Ludwig van Beethoven

Sonata for violin & piano No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23

    Description by James Reel

    Beethoven originally intended this to be published as a contrasting companion piece to his "Spring" Sonata, and indeed the two works appeared together as Op. 23 in 1801. In a new edition the following year, though, the violin parts of the two sonatas were mistakenly printed in different formats, and to save face and spare the costs of re-engraving, the sonatas were published "as is" under consecutive opus numbers, "Spring" taking Op. 24.

    The "Spring" Sonata is bright and sometimes humorous, but its A-minor companion is comparatively ascetic. In the outer movements, the piano is often reduced to spare, two-part writing, and all three movements, despite expending remarkable energy along the way, end pianissimo.

    The opening Presto remains in the minor mode throughout, except for eight bars of tranquil F major in the development. It all begins with a grim, thrusting theme that contrasts with a spare little melody that spirals upward. Both subjects are propelled by a tarantella-like rhythm, which almost never relents through the course of the movement. In fact, it ultimately wrenches the second subject into what seems like a new theme halfway through the development. The drastically condensed recapitulation simply sputters out.

    The middle movement's odd marking, Andante scherzoso più allegretto, reveals a combination scherzo and slow movement. The opening theme tiptoes through symmetrical halves before daring a delicate fugato variation on itself. A full-fledged second theme finally appears as a trilling figure first in the piano, then the violin. Beethoven subjects all this material to a measured development, never indulging in the boisterous display that would mark his later scherzos. He is much more subtle and complex here. Beethoven goes so far as to bring back the fugato's staccato counter subject as the accompaniment to the trilled theme, teasingly suggesting that he may be launching a new fugue. Instead, he merely offers a concise restatement of the movement's themes.

    The rondo finale, Allegro molto, is woven from an agitated minor-mode theme that hardly changes in its several reappearances. The first contrasting section, in A major, would offer welcome relief if it were not for Beethoven throwing the violin and piano out of synch with each other-a device he would use to more comic effect in the "Spring" Sonata. The second and third contrasting sections are more relaxed, major-mode episodes, now free of trickery, but they are each soon interrupted by the bleak, unsettled primary motif, which winds down with a curt, gloomy gesture.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Presto
    2. Andante scherzoso, più Allegretto
    3. Allegro molto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Somm SOMMCD 01812
    2018 Decca Music Group Ltd.
    2018 Rubicon / Rubicon Classics RCD 1011
    2017 Blue Griffin Recording BG 415
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295763084
    2016 Aparte AP 129
    2016 Chandos CHAN 108883
    2016 Skylark Music SKY 0101
    2016 Gramola GRAM 99106
    2016 Alpha ALPHA 240
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795964
    2016 Warner Classics 557828
    2016 EuroArts / Warner Classics 555050
    2016 Warner Classics 555054
    2015 Challenge Classics CC 72650
    2015 Gramola 99052
    2015 Coro CRO 16138
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794708
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794647
    2014 Warner Classics 2564634929
    2014 Warner Classics 541222
    2014 Nimbus Alliance NI 6245
    2014 Harmonia Mundi HMG 50839899
    2014 Erato 2564624223
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94630
    2013 Le Marquis / Marquis Classics MQSCD 81517
    2013 Phaia Music PHU 03234
    2013 Warner Classics
    2013 Decca
    2013 Entertainment Group 11610
    2013 RCA Red Seal 8876544015
    2013 Regis Records 7010
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 001649002
    2012 Zig Zag / Zig Zag Territoires ZIG 307
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94310
    2012 Bridge / The Bridge BRIDGE 9389AD
    2012 Supraphon SU 40772
    2012 Brilliant Classics 8402
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 002894779464
    2011 Doremi Records DHR 80113
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94052
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 EtCetera Records 1904
    2010 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099964200
    2010 Erato
    2010 Accent 24212
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Nimbus 2553/56
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Wigmore Hall / Wigmore Hall Live 36
    2010 Decca
    2010 Decca 4782541
    2009 Doremi Records 7946-9
    2009 IDIS / Ital Disc 656062
    2009 Coviello Classics 20904
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926504
    2009 Decca 4781149
    2009 Decca
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926413
    2008 Metier 2006
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 447058
    2008 Romeo Entertainment 7266/8
    2008 Berlin Classics 149312
    2008 Woodhouse Editions 803/6
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921741
    2007 Brilliant 93329
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93525
    2007 Cascade Records 2200
    2007 Philips 4428302
    2007 Claves 2610
    2007 EMI Classics 87739
    2007 EMI Classics 3777672
    2007 Decca 4758460
    2007 Decca
    2006 Preiser Records 90703
    2006 Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1919
    2006 Cypres Records 1640
    2006 Rca Red Seal 667888
    2006 EMI Classics
    2006 EMI Classics 0946350854
    2006 Universal
    2006 Globe Records 6003
    2006 Biddulph Recordings 80214
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 000459902
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon
    2005 Warner Classics
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 St. Clair 94182
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 474648
    2004 Artemis Classics 1585
    2004 Music & Arts 1143
    2004 Brilliant 92387
    2003 Classica d'Oro 2019
    2003 Doremi Records 7807
    2002 Centaur Records 2803/05
    2002 Deutsche Grammophon 471495
    2002 Calliope 3251/3
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 74804
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 74447
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 463605
    2001 Hungaroton Echo Collection 1008
    2001 Philips 468406
    2001 Aura Classics 0126
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 74293
    2000 Folger Consort 9914
    2000 Biddulph Recordings 80202
    1999 Philips 442651
    1999 Brilliant 99093
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 4594332
    1999 Angel Records 73647
    1999 Grammofono 2000 78876
    1998 Nimbus Records 5557
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 457619
    1997 Point Classics 267013
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453 743-2GCB4
    1996 Sony Classical 67196
    1996 Sony Classical 64524
    1995 Vox / Vox Box 3503
    1995 Philips 446 521-2PM2
    1995 Live Classics 145
    1994 Naxos 550285
    1990 Pearl 9354
    1988 London 421453
    1987 Deutsche Grammophon 419787
    1984 Philips 412570
    MusicMasters 67197
    BMG 60991
    RCA 7704
    Cascade Records 2238
    ART 003668
    Amado Classics 03021
    Deutsche Grammophon 415874
    Sarx 2030
    Ermitage 112
    Digital Masterworks 71804
    Meridian Records 89019
    Sony Music Distribution 52534
    DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 38223-25
    Brilliant 99114
    Fono Enterprise 99346
    CBS Records 39680
    Lys 33/35
    Brilliant Classics 93525/30
    Brilliant 92387/21
    Grammofono 2000 78884
    BMG 0902661747
    Brilliant Classics 8402/10
    Musical Heritage 5091707