Richard Wagner

Piano Sonata in A major, WWV 26 (Op. 4)

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    In thrall to music and avid to compose, the adolescent Wagner, responding ardently to every performance and score that crossed his path, committed to paper a number of works either lost or buried beneath the weight of his later fame. Encountering a Haydn quartet in score, for instance, he composed one of his own, now lost. No prodigy, he played the piano acceptably -- it was suggested he take lessons from Hummel -- and essayed several tortuous weeks of violin lessons. But if he was not conspicuously gifted as a musician, he soon became a fluent score reader. Don Giovanni and the late Beethoven quartets and sonatas became his daily bread. Haphazardly, he took instruction in the rudiments of harmony without gaining more than a modicum of compositional command, supplemented by indefatigable energy and ambition. Mounting frustration led him to seek tutelage from Theodor Weinlig, cantor of Leipzig's Thomaskirche (where J.S. Bach had served 80 years before). By now, Wagner was in his 18th year and, knowing beyond a doubt that music was his vocation, he settled in, from October 1831 to March of the following year, to a course of study wisely oriented by Weinlig toward composition. The analysis of a Pleyel piano sonata, for instance, with ancillary instruction in the rudiments of fugue and canon, would be followed by the composition of a Wagner piano sonata. The first of these, in B flat, was dedicated to Weinlig, who persuaded the firm of Breitkopf und Härtel to publish it. The three-movement Grosse Sonate in A, however -- composed probably in early 1832 -- is the better work, and better yet for unabashedly exhibiting the potent impress of Beethoven. The first movement's peremptory opening theme is close kin to the opening motif of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony; the soulful second theme possesses genuine Schwung; and their development is engagingly involved without becoming prolix. An Adagio molto, e assai espressivo offers two earnestly captivating melodies, industriously worked. A Maestoso flourish and plunge introduces a hilariously foursquare fugue of 41 bars (which Wagner canceled) -- hilarious because it appears to have been prompted by the fugue of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106 -- which segues neatly into a Weber-esque finale permeated with blithesome high spirits. Where the B flat Sonata moved mechanically through its sonata form tropes with fulsome Gemülichkeit and obstreperous bonhomie, the Grosse Sonata carries one through an arresting and often moving compositional trajectory. The first two movements were recomposed for an ultimately abandoned Symphony in E in 1834.


    1. Allegro con moto
    2. Adagio molto, e assai espressivo
    3. Allegro molto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2013 Brilliant Classics 99450
    2013 Dynamic CDS 76112
    2013 CPO 7778002
    2009 Document 231563
    1996 Kontrapunkt 32235
    1994 Koch Schwann 313612