rubinstein, a great virtuoso considered that “the pedal is the soul of the pianoforte”, while another impressive pianist Horowitz affirmed that a pianist can transform his piano from a percussion instrument to a singing one.

Pedaling can help a performer to create an even more beautiful sound, but in the same time, if used inappropriately it can damage that performance. The pedal can help one to create the legato feeling in phrase, but it should not be the substitute of a flexible hand legato. Unfortunately, there are many pianists these days who use the pedal in a wrong way, probably by ear, and therefore they blend harmonies too much together.

There are three main types of pedaling. The pedal can be pressed before, in the same time, or after playing a certain note. When someone depresses the pedal in the same time with the key, this procedure is called rhythmic pedal. This type of pedaling was one of the most used starting with the late nineteenth century. The effect created will emphasize more accents and rhythmical passages, and the articulation will also be clearer. A good example here would be a waltz where usage of the rhythmic pedal will help to emphasize the accented first beat. When the pedal is released on the third beat of the measure, it will help to create a softer sound specific for that type of piece.

The second type of pedal, when the pedal is depressed after the note is played, it is called syncopated pedal. This pedaling was promoted by Liszt, also in the late nineteenth century, and it is the most used method nowadays. It helps to create a legato between different chords, without blending their harmonies together. Through this procedure, to create the connection between harmonies, the pedal is held for a fraction of time after striking the next note or chord, before the pedal is quickly released and changed again. One of the biggest issues with this type of pedaling is that if the pedal is not completely released the dampers will not totally return to the strings and the sound will be blended.

Depressing the pedal before a note is played is called anticipated pedal. This method was first mentioned in treatises from the twentieth century. With the dampers already raised in preparation, this will make the finger depression easier, and will create a luminous, clear sound. This pedaling is usually used at the beginning of a composition, after rests, and to create a richer, although less defined sound.

Therefore, each type of pedaling creates a different effect. ​Rhythmic pedaling provides emphasis and accent, anticipated pedaling​ creates a fuller, more open, resonant sound while syncopated pedaling offers a better legato​. A pianist should not rely on the permanent usage of only one type of pedaling, but he should apply all three methods based on the piece character. ​

There is also a damper special effect which implies the usage of the half pedal. The two conventional positions of the pedal are down and up, but there are also some gradations between these two. For example, when a complete depress of the pedal might create a blur, a pianist can choose to use the half pedal. The result of this method will create a resonant, atmospheric effect. The dampers remain nearer to the string​s, only checking, without completely stopping, vibrations, allowing for control in the degree of resonance.

Another pedaling technique implies the vibration of the pedal, and it is called vibrato pedal. In this case, the foot will have a constant series of fluctuating, shallow, up and down movements ​without ever allowing the pedal to rise completely​. The goal is to create resonance where full and continuous pedal depression would be overwhelming, and total abstinence would be too dry​.

The soft pedal creates an effect of a softer and darker sound. This concept was introduced by Cristofori at the beginning of the eighteenth century and it still has the same effect on modern pianos. The only difference is that at the beginning, the mechanism was used with knee lever, while later it was replaced with pedals. Once the soft pedal is depressed, the whole mechanism slightly moves to the right, therefore the hammers will hit only one string instead of three. This pedal should be used just occasionally, to create a different color, not as a substitute for playing in a soft dynamic.

The middle pedal is also called the sostenuto pedal. This pedal can selectively sustain a single note or group of notes while the rest of the dampers remain unaffected. For example, once a note in the low register is played and the sostenuto pedal is depressed, there can be used other effects created with the damper pedal, above of that existing sonority.

The gradual release of the pedal after the release of the finger allows for a beautiful tapering of the ends of phrases and pieces. A pianist should attempt to use the pedal to finish the sound whenever possible. It is important to remember that the most sensitive part of the damper release is​ at the top​, as the dampers come close to the strings. In order to taper the end of the tone, you must use the most careful control as the pedal nears the top. An important habit to develop is to keep the hands on the surface of the keys until well after the pedaled sound has died away. If the performer does not move, listeners tend to focus on the disappearing sound.

Cite this page

The Path That a Musician Should Take Before Giving a Sonata. (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7