Pianists corner

Boris Giltburg plays the Beethoven’s 32 sonatas

Boris Giltburg completes his project this month to record Beethoven’s 32 sonatas. Project started in January 2020, just before the sanitary confinements which were going to spread in Europe and in the world.
Find all of these recordings on Pianists Corner.

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© Sascha Gusov

Shortcuts to the text :

Composed between 1794 and 1795 :

The 3 sonatas Opus 2 are dedicated to Joseph Haydn, Beethoven’s teacher between 1792 and 1794. They were composed between 1794 and 1795 and published by Editions Artaria in Vienna in March 1796. Sonata No. 1 is also called the “Little Appassionata”, not only because it shares the same key with Opus 57, but also because of its passionate temper, especially in the 3rd movement.

Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy (1792)

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In the sonata in A major the scherzo replaces the traditional minuet. It was Beethoven’s first sonata to reach America, and was performed in New York on June 5, 1807.

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The third sonata of Opus 2 is the most virtuoso of the 3 sonatas. As with the first sonata, in its first movement it borrows a theme composed by Beethoven for his Piano Quartet No. 3 (WoO 36).

Composed between 1796 and 1798 :

Sonatas 19 and 20 (opus 49) were probably composed for students and were not intended for publication. As their opus number does not indicate, they were composed between 1796 and 1798 and finally published in 1805 in Vienna at the Bureau of Arts and Industry. The publication of these works is due to the composer’s brother, Kaspar Karl, who found them worthy of interest unlike his brother.

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The sonata Opus 7 is dedicated to Beethoven’s pupil, Countess Babette von Keglević, it was published in 1797 by Editions Artaria. Called “Grande Sonata” by its author, it was published alone, which was unusual for the time. It seems that originally the sonata included the inscription “Die Verliebte” (The Maiden in love) …

Countess Anna Louise Barbara Keglevich
Countess Anna Louise Barbara Keglevich


The three sonatas of Opus 10 were composed between 1796 and 1798. They are dedicated to Countess Anna Margarete von Browne, who had just arrived in Vienna in 1795. The sonatas were published by Editions Eder, in Vienna, in 1798. Beethoven here revives the Mozartian tradition of 3-movement sonatas. The first sonata is in C minor, A key which will become like a signature for Beethoven (5th symphony, Sonata “Pathétique”, 3rd concerto for piano, etc., etc.).

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The second sonata of Opus is brilliant in character, almost playful (3rd movement). It stands out from other compositions of this period by its more traditional structure (repetitions).

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In sonata No. 7, Beethoven returns to 4 movements. The slow movement (Largo) will make its reputation. He will say about it later “Everyone will feel well in this largo the state of a soul in the grip of melancholy with the different shades of light and shadow”.

Composed between 1798 and 1799 :

Sonata number 8, called “Pathétique” was composed between 1798 and 1799 and published by Editions Eder, in Vienna, in 1799. It is dedicated to his patron since his arrival in Vienna in 1792, Prince Karl Lichnowsky. Although the term “Pathétique” was not given by Beethoven himself, it seems that he accepted and even used it.

Prince Lichnowsky


The two sonatas of Opus 14 were published in 1799 by Mollo editions in Vienna. Despite their numbering, it seems that Sonata No. 10 was written before Sonata No. 9. They are dedicated to Baroness Josefa von Braun, one of his patrons at that time. These two sonatas form a lyrical and light counterweight to the “Pathétique” sonata. Beethoven will later arrange Sonata No. 9 for string quartet.

Baroness Josefa von Braun

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According to Schindler (Beethoven’s biographer), listeners at the time saw in the 10th sonata “a struggle of two principles”, “a dialogue between a man and a woman or a lover and a beloved”.

Composed between 1799 and 1800 :

The sonata Opus 22 was achieved in 1800 and published two years later by Franz Hoffmeister editions in Leipzig. It is dedicated to one of his patron, the Count Johann Georg von Browne. It is contemporary with his septet and his first symphony. Musicologist Wilhelm von Lenz considered this sonata as “a magnificent and triumphant epic”.

Count Georg von Browne-Camus

Composed between 1800 and 1801 :

The sonata Opus 26 is dedicated to Prince Karl von Lichnowsky, and was published in March 1802 by the Cappi edition in Vienna. Sketched in 1800, it was completed in 1801. Beethoven himself nicknamed the third movement “Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un Eroe”, hence the nickname of the sonata itself and it is this same funeral march that will accompany the composer’s funeral.


With the two sonatas of Opus 27, Beethoven moves away from the traditional form of the sonata. They are both entitled “Sonata quasi una fantasia” and all the movements are linked in a desire for unity. Composed between 1800 and 1801, they will be published by Cappi editions, in Vienna, in 1802. Sonata No. 13 is dedicated to Princess Josephine von Liechtenstein.

Josepha of Fürstenberg-Weitra by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder

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Sonata No. 14, better known as “Moonlight Sonata”, is dedicated to Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, who was briefly a pupil of Beethoven and with whom he probably fell in love.

Giulietta Guicciardi


The sonata opus 28, named after its publication “Pastorale” by the publisher Cranz of Hamburg, was composed in 1801 and published in 1802 by the editions of the Bureau of Arts and Industry in Vienna. It is dedicated to Count Joseph von Sonnenfels. Besides, the sonata is also called the “Sonnenfels” by the Germans.

Statue of Count Sonnenfels, Vienna

Composed between 1801 and 1802 :

The first of the three sonatas of Opus 31 was written after Opus 31 No.2 (sonata No.17). The publisher Nägeli in Zurich had commissioned four piano sonatas from Beethoven. Beethoven gave his agreement for the 3 sonatas of Opus 31, without knowing that his brother was also leading a negotiation with Breitkopf & Härtel for these same sonatas. Nevertheless, he kept his promise given to Nägeli and sent him the first two sonatas which were published first, then the third which was published with a reissue of the “Pathétique”. The publications of the Zurich publisher were full of errors and even contained for the first sonata, 4 additional bars not written by Beethoven. Extremely angry, Beethoven entrusted Simrock with a new edition with the french mention “Edition très correcte”. Countess Browne will receive her dedication in 1805 with the third edition at Cappi in Vienna, with the third sonata (Sonata No. 18). The three sonatas opus 31 are written after the Heiligenstadt Testament.

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Beethoven reportedly replied to Schindler, his biographer, asking him the meaning of the sonata: “Just read Shakespeare’s Tempest !”.

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Composed between 1803 and 1804 :

Sonata Opus 53 is dedicated to Beethoven’s former patron in Bonn, Count Waldstein. Sketched in 1803, it was completed during the summer of 1804. It was published in May 1805 in Vienna at the Bureau of Arts and Industry. An andante at the center of the work was finally removed by the composer. Instead he placed a slow ‘Introduzione’ at the Rondo. Contemporary of Fidelio, it requires a lot of virtuosity, it is the most technically difficult sonata so far that he has written.

Count Ferdinand von Waldstein


The sonata Opus 54, located between the “Waldstein” and the “Appassionata” has often been overlooked. It was composed in 1804 and edited at the Bureau of Arts and Industry in Vienna, in 1806. It was freshly welcomed at the time: “The two pieces of which it is composed resemble a song of crickets …” (Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung)


Composed between 1804 and 1806 :

The sonata “Appassionata” begun in 1804 and completed in October 1806 was published in February 1807 at the Bureau of Arts and Industry. The dedication goes to Franz von Brunswik, a friend of Beethoven. Unlike the “Pathétique”, op. 13, the “Appassionata” was not so nicknamed during Beethoven’s lifetime, but in 1838 by the publisher Cranz of Hamburg on the occasion of the publication of an arrangement for 4 hands.

Count Franz von Brunswik
(Heinrich Thugut, Vienna)

Composed in 1809 :

Composed three years after the “Appassionata” in 1809, it is dedicated to his great friend Thérèse von Brunswik hence the nickname of the sonata. Published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1810, it was dear to Beethoven.

Therese von Brunswik


Sonata Opus 79, described as “sonatina” when it was published by Breitkopf & Härtel in December 1810, was composed following Sonata No. 24 in 1809. The first movement, in which we hear the sound of the cuckoo, has sometimes resulted in it being called the “cuckoo” sonata.

Composed between 1809 and 1810 :

The particularly inspired sonata Opus 81a is dedicated by Beethoven to his friend and pupil Archduke Rudolf to commemorate his departure from Vienna during the occupation of the Napoleonic troops, then his return. Sketched in May 1809, we read at the head of the first movement: “The Farewell, Vienna on May 4th, 1809, the day of the departure of His Imperial Highness, my revered Archduke Rudolph”. Then a few months later, at the head of the last movement: “Return of His Imperial Highness, my venerated Archduke, January 30th, 1810”. The publication by Breitkopf and Härtel in July 1811 shows the title in French: “Les adieux ,l’absence et le retour”. But the translation did not please Beethoven: “Lebewohl is quite another thing than goodbyes, we only say the first to one person, and only with heart, the other to an entire assembly, to entire towns”. He himself gives it the German titles: “Das Lebewohl, Die Abwesenheit, Das Wiedersehen”.

Cardinal Rudolph of Austria, portrait by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder

Composed in 1814 :

Finished in August 1814 in Baden, the sonata Opus 90 was published in Vienna by Steiner in June 1815 and is dedicated to Count Moritz von Lichnowsky. According to Anton Schindler, biographer and friend of the composer, Beethoven told in this sonata the story of the count’s love. The first movement was titled “Kampf zwischen Kopf und Herz” (“Fight between the head and the heart”), the second “Conversation mit der Geliebten” (“Conversation with the beloved”). But these titles did not appear upon publication. For the first time, Beethoven writes the title of his sonata in German, as well as the designations for the two movements.

Lichnowsky, Moritz Graf von


Composed in 1816 :

The sonata Opus 101, the first of the five sonatas of the last period, was composed in Baden in 1816 and published by Steiner in Vienna in February 1817. It is dedicated to the pianist, Baroness Dorothea Ertmann. This is the first time that Beethoven uses the German term “Hammerklavier” to refer to the piano.

Dorothea von Ertmann

Composed between 1817 and 1819 :

Opus 106, Sonata “Hammerklavier” is Beethoven’s longest sonata. Completed in 1819, then published in September of the same year in Vienna by Artaria, it is dedicated to Archduke Rudolph.

Composed between 1820 and 1822 :

The last 3 sonatas are the result of negotiations between Adolf Schlesinger, publisher of Berlin, and Beethoven. They were composed between 1820 and 1822. The sonata Opus 109 was composed in 1820, its first edition dates from November 1821, it still contained many errors. The sonata is dedicated to Maximiliane Brentano daughter of Antonie Brentano (“Beloved Immortal”?, In Beethoven’s words in his letters of July 1812).

Antonie Brentano
by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1808


Sketched at the same time as Opus 109 in 1819, the Opus 110 was completed on December 18th, 1821 and published much later by Schlesinger both in Berlin and in Paris in August 1822. It was originally intended for Antonia Brentano (thus than Opus 111), but in the end the score appeared without dedication.


This final Beethoven sonata was composed almost at the same time as the previous one. Completed in early 1822, it was published by Schlesinger both in Berlin and in Paris in August 1822. The dedication goes to Archduke Rudolph. The sonata comprises only two very contrasting movements, the second of which, an Arietta with variations, was consecrated by Thomas Mann’s formula, “farewell to the sonata form”.

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