Beethoven: Sonata no. 21 in C major, op. 53 (Waldstein)‏

by richibi

the “Waldstein” Sonata, no. 21 in C major, opus 53, is
one of the few compositions that Beethoven named
himself, which is to say that he dedicated it to a
friend and patron, Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel
von Waldstein
, if you can call that naming it

the ones with descriptive titles, the Moonlight, the
Pastorale“, The Hunt“, for instance, were mostly so
labeled by his publisher for ease of identification in
the growing market place, a more affluent merchant
class eager to take on the refinements of the nobles,
see such an instance of social mobility, however
lampooned, updated and upended, in again the
engaging and not at all unperceptive The Beverly

this means that the suggestive names we’ve come
to associate with his sonatas, Moonlight”, Pastorale“,
The Hunt“, were never conceived as such by
Beethoven, his compositions were ever purely musical
inventions, or more accurately inspirations, prophetic
pronouncements of a much more oracular order,
like Prometheus Beethoven was delivering nothing
short of fire

to match music to specific visual, or even emotive,
cues, incidentally, Pictures at an Exhibition“,
The Carnival of the Animals“, for example, came
later, already a nod to Beethoven’s even indirect

that titles were given to music, rather than the more
clinical and mnemonically difficult numbers, which
is to say, not easy to remember, isn’t very different
from the evolution of popular music in the early

the Beatles, you’ll remember, had cuts on albums
that had nothing more than their group name in
the titles, or the title of one of the album’s cuts,
“Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” came
along to change all that, we saw the birth of the
concept album, where the whole extended affair
becomes a musical metaphysics, this is no
different from the move from the music of Mozart
to that of the more expansive Beethoven, music
is no longer a ditty but an extended technical
and philosophical text, listen to Pink Floyd take
on this mantle superbly in the Seventies, the only
other body since ever to effectively challenge
Beethoven in that especially rarefied field, with
the probable exception of the sublimely expressive
Schubert perhaps, who died much too young for us
to tell, for him to have decisively dialectically proven
himself beside these erudite peers, all having,
however, found ways to have us touch beyond the
sky, the very infinite, and into the no less infinite
confines of our more private and secret selves

what they state is that creation itself, absent any
other meaning, remains potent, perhaps even
ultimately redemptive

creation as a bold and noble response to eternity,
art as affirmation

you’ll note here that the structure of this sonata
is entirely Classical, unity of tone, unity of pace,
and the eventual return of the initial melody,
essential Classical components, what has
changed is the personal bravura of the composer,
Beethoven is not playing for the aristocratic court,
but for a wider, an infinite, audience, he is
pronouncing his and, by extension, our own place
and validity in the universe, by our ability as humans
to create, to respond creatively, and even sublimely,
out of only our otherwise flailing and indeterminate

it is the Romantic response to the waning belief
in God, and incidentally a profound spur to,
argument for, our present notion of inalienable
individual rights

the personal soul has taken over from the earlier
unchallenged deity, the wavering concept of God
has had a seismic fall, and all the king’s horses
and all the king’s men will never be able to put it
together undiminished again

Beethoven is showing us that future


psst: Helena Bonham Carter plays excerpts from the
Waldstein“, incidentally, in A Room with A View“,
a movie entirely worth a revisit