The Kennedy Center

Sonata No. 5 in F major ("Frühlingssonate"), Op. 24

About the Work

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
© Peter Laki

What can we say about Beethoven's Spring Sonata, except that it is a happy day when we get to hear it? The nickname is not by the composer, but it is entirely appropriate because of the special warmth and serenity the work projects in all four of its movements. Beethoven the lyricist sings in a voice that in its gentleness is no less powerful than the thundering outbursts of his heroic period; his unmistakable personality is present just as strongly in this gentle sonata as it is in the great dramatic works.

The sonata opens with one of Beethoven's most endearing and most unforgettable melodies. Subsequent themes in the movement show a little more musical muscle, but it is more like a soft breeze rustling the leaves than a strong wind, let alone a storm.

The second-movement Adagio is based on a single melody of rare delicacy, played in turn by both instruments.

The third-movement Scherzo is definitely Beethoven's shortest sonata movement: It fits on a single page in the score. It grows from a simple rhythmic idea, repeated constantly by the piano, with a characteristic off-beat response from the violin. The movement's trio (middle section), which takes only about 20 seconds to play, is a continuous rush up and down the scale, in the form of two highly condensed musical phrases.

The melodious rondo theme of the finale is followed by an equally lyrical first episode. It is the central second episode that provides the main contrast, as it is the only extended minor key section in the entire sonata. It features some dramatic syncopations, excited triplet figures, and some expressive chromatic inflections in the melody (with half-steps not normally part of the scale). However, these tensions prove to be only temporary and the peaceful earlier themes return. The short coda only confirms the joyful and sunny atmosphere that has prevailed throughout the entire composition.