Beethoven Piano Sonata in C Minor (Op.10 No.1)

The fifth instalment in our Beethoven on Board series is now available on the Online Academy and features the Sonata in C minor, Op. 10 No. 1. The set of Op. 10 comprises three works, all worked on simultaneously, with Nos. 1 and 2 featuring, for the first time in his piano sonatas catalogue, only three movements. Although there are some references indicating that more movements were intended, these two works show a deliberate move away from the Viennese four movement structure.

There is plenty to be said about the significance of the key of C minor, but here we have Beethoven’s first piano sonata in this key with which he shares later with the Sonate Pathétique, the infamous ‘Fate’ Symphony (No.5) as well as his very last piano sonata No. 32. The key of C minor also hints at some influences, including Mozart’s Mass in C minor, the pivotal piano concerto K. 491 and Haydn’s first piano sonata written for the fortepiano rather than a harpsichord (Hob.XVI:20) to name just a few.

1st Mvt – Allegro molto e con brio

Much like the opening of the F minor sonata Op. 2 No. 1 where Beethoven quotes Mozart’s G minor Symphony No. 25 K.138, for this one he borrows the theme from Mozart’s C minor sonata No. 14 K. 457 – one of the very few Mozart sonatas in minor keys – and with the use of dotted rhythms, turns it into something even more effective than a simple rising figuration of the Mannheim Rocket.

The decisive opening chord is in contrast to the openings of the four piano sonatas he had written so far and establishes the strong character of the movement. With a relatively short development section, the movement and ultimately the whole sonata is rather compact compared to the grandeur of the E-flat major sonata Op. 7. It therefore calls for much focus to ensure the subtle details, twists and turns are not missed whilst studying the score in practice as well as conveying in performance.

Beethoven Sonata No. 5 1st mvt

2nd Mvt – Adagio molto

In the middle movement, we witness Beethoven’s beautiful melody writing at its best, characteristic of his long phrases. It is useful to listen carefully and assess each tone created, then to each phrase and section in addition to singing with the piano. The tempo mark of Adagio molto implies a very slow two-in-a-bar, which adds to the challenges for both performers and listeners.

3rd Mvt – Finale: Prestissimo

Perhaps due to the fact that Beethoven omitted a scherzo movement at this point, we have a somewhat light-textured opening to this movement, though with a unique colour created from the unison writing. Nevertheless, his temperament does not allow the character to stay the same for long and much contrast is seen within this relatively brief movement. Abrupt changes of mood and dynamics all require careful thought, practice and facilitation within a demanding two-in-a-bar Prestissimo.

Whilst his Appassionata, written much later, heavily features the ‘fate’ motif in the first movement, here within this corresponding finale movement, we also have a clear indication of the same anguish and defiance as we approach the recapitulation from an incredibly short, 11-bar development section.


The full set of fourteen videos in which Masa explores background, style, interpretation, technical challenges and practice methods for each of the three movements of this work is now available on the Online Academy. Click here to view or click here to find out more about the Online Academy. Click here to find out more about Masa’s videos featuring other Beethoven Sonatas.

Beethoven on Board

Our Beethoven on Board series will ultimately feature all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas and is being filmed on board The Piano Boat. The Piano Boat is a new way of bringing classical music to audiences in and around London, surrounded by the intrigue and beauty of the canals.

The boat, Rachmaninov, is designed for and dedicated to musical events, carrying a beautiful Steinway Model A grand piano in the concert saloon. Seating 12 in an exclusive, intimate setting, it offers an experience where spectacular music is at the forefront of your experience on the canals. Click here to find out more.

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