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Piano Sonata no. 17 in D minor, op. 31 no. 2, "Tempest", Ludwig van Beethoven
This week’s selection features Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 17 in D minor, often referred to as "The Tempest". Beethoven wrote this sonata in 1802, likely in Heiligenstadt, then a town outside Vienna where many visitors came to recuperate at a public hot spring bath. Beethoven enthusiasts may recognize the name Heiligenstadt from Beethoven’s so-called “Heiligenstadt Testament.” This document, written the same summer as this sonata, is a letter from Beethoven to his two brothers detailing his despair over his increasing deafness and his commitment to music despite his suicidal thoughts.
Conventional in classical era sonatas, this work is in three movements, all of which are in sonata form (this term is misleading as it refers to the form of a single movement: two themes are followed by a harmonically adventurous “development” section and then return again to close the movement). The first movement is characterized by sudden shifts in temperament—perhaps mirroring Beethoven’s own emotional unrest. The second movement is in B-flat major, not the typical shift to the relative major of D minor (F major), but a major third lower, foreshadowing the thirds-relations that would become prominent in the Romantic era. Unlike the first movement, the second movement is calm and reserved. This stability contrasts the turbulence of the first movement that returns in the third movement, again in D minor.
This recording is performed by pianist Abdel Rahman El Bacha.
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