Beethoven Opus 53 Analysis Essay

The Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, also known as the Waldstein, is considered to be one of Beethoven's greatest piano sonatas, as well as one of the three particularly notable sonatas of his middle period (the other two being the Appassionata sonata, Op. 57, and Les Adieux, Op. 81a). The sonata was completed in the summer of 1804. The work has a scope that surpasses Beethoven's previous piano sonatas, and notably is one of his most technically challenging compositions. It is a key work early in his 'Heroic' decade (1803-1812) and set the stage for piano compositions in the grand manner both in Beethoven's later work and all future composers. The Waldstein receives its name from Beethoven's dedication to Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein of Vienna, a patron as well as a close personal friend of Beethoven's. Like the Archduke Trio (one of many pieces dedicated to Archduke Rudolph), this one bears Waldstein's name though there are other works dedicated to him. This sonata is also known as 'L'Aurora' (The Dawn) in Italian, for the sonority of the opening chords of the third movement, which conjures an image of daybreak.


The Waldstein has three movements:
  1. Allegro con brio
  2. Introduzione: Adagio molto - attacca
  3. Rondo. Allegretto moderato - Prestissimo

The two outer movements of the sonata are most substantial, each taking about 11 minutes to perform.

First Movement: Allegro con brio

The sonata opens with repeated chords, played pianissimo. This initial straightforward, but anxious rhythm is devoid of melody for two bars. It then swiftly ascends and follows with a three-note descent in the middle register and a four-note descent in the upper. More of this teasing rhythm rumbles forward, until 45 seconds later, when the notes seem to almost stumble over themselves.

The second subject group, marked dolce, is a sweet chordal theme in E major. Though not unprecedented (the first movement of the Op. 31 No. 1 sonata also has a second group in the mediant), this was the first major work in which Beethoven had chosen to modulate elsewhere than the customary fifth up for the second group, an idea to which he would return later (in the Hammerklavier Sonata, for example).

For the recapitulation, Beethoven transposes the second subject into A major, which quickly changes into A minor and then back to C major again. The movement ends in a heavy coda.

Second Movement: Introduzione. Adagio molto - attacca

The Introduzione is a short Adagio set in jutting 6/8 time which serves as an introduction to the third movement. At once halting, angular, and tranquil, the music gradually gets more agitated before calming down to segue into the Rondo. This Introduzione replaced an earlier, longer middle movement, which was later published separately as the Andante Favori, WoO 57.

Third Movement: Rondo. Allegretto moderato - Prestissimo

The Rondo begins with a sweet and consoling tune played pianissimo, which soon comes back fortissimo, over daringly fast scales in the left hand and a continuous trill on the dominant in the right. Beethoven then introduces the second theme—a series of broken chords in triplets—but soon interrupts it with a turbulent section in A minor that foreshadows the central episode.

Soon the music returns to C major, and the sweet theme is repeated before being followed by a series of staccato octaves in C minor that mark the start of the central episode, one of the few cases of where such melodic change is seen, a theme repeated in larger works like the Emperor Piano Concerto

The opening, driving motive
Opening bars of final movement


I. History of Beethoven and the Waldstein Sonata Ludwig Von Beethoven is arguably one of the most well-known composers today. His works are performed in concert halls around the world, and his advancements in music ushered in the Romantic era. His


 piano sonata is a work from his middle period, and to understand the technique and his approach to the composition, it is necessary to take an account

of Beethoven’s life until this point.

Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770 and was immediately surrounded by ideals of the Enlightenment as he grew up.


 These ideals promoted the education of all people, not just the elite members of society. Beethoven began his education in Bonn, which included a large amount of musical study promoted by his father. While in Bonn, Beethoven received the support of many patrons, including Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel Waldstein, whom is said to have purchased a piano to keep at his local estate just to hear Beethoven play music.


 Count Waldstein saw large potential in Beethoven and even commissioned works in secret from Beethoven including

 Musik zu einem Ritterballet 

, WoO 01.



Waldstein’s persistence and

 belief in Beethoven allowed his work to blossom and flourish, creating the support to explore and experiment in his music that would lead to his fame today.


While Beethoven’s early

compositions were written largely for piano, his primary instrument, he soon began to explore new genres, especially after a visit from Franz Joseph Haydn, one of the top composers at the time. Impressed by his music, Haydn invited a young Beethoven to Vienna to further his


 J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca,

 A History of Western  Music

 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), 564.


 John N. Burk,

The Life and Works of Beethoven

 (New York: Random House, 1943, 32-33.


 Ibid., 24.



The Life and Works of Beethoven,



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