Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 4

Edited: December 7, 2017, 2:09 PM · This sonata's first movement has a tempo indicator of Presto. This appears unusual to me as I have not come across any sonata or symphony that began with a Presto tempo. Does anyone else find this unusual? Why do you think Beethoven chose a Presto tempo instead of Allegro?

Replies (7)

December 7, 2017, 2:07 PM · Maybe he wants it extra fast.
December 10, 2017, 3:18 AM · I have to agree with Ella, he probably wants people to play it quickly. ;)

Yes it is unusual but then so is the whole sonata. All the movements are fast (Presto, Andante Scherzoso, Allegro Molto). The thematic material is pretty scarce across all 3 movements, and the first movement is also quite percussive - many fps and sfzs and staccatos.

In some ways this is characteristic of Beethoven's writing for the violin, but it's all more extreme in this sonata than the other early sonatas.

I suggest taking it in 1. If it helps I can look up the tempo indication that Max Rostal suggests in his book on the Beethoven sonatas?

December 10, 2017, 9:12 AM · I'd say forget the tempo marking and go instead for what makes sense musically.

To that end, I'd characterize this movement as "Sturm und Drang," in the same manner as the opening of Mozart's symphony 40 in G-minor: tempestuous, filled with angst.

So the question is what tempo in your opinion would get this kind of character?

Edited: December 11, 2017, 3:31 PM · Beethoven was a piano virtuoso. When the metronome was invented during his time he was delighted
as he could now indicate to musicians that he wanted his compositions played much faster than they liked. Some of his piano sonatas are virtually never played as fast as marked (except by a very few like Andras Schiff).

As far as starting with a presto movement: LvB broke with a lot of traditions. He pretty well single handedly ushered in the romantic period in music (the Eroica is often named as the first truly romantic symphony , straddling the classical and romantic periods).
His life's story is one of the most fascinating of any famous composer.
A lot is known about him from his letters and from his contemporaries. Including the complaints from musicians that his music was too fast, too difficult, too noisy and too complex. But recognized as the work of a genius.

The BBC has a good documentary out which is on youtube:

December 10, 2017, 11:48 AM · Czerny, who was a pupil of Beethoven provided tempo markings for the piano and violin sonatas.When I was doing performances of all the sonatas in 3 recitals, I looked at them. When I did them playing on a Classical violin and a reproduction of Beethoven's Graf piano they made more sense than when I played on a modern violin (with modern piano).
Edited: December 10, 2017, 12:02 PM · I think 130 to 140 BPM (dotted quarter note) is a fine professional tempo - that's what Rosand did in his wonderful recordings of B's sonatas. I think it also works at 120 for those with more time to spare - and it still retains the "bounce." And if you do start out playing something "too slowly" you can always have hope for the future.

I've a soft spot for this one - a very long time ago, when I lived in the DC suburb of Rockville, MD a pianist in the same neighborhood somehow heard about me and this is what she wanted to play - so we did that for a while in the early 1960s before I moved to CA. It think that one is more for the pianist, than #5 - and we did have some tempo irregularities from time to time - not the fiddler's fault!

But it doesn't matter to me if a particular sonata is more pianistic or violinistic, because the fun of sonata playing (or any chamber music) is in making it happen together. If it wasn't that way - how would string quartets come up with 2nd violinists or violists?

December 11, 2017, 9:08 AM · Thanks everyone for your contributions. I rehearsed the first movement yesterday with my partner and we found that using a quick tempo and maintaining that same tempo throughout helps bring out the tension or push or pull between the instruments. If it drags just a little bit you can lose the forward momentum.

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