Beethoven Sonata No 26 in E flat Major – “Les Adieux” with sheet music
The Les Adieaux is one of the great works from Beethoven’s middle period, and is notable for several reasons. For a start, it’s Beethoven’s only explicitly programmatic sonata; the three movements are labelled The Farewell, The Absence, and The Return respectively.
The first movement is bound by an aching motif; the second is full of painful suspensions and diminished 7th chords, and the last movement is an explosion of joy.
There’s also the fact (too little remarked-upon) that the last movement really is a Concerto for Solo Piano, with many passages that might as well be flagged “tutti” (see 11:10, for instance, which features the sort of writing you’ll see in orchestral transcriptions for piano, or 11:17, when the piano joins the orchestra with a brilliant solo part), virtuoso passages which come right out of the Emperor Concerto (see 11:45, and compare it with the passage that begins here: https://youtu.be/6j-qf5790T8?t=204), and symphonic layering (see 11:34, with the flutes in the RH, and 11:43, where’s it’s all too easy to imagine the cellos taking the LH, the violins and woodwinds the higher voices, and so on).
More well-known is the use of the Lebewohl motif through the first movement (see the notes below), and the two very substantial codas to the outer movements, which develop themes already introduced.
MVT I, Das Lebewohl (The Farewell), Adagio; Allegro 00:00 – INTRODUCTION [Note transformation of Lebewohl motif at 00:31, with a sudden key change] EXPOSITION 01:28 – Theme 1 [Inversion of Lebewohl motif in bass at 1:33] 01:40 – Transition [Note Lebewohl motif in LH and RH (inverted) at 1:45] 02:03 – Theme 2 [Note Lebewohl motif in upper voice] DEVELOPMENT 03:25 – Theme 1, in C min, interspersed with augmented Lebewohl motif/rhythm (3:29 and similar: two solitary notes followed by a long chord). The LH soon begins a modulatory sequence based on the head of theme 1 (3:31 and similar) 03:54 – Start of transition to recapitulation. The recapitulation is snuck back via a deconstruction of Theme 1 into its smallest elements: 4:04
RECAPITULATION – 04:11 CODA (Note its length and the amount of thematic development it contains) 05:04 – Lebewohl motif, leading to restatement of Theme 1 in F min 05:30 – Overlapping statements of the Lebewohl motif in RH and LH. This leads to some daring dissonances between topic and dominant harmony (see e.g., 6:25) 06:43 – A pedal Eb introduces a touching closing passage
MVT II, Abwesenheit (The Absence), Andante espressivo: In gehender Bewegung, doch mit viel Ausdruck (“In walking motion, but with much expression”) 07:08 – Theme, Cycle 1 [Note the prominent diminished 7th which opens the theme, the recollection of the 1st movement’s Theme 1 at 7:17, and the repeated usage of the opening appoggiatura throughout the movement to generate a sense of irresolution] 08:53 – Theme, Cycle 2 10:15 – Theme, Cycle 3, incomplete / Coda
MVT III, Das Wiedersehen (The Return), Vivacissimamente: Im lebhaftesten Zeitmaße (“The liveliest time measurements”) 10:45 – INTRODUCTION EXPOSITION 10:54 – Theme 1 11:24 – Transition (This bell-like passage is a little mysterious; the pedal is instructed to be kept on, but each note is indicated staccato, and separated from the next by a rest. There is also the matter of the uneasy harmony: the use of the first inversion gives both chords a minor patina, and the fact that each chord is separated from the other by a semitone makes this passage unusually dramatic) 11:44 –
Theme 2 DEVELOPMENT 13:42 – Descending arpeggio, recalling Theme 1 13:45 – Modulating passages, recalling Theme 2 14:00 – Theme 2, with the original RH and LH accompaniments switched (they are returned to their original positions after just 2 seconds) 14:07 – Theme 2’s LH voice now becomes the main melody: and again the state of affairs is remedied after 2 seconds 14:12 – Theme 1 is used contrapuntally in a passage containing numerous stretti 14:18 – A false entry of theme 1 in the subdominant
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