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The Beethoven Sonatas and the Creative Experience

Kenneth Drake

Publication Year: 1994

"... one of the most interesting, useful and even exciting books on the process of musical creation." —American Music Teacher

"... noteworthy contribution... with plenty of insight into interpretation... remarkable as an insider’s account of the works in an individual perspective." —European Music Teacher

Drake groups the Beethoven piano sonatas according to their musical qualities, rather than their chronology. He explores the interpretive implications of rhythm, dynamics, slurs, harmonic effects, and melodic development and identifies specific measures where Beethoven skillfully employs these compositional devices.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

It was an afternoon when Stanley Fletcher felt the need for a break before continuing teaching. We were joined by Alexander Ringer, and the conversation turned to the study of applied music. "The trouble with you people," he inveighed, "is that you teach skills but not what makes the music tick." No doubt Mr. Fletcher agreed in the privacy of his...

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I: The First Raptus, and All Subsequent Ones

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pp. 1-5

For approximately ten years, according to Anton Schindler, Beethoven considered preparing an edition of his works in which he would have described the extramusical idea or the psychological state that had led in each case to the composing of the work. The importance of extramusical stimulus in Beethoven's creative process was mentioned by others...

The Sounds of Involvement

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pp. 7-23

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II: Technique as Touch

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pp. 9-32

Among the misguided reasons for playing an early instrument is the intent to do a demonstration, as though dressing in its clothes will bring the past to life. Music making is not historical reenactment. An early piano should be used only as a medium to conjure up the spirit within the music. The Spirit of St. Louis, like the Concorde, enabled a person to fly nonstop...

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III: Tempo and the Pacing of Musical Ideas

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pp. 33-39

A score, like a map, is a visual representation of an abstract idea, the one a design in time, the other a location in space. To be meaningful, each must be experienced. A highway map indicates the exact distance between Denver and Salt Lake City, but driving a certain number of hours over mountain highways, through traffic, or while hungry or thirsty or tired will indicate...

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IV: Dynamic Nuance and Musical Line

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pp. 40-47

The worn faces and figures dressed in black in family photo albums from past generations, when placed next to the glamorous model in the cigarette ad who has "come a long way," illustrate how far the reality of the one world lay from the illusions of the other. There was little to distract the one from the fact of tomorrow's labor: no thoughts of "overnight to London" or...

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V: The Role of Silence

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pp. 48-53

Whether a jazz band playing sempre fortissimo, or electronic nothings piped into our ear when phoning or swathing our consciousness when shopping or dining, we become accustomed to decibels and white noise and become uneasy when we have to listen to silence. Silence is the sound of aloneness, when we become conscious of unhappiness or boredom. For the musician...

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VI: Sound as Color

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pp. 54-63

Those who knew Beethoven as a child remembered his being held spellbound by unusual sounds, such as the whirring of the shutters in the wind, recalling Czerny's remark that, with Beethoven, "every sound and every movement became music and rhythm." Color goes beyond pleasing sonority or bell-like "singing tone" to the unique timbre of a particular...

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The Sonatas

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pp. 65-81

A piece of music is a meaningful construction, at once sensuous and logical, fashioned and sustained by the need of the mind to explain itself to itself. Lacking a fixed physical dimension but existing in time on a tangible instrument, the playing of a piece is the embodiment of subjectivity. In this meeting of self and ideal in which...

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VII: Descriptive Music: Op. 81a, Op. 13

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pp. 67-83

If a music appreciation class were to listen to the Sonata Op. 81a, without being aware of the programmatic titles, and another class were to listen to the same sonata but after being told the titles of the three movements, the second group would almost certainly remember the piece in greater detail. The historical background alone is like a fabric...

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VIII: Motivic Development: Op. 2 NO.1, Op. 57, Op. 110

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pp. 84-112

Armed with our urtext editions, scholarly studies of performance practice, and doctorates, we may think that our performances represent a more accurate reading of the printed page than any in the past. However indispensable reliable editions and an understanding of performance practices may be, to realize literally and irreproachably the...

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IX: Quasi una Fantasia: Op. 27 Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 26

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pp. 113-127

Fantasy, as in make-believe, the realm of dreams, is the safety valve of human consciousness, the drawing board of the architect, the curiosity of the inventor, the raptus of the composer. Beethoven seems to have used the term quasi una fantasia as an explanation for the departure from conventional form-beginning with a slow movement, joining movements...

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X: Line and Space: Op. 2 No.2, Op. 101

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pp. 128-143

Touch may be the most basic of our senses. Form—repetition, departure, and return—is the means by which the mind recognizes continuity. Continuity, for the pianist's fingers, is the physical feel of musical lines and shapes, perceived as keyboard space and the direction of movement. When we play Op. 2 No.2 or Op. 101 our hands and our muscles...

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XI: Movement as Energized Color: Op. 53

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pp. 144-158

Once the technique to articulate non legato sixteenths has been developed, the keyboard patterns of the "Waldstein" lie well under the hands. Although the writing may lend itself to common virtuoso display, the extended piano and pianissimo writing (the first movement contains roughly twice as many indications of pp or p as f or ff) suggests a virtuosity through...

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XII: The Moment of Creation: Op. 28, Op. 31 Nos. 2 and 3

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pp. 159-190

As musicians, would we choose to have lived in another time? During the 1780s in Vienna to hear Mozart play his own concertos? Or London in the 1790s to hear Haydn conduct from the keyboard? Or Vienna in March 1807 to hear Beethoven premiere the Fourth Concerto? Or conduct the Ninth Symphony? Or hear Chopin play a mazurka or a...

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XIII: Facing Two Directions: Op. 49 Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 54, Op. 78, Op. 90

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pp. 191-210

The two-movement sonata represents a return, full circle, to the beginnings of the suite in the pairing of contrasting dance movements. Eliminating either an opening Allegro or a traditional Adagio from a typical three-movement sonata rules out an overall departure and return. A two-movement form lends itself to an either...

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XIV: The Enjoyment of Fluency: Op. 10 Nos. 2 and 3, Op. 14 No.2, Op. 22, Op. 31 No.1, Op. 79

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pp. 211-238

Not every work from the pen of a Beethoven can be as profoundly moving as Op. 111 or as totally integrated as Op. 13. The appeal of the opening movement of each of the sonatas included in this grouping is not so much soul searching as the enjoyment of wit, brilliance, and imagination. The first movements of Op. 10 No. 3, Op. 22, and...

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XV: The Cosmopolitan Impostor: Op. 2 No.3, Op. 14 No.1

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pp. 239-258

Throughout its existence, the keyboard has been the central meeting place for every genre of composition. It is the instrument of accompaniment, a chamber music partner, a concerto soloist, and the instrument for orchestral reductions. In a letter to Breitkopf & Hartel, dated July 13, 1802, Beethoven referred to the popularity of transcriptions as an...

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XVI: Embracing the Dachstein: Op. 7, Op. 106

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pp. 259-279

Op. 7 and Op. 106 would not seem to have much in common, one sonata from the early years of Beethoven's creative life and the other from his last decade. What the two share is a breadth of conception and, aside from the Op. 106 Adagio, a spirit of assertiveness that overflows their many bars. The earlier work is perhaps the less self-assured...

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XVII: A Higher Revelation: Op. 10 NO.1, Op. 109, Op. 111

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pp. 280-304

Assuming that the foregoing quotation received second hand from Bettina von Arnim is not apocryphal,1 Beethoven was saying that the creative experience, originating deep within the self, discloses that which was not previously realized through one's intellectual powers. The creative experience is the experience of what something is "like." We...

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XVIII: The Witness Tree

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pp. 305-309

In a field requiring sustained dedication with no guarantee of reward, the serious interpreter becomes obsessed with finding reassurance of valid accomplishment and self-worth. Within the vastness of musical creativity that has preceded us, the phenomenon of Beethoven, like the witness tree (a marker from which nineteenth-century...


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pp. 311-315


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pp. 317-334

E-ISBN-13: 9780253011534
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253318220

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 1994

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Subject Headings

  • Beethoven, Ludwig van, 1770-1827. Sonatas, piano.
  • Sonatas (Piano) -- Analysis, appreciation.
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