Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.22, op.54


2014-09-29 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2014-10-05 — Added link to summary posting
2014-10-24 — Addendum pointing to concert reviews
2014-11-13 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2015-08-20 — Added reference to Brautigam’s complete sonata recording
2016-07-27 — Brushed up for better readability


Introduction / The Recordings

This posting is one of a series covering the recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas in my music collection, about the Sonata No.22 in F major, op.54. The respective section and related postings include references to the CDs. For links to all related postings see “Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Summary“.

This posting is about Ludwig van Beethoven‘s Piano Sonata No.22 in F major, op.54. I currently have 7 recordings, shown here sorted by the artist’s last name:

I had Backhaus, Gulda, and Schnabel in my LP collection. The others I added as CDs only, in order to have a broader scope for a comparison.

Background, About the Composition:

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) wrote his Piano Sonata No.22 in F major, op.54 in 1804; this one of the less-known sonatas, squeezed between its famous neighbors, op.53 (“Waldstein”) and op.57 (“Appassionata”).

The Movements:

Unlike its neighboring sonatas, the piano sonata op.54 only has two movements:

I. In tempo d’un Menuetto (3/4)

This is not a real Minuet, but rather a Rondo-like movement with (approximate) ABABA structure; the “A” part is based on an amiable theme that starts as follows:Beethoven, piano sonata No.22 F major, op.54: mvt 1, theme #1, score samplepart “B” adds a stark contrast:Beethoven, piano sonata No.22 F major, op.54: mvt 1, theme #2, score sample

II. Allegretto — Più Allegro (2/4)

This movement uses a simplified sonata form scheme, with a single theme, Allegretto, starting as followsBeethoven, piano sonata No.22 F major, op.54: mvt 2, Allegretto, score sampleThe movement ends with a fast Coda, annotated Più Allegro:Beethoven, piano sonata No.22 F major, op.54: mvt 2, Più allegro, score sample

The Interpretations, Overview:

In order to provide a rating overview, as well as an idea about tempo relations both within an interpretation, as well as between the two recordings, I have prepared the table below. The color coding for the tempo (blue = slower, green = faster) refers to the average between the recordings:Beethoven, piano sonata No.22 F major, op.54: comparison, rating / M.M. tableThe metronome readings (M.M.) are approximations only.

The Interpretations, Detail:

With the exception of Maurizio Pollini’s recording, all interpretations below are part of a complete set, covering all Beethoven piano sonatas. Emil Gilels has not recorded this sonata, unfortunately.


Wilhelm Backhaus

Beethoven: The Piano sonatas, Backhaus, CD coverBeethoven: The 32 Piano Sonatas

Wilhelm Backhaus

Decca 473 7198 (8 CDs, mono / stereo); ℗ 1953 – 1969 / © 2006
Booklet: 28 pp. e/f/d
Beethoven: The Piano sonatas, Backhaus, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


spacerFor general information on Wilhelm Backhaus‘ complete recording of all Beethoven piano sonatas see the post “Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, op.28“. Backhaus recorded this sonata in  1969.

Notes on the Movements

I. In tempo d’un Menuetto (3/4)

Duration: 5’17”
Too much rubato for the present time; I also don’t like the “emotional punctuation”: at least initially, the punctuations are exaggerated, almost double-punctuations. At least, the second theme is not quite as heavy as with Badura-Skoda.

II. Allegretto — Più Allegro (2/4)

Duration: 5’20”
The fastest version on a modern grand, within this comparison. Too fast, maybe also too fast for Backhaus in 1969? The articulation is often unclear, the dynamics are blurred. In the end, because of the fast tempo, the pianist has no reserves for a Più Allegro. Indeed, Backhaus plays this at the same tempo: the only “più” is in the dynamics.

Overall Duration: 10’36”
Rating (see above for details): 1.0 — Can’t recommend this, except for Backhaus fanatics.


Paul Badura-Skoda

Beethoven: The Piano sonatas 6, Badura-Skoda, CD coverBeethoven: The 32 Piano Sonatas

Paul Badura-Skoda (Bösendorfer 290 Imperial)

Gramola 987 42/50 (9 CDs, stereo)
Booklet: 20 pp. d/e/f/Japanese
Beethoven: The Piano sonatas, Badura-Skoda, EAN-13 barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


spacerFor general information on Paul Badura-Skoda‘s complete recording of all Beethoven piano sonatas see the post “Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, op.28“. Badura-Skoda recorded this sonata in 1969.

Notes on the Movements

I. In tempo d’un Menuetto (3/4)

Duration: 5’34”
The beginning is heavy, almost clumsy: too slow. Worse than that: the second theme is way too forceful, even brutal. And it’s even slower than the beginning of the movement. This couldn’t be any farther than what Beethoven must have been envisaging for the instruments of his time! The slow tempo also causes difficulties in holding the pace. There are times when the tempo appears to run away.

II. Allegretto — Più Allegro (2/4)

Duration: 5’18”
Also this movement is often forceful, heavy, often almost brutal in comparison with others. The same applies to the Più Allegro.

Overall Duration: 10’51”
Rating (see above for details): 1.5 — Pretty disappointing to me.


Daniel Barenboim

Beethoven: Piano sonatas 16 - 32, Barenboim, CD coverBeethoven: The Piano Sonatas Nos.16 – 32

Daniel Barenboim

DG 413 766-2 (6 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1984
Booklet: 50 pp. d/e/f
Beethoven: Piano sonatas 16 - 32, Barenboim, CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


spacerFor general information on Daniel Barenboim‘s complete recording of all Beethoven piano sonatas see the post “Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, op.28“. Barenboim recorded this sonata in 1984.

Notes on the Movements

I. In tempo d’un Menuetto (3/4)

Duration: 5’58”
The beginning, actually all of the first theme, lacks tension, even devoid of tension. Theme 2 is better in that respect. Contrary to Backhaus, Barenboim’s punctuations are too soft. They are actually almost triplets.

II. Allegretto — Più Allegro (2/4)

Duration: 5’59”
Too slow (the slowest version), clumsy, heavy, not an Allegretto. The articulation is careful, though. I have the suspicion that the slow tempo was selected for a more careful, detailed articulation of the melody in the sidelines (the melodies under the semiquaver passages). However, other interpretations demonstrate that one can make these melodies sound also at a faster tempo.

Overall Duration: 11’56”
Rating (see above for details): 2.0 — Not a highlight in this collection.


Ronald Brautigam

Beethoven: vol.6 - Piano sonatas opp.53, 54, 57, 78, 79 — Brautigam; CD coverBeethoven: Piano Sonatas opp.53, 54, 57, 78, 79

Ronald Brautigam (Fortepiano by Paul McNulty, 2007, after Conrad Graf, ca.1819)

BIS-SACD-1573 (SACD/CD); ℗ / © 2008
Booklet: 28 pp. e/d/f
Beethoven: vol.6 - Piano sonatas opp.53, 54, 57, 78, 79 — Brautigam; CD, EAN-13 barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—

spacerBeethoven: The Piano Sonatas — Brautigam, CD coverBeethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas

Ronald Brautigam (Fortepiani by Paul McNulty)

BIS-SACD-2000 (9 SACD/CD); ℗ 2004 – 2010 / © 2014
Booklet: en/de/fr
Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas — Brautigam, CD, EAN-13 barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


spacerThis sonata was recorded in 2007, as part of volume 6 in Ronald Brautigam‘s recording project, covering all of Beethoven’s works for piano solo. For the sonatas on this CD, Brautigam is playing a replica of a fortepiano by Conrad Graf, Vienna, from 1819, built by Paul McNulty in 2007. Compared to the models Brautigam uses for the early sonatas (after Anton Walter, from around 1802), this model has a wider tonal range, more volume, and a bigger and sturdier body. This probably also makes its tuning more stable.

Notes on the Movements

I. In tempo d’un Menuetto (3/4)

Duration: 4’55”
From the sheer playing, I would rate this recording on a par with (or close to) Gulda’s (see below). But on top of that, there’s the instrument, adding almost dramatic new insights and views: the internal (sound) balance is very different from a modern concert grand, the transparency much better. Unlike on a modern concert grand, the staccato theme does not sound brutal at all, the dynamic possibilities appear substantially bigger than on modern pianos, e.g.: at the end of the last staccato passage, there’s a p bar, followed by a ff conclusion. None of the other interpretations shows this contrast as dramatically as Brautigam; a real eye opener that makes all other interpretations look pale or dull!

II. Allegretto — Più Allegro (2/4)

Duration: 4’57”
Simply excellent! Faster than the others, a proper Allegretto, at last! Yet, more transparent, and with excellent articulation; dramatic, has momentum. Of course, I like and prefer the brighter sound of the fortepiano over any concert grand, which are all much more neutral and often sterile.

Overall Duration: 9’51”
Rating (see above for details): 5.0 — Excellent, this shows what an interpretation on a period instrument can do; my clear favorite, once again.


Friedrich Gulda

Beethoven: The Piano sonatas & concerts, Gulda, CD coverBeethoven: The 32 Piano Sonatas, The 5 Piano Concerts

Friedrich Gulda (Horst Stein, Vienna Philharmonic)

Universal 476 8761 (12 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 2005
Booklet: 2 pp. + Track listing German
Beethoven: The Piano sonatas & concerts, Gulda, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


spacerFor general information on Friedrich Gulda‘s complete recording of all Beethoven piano sonatas see the post “Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, op.28“. Gulda recorded this sonata in 1967.

Notes on the Movements

I. In tempo d’un Menuetto (3/4)

Duration: 5’16”
Very good articulation and phrasing, with tension and drive.

II. Allegretto — Più Allegro (2/4)

Duration: 5’24”
Agile, transparent, very good articulation and dynamics, not overpowering. An excellent interpretation!

Overall Duration: 10’38”
Rating (see above for details): 4.0 — To me, clearly the best of the conventional interpretations within the selection in this comparison.


Maurizio Pollini

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas opp.54, 57, 78, 90 — Pollini; CD coverBeethoven: Piano Sonatas opp.54, 57, 78, 90

Maurizio Pollini

DG 474 451-2 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 2003
Booklet: 28 pp. e/d/f/i
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas opp.54, 57, 78, 90 — Pollini; CD, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


spacerAt young age, Maurizio Pollini has released a highly acclaimed recording of the late Beethoven sonatas. Thereafter, he never appeared to aim at recording the complete set. He only released scarce recordings with additional sonatas. This one, with Beethoven’s “late middle sonatas”, was recorded in 2003.

Notes on the Movements

I. In tempo d’un Menuetto (3/4)

Duration: 5’06”
As often in Pollini’s recordings, the main impression is that of “concert grand sound”. Also, not very transparent, and the contrast to a period is immense in the staccato passages. Finally: Glenn Gould’s singing is better (and somewhat more in tune) than Pollini’s…

II. Allegretto — Più Allegro (2/4)

Duration: 5’35”
Again, somewhat lacking transparency, clarity, maybe too much pedal, “thick sound”. Still, it’s a solid interpretation.

Overall Duration: 10’40”
Rating (see above for details): 3.0 — A good interpretation, though for me it has too much “grand piano sound”.


Artur Schnabel

Beethoven: The Piano sonatas, Schnabel, CD coverBeethoven: The 32 Piano Sonatas

Artur Schnabel (recorded in London, 1932 – 1935)

Regis / Forum FRC 6801 (8 CDs, mono)
Booklet: 8 pp. (mostly track listing) English
Beethoven: The Piano sonatas, Schnabel, CD, EAN-13 barcode
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


spacerFor general information on Artur Schnabel‘s complete recording of all Beethoven piano sonatas see the post “Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, op.28“. Schnabel recorded this sonata in 1935.

Notes on the Movements

I. In tempo d’un Menuetto (3/4)

Duration: 4’54”
Very good, considering that the recording is soon 80 years old! This is dramatic, expressive, with tension and momentum! Unfortunately, the track cut is 3 seconds late. But that doesn’t matter as long as one listens to both movements in succession.

II. Allegretto — Più Allegro (2/4)

Duration: 5’21”
Very good, and absolutely competitive against recent interpretations on a concert grand.

Overall Duration: 10’15”
Rating (see above for details)3.0 — Definitely more than just a historic landmark. It remains a reference recording. But only for non-HIP interpretations, of course.


Addendum 1:

Beethoven’s piano sonata op.54 was featured in a piano recital at the Tonhalle in Zurich, on 2014-10-21, with Igor Levit. See my concert review (in German) on Bachtrack.com, “Ein Beethoven der verhaltenen Töne—Igor Levit in Zürich“. This is in German. I have written up a separate, more detailed review in the posting “Igor Levit, Tonhalle Zurich, 2014-10-21”.


Addendum 2:

For the non-pianists: I use pocket scores (typically Lea Pocket Scores or Kalmus) to follow this music. The Sonatas are covered in five volumes:


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2 thoughts on “Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.22, op.54

  1. French musicologist Georges Kan says the two movements might be musical painting of Flight to Varennes and Battle of Valmy. On first publication’s cover (A Vienne au Bureau des arts et d’industrie) one can read “LI me SONATE”, “LI” in bold as if it was engraved marble. It can’t be the 51st Sonata because Beethoven composed 32 sonatas and because never had he indicated the row of his works by instrumentation. ’LI’ is a secret reference to both Louis XVI and Valmy: 10 (X) multiplied by 5 (V) plus 1 (I) equals 51 (LI), while VY interlaced letters could be seen as a crossed out V (an old L version) and an I.

    In bars 3 and 7 of first movement at left hand there is an interesting quotation of 6 quavers excerpted from Menuet by André-Joseph Exaudet (F-A-C-A-B-G-F) which were used during French Revolution with lyrics “Imagine, un beau matin” in Parody Sur l’inimitable machine du médecin Guillotin propre à couper les têtes et dite de son nom Guillotine. Pun in french on title In Tempo d’un Menuet tô(t) accounts that the Guillotine is one main topic of this Sonata by Beethoven.

    Minuet of 1rst movement describes sadness of Louis XVI (bars 1-24, 69-93, 105 and following) caused by threat of Sans-culottes (thema in octava triplets), then Flight of Varennes (bars 126-136) and imprisonment (bars 137-154) after The storming of the Tuileries.

    Allegretto in 2nd movement paints the battlefield from afar (bars 1-36), from aclose (bars 37-44), cavalry charge (bars 45-64), canonnade’s roar (bars 65-74), shell whistling (using Doppler effect description – 3 notes chromatism towards bass in bars 36, 64, 126, 129), clamour (bars 115), and final victory (piu Allegro). The two last quavers played staccato might be transcription of guillotine, an evocation of the decapitation of Louis XVI. The same technique will be used later by Hector Berlioz in his Symphonie fantastique (at the end of Fourth Part, March to the Scaffold).

    Sforzandi in the first movement’s triplets create a Revolutionary theme quoted in retrograde form in Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven) (Finale, bars 822-824, using lyrics was die Mode streng geteilt).

    Therefore Georges Kan’s proposals for tempi are: 1. In tempo d’un menuetto – 40 Maelzel Metronome for a bar. 2. Allegretto – 60 MM for a bar. Piu Allegro – 80 MM for a bar.

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