Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111

Programme Notes

i. Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato

ii. Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile

“What a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone standing next to me heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life - it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me. So I endured this wretched existence”

These are the words of a deeply tormented man suffering from his deafness which can be found in what would be known as The Heiligenstadt Testament, written in 1802.

The testament is a reflection of the deep pain Ludwig van Beethoven was experiencing mentally, physically and spiritually which sustained until the final period of his career where his music became much more introspective.

Beethoven’s final piano sonata is a medium of transcendence which transports the listener to a world beyond Earth, its exploration of a higher power and the spiritual world is most evident in the contrast of the unusual two-movement sonata. The first and second movements are the epitome of Earth and heaven, intense turmoil and spiritual serenity.

Written in Beethoven’s most significant key - C minor, the first movement is driven by an intense passion, although the tonic key isn’t firmly grounded until the Allegro. The grave introduction marked Maestoso starts with double-dotted octaves, preparing us for the turbulence in the Allegro. In 1821, when Beethoven was working on this sonata, he was suffering from rheumatism and jaundice alongside deafness which caused him to turn to his inner world and discover spiritual independence.

With the fate-like motif in his Fifth Symphony, the heroic three-note motif (C, Eb, B) can be found in every register from the lowest to the highest territory, depicting the vastness of the earth to a higher power. The first movement is filled with all human emotions from fist-shaking fury to an ethereal spirituality. Beethoven also explores a different structure by combining the sonata form with a fugue in the middle.

In his ultimate piano sonata, Beethoven writes the extremes of despair and the sublime. This enigma of a piece brings us away from Earth and a little closer to heaven.