Category: Beethoven Sonatas

Technical reference notes for passages in Beethoven’s Early Piano Sonatas (#1):

More groups of blogs on the same sonatas will appear at various times.

How I identify which sonata is the subject of each entry below:

I use opus numbers to identify Beethoven sonatas, instead of for example: “Sonata 1 in F minor”, or “Sonata 2 in A Major”. Because someday in the future it could happen that somebody discovers a long lost additional sonata that he wrote, or, just as likely or unlikely, somebody will prove that he was not the author of a particular sonata currently ascribed to him*. Numbering the sonatas would at that point become more confusing than helpful. It is like what happened to Dvorak when they changed the numbers assigned to his Symphonies; when number 5 became number 9, 4 became 8. and 2 became 7.

* When I was growing up most of the ‘simple’ or ‘introductory’ pieces to “Bach” were assumed to be written by Bach himself, but thanks to the  efforts of the musicologists many were later discovered to have been  written by other composers and just compiled by Bach for use as keyboard teaching pieces.

The movements are given in Roman Uppercase numerals.

~Op 2 / 1


Op 2 / 1 : I : general

A tremor, like a vibrating string, back and forth, rotationally in the arm, but on encased in an imaginary vice grip that would thwart that same motion (a counter vector to the original vector). The result is that the rotation cannot turn very far in space, though it wants to do so, with the result that all the energy behind the attempt piles up into the first fraction of an inch of space in which the arm does manage to rotate before being prevented to rotate further. This small, overall motion therefore occurs in the shortest time possible.

This produces the maximum of speed when executing a passage on the keys: an “extreme” speed (one that goes beyond the fastest speed that the pianist can usually execute).

Op 2 / 1 : I : general

The mind forms an image of the body in the imagination, that there are no fingers existing in space between the two fingers that play the current and the next note. That there isn’t even any part of the hand in that “ellipsis”. Like a narrowed field of vision due to brain injury – the size of the hand is smaller. There is no awareness of space in any form existing in between the two fingers. And in parallel  with that, in terms of the keyboard, that there are no other keys in existing between the two keys that produce the two  notes.





Op2 / 1 : IV : m20

This is the old standby ‘heel-toe-thing’ turned in this case into heel-toe-toe. And done with vigor.

My original term heel-toe comes from an analogy with an organist playing in the pedal keyboard and using the heel of the foot alternately with the toes of the foot to articulate steps of a scale.  In my case the ‘heel’ becomes the ridge of my wrist, and the ‘toes’ become the flats of the underneath of my fingers. The shift from heel to toe is a forceful motion, that is capable of great power and sudden physical transfer of energy from one part of the anatomy to another.

Today’s revised version: heel toe toe, works well on behalf of all the triplets in this movement, and for triplets in general.


Op2 / 1 : IV : the modulation from F Minor to A flat major

When I leave F minor, and apply a dominant (Eb7) to Ab, it helps to sneak in an ef2 into the Eb7 chord. Otherwise I find the modulation a little tenuous,  as if I need more instruments from the orchestra. But this is only for what I term “state A” – a state, for practice purposes only, that modifies in some way the written content of the score. When I play the passage in “state B”, in other words when I play the passage as written, I hope the ef2 stays is still heard in my imagination (my resonant memory), and still effects the sound of the notes that are left.


~Op 2 / 2 :


Op 2 / 2 : I : Broken Octaves, using two hands, cascading down an arpeggio. m304 is an example.

One hand helps other by physically interacting with the other.

Lay the palm of one hand gently on the top of the other hand with a floating feeling. As a single unit let them move up and down in the air, in a repeating cycle, a few inches above the keyboard. Then extend those bounces to include motion to the left or right. After a while they can being to trace the general direction of the written notes, but ignoring the jumping back and forth between one octave and another. It is like trying to imitate a slinky toy going down a flight of stairs.

Now, retaining this sensation in the hand, and adding almost no additional pressure, play the passage as written. The hands are now coordinated, automatically, because they did not begin life as two hands but as one, with sort of a left and right side to it.

This idea of turning the two hands into one extended hand can be used in many places in the movement. Sometimes it is beneficial if at first the tempo of a passage is slowed down until finally playing it as written.


Op 2 / 2 : I fast runs; lightness of touch

Can I be lighter in weight than I am when I think I am already being light? In other words “take it to the next level” as some teachers are fond of saying.

What is required in these fast runs is a ‘sustained’ degree of extreme lightness, throughout the run, never flagging or changing, meandering in the direction of less lightness. Just because we start something a certain way, there is no guarantee it will remain that way, even though we assume it will. We have to carefully monitor the feedback our body’s are giving us. Every time we advance a couple more notes, there is a danger of adding back more pressure.

It may help if I say out loud the repeating mantra: “extreme  lightness … extreme lightness” It is every where. It is on each note.  And each next note. And so close to pantomime.


Op 2 / 2 : I : general

I was listening to Op 14/1 played by Gould, and of course I couldn’t help but absorb into my body and being some of his energy and enthusiasm that seem to me to almost overwhelm every note he played.  And now I’m  playing op 2 / 2 : I : , and I realize there are places where I need to add in that ebullience for an attack. Like in the rising pitches in m9 and m10.

Op 2 / 2 : I : m13

In m13 I played a gs3 with my left hand.





Op 2 / 2 : IV : m169

Chromatic scale, staccato-ish, in triplets, in the right hand.

Going along with the rest of today’s practicing, I am applying the idea of  super-speed* combined with miming the notes with the fingertips barely touching the key surfaces. And regardless that it is a chromatic scale, which moves ineluctably in one direction pitch-wise, I do not think of moving in  one direction, but as constant, rapid forearm rotation, back and forth.

* When going as fast as one can; then go faster! I also call this “extreme” speed.


Op 2 / 2 : IV : m185

A downward scale, rapidly, in staccatos.

I find that i can use the same technique as i used an entry ago for chromatic  scales, even though this scale is diatonic.

More and more in today’s practicing, I am using a very fast rotation of the forearm, back and forth, that seems oblivious to the leftwards and rightwards motion relative the keyboard. I make sure that this forearm rotation is at ‘extreme’ speed (see above) or there will be a distinct falling off in speed while playing through a long passage.  It is not enough to just  play it at the normal ‘fast’ speed.

I am also using a little bit of motion by the entire arm, floating inwards and outwards from the fallboard along a strictly horizontal plane.


~Op 2 / 3


Op 2 / 3 : I : general

Which notes are most likely left unattended to by the pianist. It varies from pianist to pianist, but tends to form patterns in the playing of a single individual.

Usually a note is unattended, or taken for granted that it has happened,  because we have attended to certain other notes. A relationship like this is likely to happen to a note of an ‘and’ after a note on a beat.


Beethoven: Op 2 / 3 : I : general

greater nimbleness, alacrity, clarity…

use the helping hand to push the fingers of the target hand downwards, but in a slightly new way: so that the tip of the finger of the helping hand make contact with the tip of the finger of the target hand. This is a separate and an outside action of by the finger of one hand on behalf of another finger, just when the latter is attempting to push down its key.


Op 2 / 3 : I : m1 : beats 3 and 4

Because I am playing two notes at a time in the right hand, and in spite of the fact that they progress along as parallel thirds, the slight distance that the hand would to move to accommodate just the thumb on b3 changing to the second finger on c4, is different the motion of the hand that would be tailored to the 3rd finger on d4 changing to the 4th finger on e4. This  disparity is not solved by any rigidity in the hand and to let the fingers fend for themselves. The arm must form a ‘syntheses’ out what would otherwise be two separate motions of the hand.

Op 2 / 3 : I : m3

I’m playing cs4-e4 to d4-f4 with the fingering 2-3 to 1-4. the motion of the hand laterally would be relatively less if I was just accommodating the e4 going to f4, than the motion the hand would make to accommodate the thumb which has to move from a position left of the second finger (when playing cs4-e4 with 2 and 3) to a position to the right of the second finger (when playing d4-f4). The synthesis of these two hand motions into one motion has to accommodate the “greater” distance, that is from the fingers‘ point of view, of how far apart cs4 is from d4, than e4 is from f4.


Op 2 / 3 : I : parallel thirds near in the first few measures (written a year-plus earlier than the above entry)

Think in a different dimension. I’ve been looking for solutions to the sixteenths in parallel thirds mostly in a horizontal plane. Today I switch to a vertical plane. The wrist flexes upwards and downwards, very rapidly back and forth. As far up and as far down as it can. With a feeling of whiplash at the highest point and the lowest point in the path of its flexion.

In effect I’m using a vertical solution to a horizontal issue, whereby the former subsumes the latter.

I’m going to mark this an important as I remind myself that I have come upon this at various times over the last ten years or so, and then forgot it.


Op 2 / 3 : I: m39, m41, m61, et. al.

The placement of the second of a four note group of notes.

As I have said in the past, it is only by the placement in time of the second of  four note group do we then have a sense of the exact speed at which the group will occur. this will not occur when we have only heard the first of the four.


Op 2 / 3 : I: m45, m46

Use a little ebullience on the turns in these measures.


Op 2 / 3 : I : m47, m48

I try to make to make the left hand in m48 exactly like the right hand in m47. Clones in every way.





~Op 7


Op 7 : I : m111, et. al.

Change the order in which the pitches are played if necessary so that you start with the highest pitched note first, then the second highest, and so on until you play the lowest pitched note; then reverse and go back up to the highest pitch. This gives your hand and arm an easier feel for playing that particular group of notes and a fresh perspective on the muscle movements. If there is also a left hand note written in the score to sound at any time during the notes written for the right hand, add in that note to the revised version of the passage, and put it in the position of the lowest pitched note.

Also feel free to add any chord-tones notes not printed on the page if they belong to the implied chord being outlined. They will add to the sense of fullness the passage, which sense can linger when the passage is played as written.

You can even “blow up” the chord like a balloon, extending the pitch range of the short notes. I call this “gestalt-ing” the chord, so as to hear the fullest possible, most resonant possible, most clearly defined, manifestation of that chord. The paragon, or model of what the written notes should sound like.


Op 7 : II : general

A great Beethoven movement. Possibly the most orchestral of the early sonatas, which as a whole are more orchestral minded than the middle
period sonatas, which in turn are more ‘pianistic’ minded, or the late sonatas, where the pitches are transcended into the purest form, just before they have reached heaven and we cannot hear them at all any more.*

* Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act V.

“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit, Jessica.

Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”


Op 7 : III : beginning

I think of this section of the movement not as ‘pretty’ or ‘tuneful’ but more structurally enthusiastic. Like building a dramatically constructed entity in time. Not so staid, sweet, or lyrical. Be aware of putting each building block (each quarter note) in its place. Somewhat more muscular and athletic; after all it’s Beethoven.


Op 7 : III : m5 and 6

This is a way of insuring that the notes of both hands have significance.

First play these notes:

af3 ef5 g3

in this rhythm:

eighth eighth quarter


Op 7 : III : m96… (middle section of movement)

Combine the local group of individual notes in the score into a single, simultaneously sounding chord. Hold this chord for as long as the notes in the score conform to that chord, until the chord changes.  Then make a chord of the next group of notes, until it cedes to another underlying chord, and so on through the passage. I do this in order to create a strong awareness of the “harmonic” rhythm* of the passage. Play this rhythm of chords with such enthusiasm as if uncovering the power and meaning behind the passage. Then break up the chords and play the passage as written.

* the HARMONIC RHYTHM is the rhythm in which the chords, and not the notes, change.

This is different than what I might call the “COMPOSITE” rhythm, which is the rhythm formed by taking every note in a measure, no matter in what ‘voice’ or pitch range it appears, and overlay them on top of each other (superimpose them) so as to form just one single, composite rhythm for the measure. For instance if one voice has a quarter then two eighths and a second voice has two eighths and then a quarter, the ‘composite’ rhythm (of that half note’s worth of music is) eighth, eighth, eighth, eighth.

The result is a rhythm formed from the moments when any note starts sounding in any voice. To emphasize its rhythmic nature we can start by stating that rhythm on just one repeating pitch rather than trying to form it out of the notes in the score.

There is a more elaborate way to play the composite rhythm, that is invaluable to learning Bach, or to master any musical passage where inner voices arise and then disappear (whether after a shorter or longer amount of time).

This is it: At any point in the measure when a new note begins in a any voice, play that note at that time, but play also, together with it at the same time, all the notes from the other voices that may be in the middle of their course of duration. It is like taking a series of “vertical” slices through the score, reminiscent of what an MRI does.

(more to follow)

If any of this is helpful, please let me know.

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *