Piano Music by Beethoven
One of the greatest figures in music between the classical and romantic periods was Ludwig Van Beethoven. His output was very diverse and extremely innovative for is time. Much if it is still very technically demanding for players today, though some of his works are accessible to younger students as well. Playing works by Beethoven is a must for every serious pianist.
In his lifetime, Beethoven wrote thirty two sonatas for piano. These sonatas are masterpieces, displaying Beethoven's mastery and expansion of this classical form. He played with people's expectations regarding modulations and prolongation of sections, especially transitions. Beethoven was a master of motives and often worked small motives into his pieces, developing them as they went along. Many of these are still easy recognizable to the general public today, such as the opening motive of the Moonlight Sonata or, though not a sonata, the intense four note opening of his fifth symphony. The piano sonatas are exciting and dramatic solo pieces for a recital or for your own personal enjoyment. In difficulty, they range from intermediate to very challenging.
Beethoven also wrote five concertos for piano with orchestra. In his concertos, Beethoven made sure that the orchestra part was of equal importance to the piano part which made the works very exciting. They stayed true to the form, though expanding in areas, much like he did with sonata form, especially in re-transitional material and codas. Like his sonatas, he often developed material throughout the piece, not just in the development section of traditional form.
Piano Trios and Quartets
In addition, Beethoven wrote twelve piano trios and four piano quartets. These works were written as chamber music for piano and other instruments, often woodwind instruments since they were quite novel and popular at the time, though also string instruments. These works are excellent for those wishing to collaborate with other musicians in performance.
Those pianists who are interested in accompaniment will enjoy the huge collection of songs Beethoven wrote. His An die ferne Geliebte is actually considered the first true song cycle ever written. The harmonic content is most definitely Beethoven as is the motivic development. In the final song in the cycle, themes heard in the first song return, tying the work together nicely. He composed other song cycles too, as well as individual songs.
Twenty two of Beethoven's works are theme and variations. These are the least formally adventurous of the pieces discussed, though they do still attempt to thwart expectations with movement to unexpected tonal areas. Many of these include interesting themes from composers who are no longer well known. They are definitely enjoyable and stimulating to play.
In addition, Beethoven wrote a piano fantasia, a polonaise, a set of two rondos as well as a standalone rondo a capricco, two preludes which move through all the major keys and a notturno for viola and piano. These explore other compositional forms, though the idea of expanding the forms and challenging tonal expectations is ever present.
Whether you wish to explore only one type of composition or a multitude of different types, Beethoven has written something of value for you. Though Beethoven's music is extremely significant historically, that is not the only reason to spend time learning his pieces. Pianists and their audiences still find power and beauty in the many works of the great composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven.
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