Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23
Ludwig van Beethoven
Nine of Beethoven’s ten sonatas for violin and piano were, unlike his cello-piano sonatas and string quartets, written within a narrow span of time, between 1797 and 1803, the last of the ten, however, not coming until 1812. Thus they are, with a single exception, from Beethoven’s "early" and "middle" periods -- this for the benefit of those who insist on such classifications.
There are remnants of the salon in the first three sonatas, Op. 12 (dedicated to Salieri), while a new, more intense spirit enters with the Sonata in A minor, Op. 23, dedicated by Beethoven to one of his principal patrons of the time, Count Moritz von Fries. And while even its three predecessors in the canon show a strong tendency toward equality in the distribution of materials, it is with the present work that all thoughts are banished of the description carried in published editions of most Classical-era sonatas: "For the pianoforte with accompaniment of the violin".
The work opens with a dramatic, rather plaintive Presto, in 6/8 time (uncommon for an opening movement), featuring a remarkably rich development section. The second movement is even more unusual: a slow scherzo, with a subsequent faster section (announced by the piano’s octave leap with a concluding trill) that is a trio of sorts, but, again unexpectedly, it is developed fugally. The thrusting finale in unsettling for its nervous energy -- replete with abrupt stops and starts -- and frequent, precipitate alternations of major and minor.
Herbert Glass, a columnist and critic for the Los Angeles Times from 1971 through 1996, is also a frequent contributor to Gramophone and The Strad. He is English-language annotator for the Salzburg Festival.