Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor ("Tempest"), Op. 31/2

    Description by John Palmer

    Written in 1802, the three sonatas of Beethoven's Op. 31 probably coincide with the drafting of his famous "Heiligenstadt Testament," in which he expresses despair at his enroaching deafness. If any of the composer's works from this year indicate that he had embarked on a new path, it is the Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31/2. The composer famously dismissed an inquiry about the "meaning" of this work with the advice to read Shakespeare's The Tempest; given the music's overtly dramatic character, it is easy to see how Beethoven might have drawn parallels to, or even inspiration from, the Bard's famous romance.

    The first six measures present two vastly different ideas: an ascending Largo arpeggiation of the dominant chord, juxtaposed against a frenetic repeated-note Allegro figure that descends and halts abruptly on another dominant chord. It is this passage, and not the ascending forte arpeggios in the bass that appear a few measures later, that forms the main substance of the movement's first theme group. This becomes clear when, in the recapitulation, Beethoven dispenses with the forte passage, connecting the main and secondary themes with new material, which in itself is not an unusual sonata-form procedure. The whole represents the most concentrated, motivically conceived movement Beethoven had yet composed.

    The second movement, Adagio, is in B flat major; the movement's tonality is worthy of comment here, since it plays an important modulatory role in the third movement. Like the first movement, the second is a sonata-allegro and opens with a broken triad; unlike the first movement, however, it lacks a development section, and has clearly articulated first and second themes.

    The D minor finale is again a sonata allegro. The first theme outlines the tonic triad, while the contrasting second theme moves in almost completely stepwise fashion. In the development section Beethoven employs the first theme exclusively, using repetition and prolonged harmonies to create an overpowering sense of anticipation. Portentously, Beethoven provides further development in a coda that is as long as the exposition.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Largo - Allegro
    2. Adagio
    3. Allegretto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Sony Classical 19075843182
    2018 Signum Classics SIGCD 527
    2018 Audite AUD 21451
    2018 ABC Classics
    2018 Hyperion CDA 68199
    2018 JB Recordings MM 18037
    2018 Melodiya MELCD 1002539
    2018 APR (Appian) APR 7310
    2017 Claudio CB 55772
    2017 Marfer / Zebralution
    2017 Warner Classics 9029586922
    2017 Nonesuch 7559793638
    2017 Urania WS 121226
    2017 IDIS IDIS 6724
    2017 Albany Records TROY 1661
    2017 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 16030
    2017 Sony Classical 88985395212
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon 4797371
    2016 Naxos 8573725
    2016 Marquis / Marquis Classics MQS 81523
    2016 Ondine ODE 12902
    2016 Warner Classics 0190295975050
    2016 TYX Art TXA 16071
    2016 Doremi / Doremi Records DHR 804446
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon B002436502
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    2016 Decca / Philips 4788977
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