Beethoven Sonata for piano, 4 hands, in D, op. 6

performed by Jörg Demus and Norman Shetler, or below by Lucia Tiovis and Andrei Roth

Piano four-hands.

That’s different than two pianos, obviously, which is why it’s nice to watch the above video of two people sitting at the piano and working together to play the piece. I would imagine there’s some large portion of the population who wouldn’t listen to this work and say “Gee, that sounds awful busy/full/complicated for a piano sonata,” but they’d be right.

Without (looking at the score, obviously, or) really listening to what registers of the piano are playing when, together or not, you might not realize it’s for twenty fingers instead of ten. The title obviously gives it away, but at times, it was easy to forget what I was listening to, and not really focus on it actually being two pianists.

In any case, apparently J.C. Bach (one of the sons) and Mozart rather enjoyed four-hand piano works, while Haydn (again, apparently) did not. That AllMusic site associates Beethoven’s relative lack of four-hand compositions to Papa Haydn’s influence, but I’m not so sure that’s the case. Rather than attributing his overall lack of four-hand repertoire to Haydn, it may be more (conservative and) accurate to attribute the very existence of this piece to Haydn, as AllMusic (same article) states below:

Given its date, its relatively modest technical challenges, and the absence of documentation for any public performance, it is generally assumed that the D Major Sonata was composed as a teaching piece. Nonetheless, it foreshadows the composer’s maturity in several respects — for example, the main themes of both movements are ornamented when they reappear toward the end of the movement, rather than being played straight as Mozart and Haydn might have done.

So, maybe just a homework piece. In fact, watching the above performance of the work, one does get the feeling that it’s a bit… vanilla for Beethoven, especially for what comes right after it (you’ll have to stay tuned tomorrow for op. 7). That’s not to belittle it or devalue it in any way; I’m sure I couldn’t play it (either part), but it sounds much more straightforward than what we’re used to hearing from the man, even in his earliest sonatas.

What one might notice… right off the bat, is that the opening figure of this sonata sounds almost comically like a bright, happy (major key) version of something almost everyone can identify. That’s wild, isn’t it?

Don’t read into it; probably nothing there.

In any case, the work is in two movements, a (more) lively allegro with two themes, and the second and final movement:

a genial rondo with the tempo marking moderato, is cast in a five-part ABACA form; the first or “B” episode is in the minor mode, while the second remains in the major and contrasts more gently with the main theme.

The development of this itsy-bitsy sonata is really nice. There are two themes, and in short time, they’re combined and presented and come right back in their more ornamented forms before the teeny little movement ends, and the rondo comes in.

It, too, is small and pleasant but also full-bodied and satisfying. The content is more than enough to fill the three-and-a-half minutes of time this little movement takes. And one might think that a little work like this, with Beethoven’s imagination and creativity, could easily be twice as long as this work in its final state, but it’s not. That leads me to think even more that it’s likely just a homework exercise, or something that Luddy didn’t want to spend much time with, or else had more pressing matters. It is a little delight all its own, but when you go on to write dozens more sonatas for only two hands, it is maybe understandable how this one is in a more background role.

Tomorrow, we will be taking on one of his longest sonatas, the work that directly follows this one, so stay tuned.

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