Essays on Literature, Poetry and Music.

Here are a collection of essays on literature, poetry and music by EdwardianPiano.


1. exploring beauty and truth in the letters of john keats.

2. a taste of nature- a discussion on emily dickinson’s i taste a liquor never brewed.

3. a comparison of two of ludwig van beethoven’s piano sonatas.

4.a discussion on joseph haydn, ludwig van beethoven and the piano sonata.

Exploring Beauty and Truth in the letters of John Keats.


I am however young writing at random, straining at particles of light in the midst of a great darkness without knowing the bearing of any one assertion of any one opinion.

(19th March, 1819- to George Keats)

John reading.edited

The letters of the Regency Romantic poet John Keats are some of the most fascinating letters I have ever had the pleasure to read. His poetic genius, insights and knowledge are extraordinary- especially given that he was only in his early twenties when he was putting his pen to paper. He passed from this Earth of Consumption aged just 25 in 1821.

The poet’s letters reveal his philosophies and spiritual knowledge; one almost has the feeling that he was a very “old soul”- his insights show a mature and searching mind, always striving to gain knowledge and understanding of the human condition, poetry and the nature of suffering. Amongst the most astounding of his philosophies are the famous Negative Capability and his exploration into human life – “a large Mansion of Many Apartments.”

Perhaps more than any other poet his letters are as of much an interest as his poems- in the letters to his friends and family John revealed his vulnerabilities, spiritual musings, his ideas on life and poetry and interspersed amongst all that, he described his activities of the day. He was incredibly honest and unafraid to reveal his weaknesses- for he was always striving to know himself, which I find admirable. He expressed a disbelief in “perfectibility” yet understood that one can find Beauty in what is not (seemingly) perfect.

I am reminded of the Celtic poet Taliesin‘s Radiant Brow when I read John’s letter to Richard Woodhouse (27 October 1818) who was the legal advisor to his publishers John Taylor and James Augustus Hessey:

I am ambitious of doing the world some good. If I should be spared, that may be the work of maturer years. In the interval I will assay to reach to as high as a summit in Poetry as the nerve bestowed upon me will suffer. The faint conceptions I have of Poems to come brings the blood frequently to my forehead. All I hope is that I may not lose all interest in human affairs, that the solitary indifference I feel for applause even from the finest Spirits will not blunt any acuteness of vision I may have. I do not think it will. I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the Beautiful even if my night’s labours should be burnt every morning and no eye ever shine upon them. But even now I am perhaps not speaking from myself but from some character in whose soul I now live.”

I do not think it too fanciful to suggest that John was feeling the creative force of Imbas (Welsh for inspiration); that he possessed visionary fire that enabled him to write his poetry. Poetry was for him a vocation- he had trained as an apothecary- surgeon at Guy’s Hospital ( after a long apprenticeship with Thomas Hammond) but on qualifying at the age of 21, he made the brave decision to turn his back on the profession, which led him to face financial difficulties throughout his life. John was orphaned at the age of 14 after his mother died from Consumption (his father had died after falling off his horse when John was 8). The eldest child of four, John was expected to take up gainful employment by his guardian Richard Abbey (who “managed” his modest inheritance). Abbey never approved of his decision to become a poet. A fair amount of John’s inheritance had gone on his medical training, so one can understand that Mr Abbey was not best pleased at what he saw a waste of money and study. An encounter of the meeting between John and Mr Abbey was given by John Taylor in 1827:

It was Mr Abbey’s advice, that John should commence Business at Tottenham as a Surgeon. He communicated his Plans to his Ward, but his Surprise was not moderate, to hear in Reply, that he did not intend to be a surgeon- not intend to be a Surgeon! Why what do you mean to be? I mean to rely on my Abilities as a poet- John you are either Mad or a Fool to talk in so absurd a manner. My mind is made up, said the youngster very quietly. I know that I possess Abilities greater than most Men, and therefore I am determined to gain my Living by exercising them- seeing nothing could be done Abbey called him a Silly Boy, & prophesised a speedy Termination to his inconsiderate Enterprise.” (Cited in Guy Murchie, page 45)

What Abbey did not understand was that John was a born poet and through his poetry he sought to soothe the cares of his readers. It was his soul’s path and one he could not ignore. In an earlier Celtic society John’s poetic gift would have been highly esteemed and regarded as important as an occupation.

In many of his letters to his friends (and brothers) John would include his poems and seek to write one that would be of some comfort during a difficult time or one that would amuse them. He wrote to Georgiana Keats (his sister in law, wife of his brother George):

Ha! My dear Sister George, I wish I knew what humour you were in that I might accommodate myself to any one of your Amiabilities. Shall it be a Sonnet or a Pun or an Acrostic, a Riddle or a Ballad-“perhaps it may turn out a Sang, and perhaps turn out a Sermon.” I’ll write you on my word the first and most likely the last I shall ever do, because it has struck me- what shall it be about?” (28 June, 1818).

He aimed to include poems that would be appropriate and relevant in their daily lives. His poetry although deeply spiritual, was rooted in human experience. He was of the view that:

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced. Even a Proverb is no proverb to you till your Life has illustrated it.” (To his brother George March 19, 1819).

It is evident that John possessed great sensitivity – he often found himself feeling other people’s identities “pressing” upon him and would feel the need to leave. He was especially sensitive to other people’s sufferings. Although this was uncomfortable for him, this ability enabled him to gain enormous insight beyond his years. It enabled him to write poetical works of genius.

Many times he described his ability to enter the world of others:

I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds.” (To George Keats, 14 October 1818).

On the nature of the poet in a letter to Richard Woodhouse he wrote that:

It has no character- it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated. What shocks the virtuous philosopher, delights the camelion Poet. A Poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence because he has no Identity; he is continually in for and filling some other Body. It is a wretched thing to confess but it is a very fact that not one word I ever utter can be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical nature. How can it be when I have no nature?”

To his friend Benjamin Bailey he wrote that:

Nothing startles me beyond the Moment. The setting sun will always put me to rights, or if a Sparrow comes before my window, I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel.” (22 November 1817).

On his walking tour through Northern England and Scotland with his friend Charles Brown in the summer of 1818, John was delighted by the lakeside mountain scenery- scenery which his London home did not offer. He keenly felt the spirit of place in Ambleside:

At the same time the different falls have as different characters; the first darting down the slate rock like an arrow; the second spreading out like a fan; the third dashed into a mist, and the one on the other side of the rock a sort of mixture of all these. We afterwards moved away a space, and saw nearly the whole more mild, streaming silverly through the trees. What astonishes me more than anything is the tone, the colouring, the slate, the stone, the moss, the rockweed; or, if I may say, the intellect, the countenance of such places. The space, the magnitude of mountains and waterfalls are well imagined before one sees them; but this countenance or intellectual tone must surpass every imagination and defy any remembrance. I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write, more than ever, for the abstract endeavour of being able to add a mite to that mass of beauty which is harvested from these grand materials, by the finest spirits, and put into etherial existence for the relish of one’s fellows. I cannot think with Hazlitt that these scenes make man appear little. I never forgot my stature so completely; I live in the eye, and my imagination, surpassed, is at rest.” (To his brother Tom, 27 June, 1818).

John believed in the world of Imagination, regarding it as real as the ordinary, every day one. He longed for a “world of sensations” absent of thoughts in which he might gain deeper awareness, which in turn he fed into his poetry. ”O for a life of Sensations rather than of thoughts!” he exclaimed to Benjamin Bailey in a letter dated 22 November 1817, and went on to say that “Adam’s dream will do here and seems to be a conviction that imagination and its empyreal reflection is the same as human Life and its spiritual repetition.”

Deep within him he knew that some experiences were beyond thoughts and too much conceptualisation ruined the moment. I particularly love what he wrote to Benjamin Bailey in that very same letter of 1817:

I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination. What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth- whether it existed before or not- for I have the same Idea of all our Passions as of Love; they are all in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty.”

I have kept these words in my mind ever since I came upon them- in this fast moving modern world which does not acknowledge the importance of Imagination, dismissive of the rich inner worlds of the betwixts and betweens these words are a great inspiration.

John’s character and soul shine through his words; there is a special kind of intimacy reading these letters; his personality is charming and complex. He was generous and loving. He could also be melancholy, philosophical, intense, deeply spiritual and extremely funny all in one letter! Some letters show his famous “rhodomontades” (angry outpourings) which were reactions to his feelings on injustices and dogma- which he really disliked. In just one page the reader is reading about deep matters of the soul and the next reading about punning and a dinner he got invited to. I rather like the way he is deeply soulful one minute and making some witty comment on the state of human affairs the next- he comes across as someone very well rounded who walked in both worlds (physical and spiritual).

It comes as no surprise then, that John was beloved by his circle of friends- they found him magical and a source of inspiration, fully recognising his genius. This quality of course, was not lost on his fiancée Fanny Brawne who wrote to his sister (also called Fanny) that:

I cannot tell you how much every one have exerted themselves for him, nor how much he is liked, which is the more wonderful as he is the last person to exert himself to gain people’s friendship. I am certain he has some spell that attaches them to him, or else he has fortunately met with a set of friends that I did not believe could be found in this world.” (September 18, 1820).

This letter was written on John’s request after he had left for Italy (on the orders of his doctors who feared an English winter would kill him- sadly his illness was terminal and nothing could be done). Despite his tremendous suffering, he worried for his lonely younger sister who was living with Mr Abbey, who greatly curtailed visits between brother and sister. When the poet became too ill to visit her before he left England he  asked his fiancée to write to her and become her friend.

Although aware of his poetic gift, John was mature enough to realise that it came from his Soul, that it was a spiritual gift and not to use it to gratify his own ego. On his hopes that his first long poem Endymion would be published and do well, he wrote:

If Endymion serves me as a Pioneer, perhaps I ought to be content. I have great reason for content, for thank God I can read and perhaps understand Shakespeare to his depths and I have, I am sure, many friends who if I fail will attribute any change in my Life and temper to Humbleness rather than to pride, to a cowering under the Wings of great Poets rather than to a Bitterness that I am not appreciated. I am anxious to get Endymion printed that I may forget it and proceed.” (To John Taylor, 27 February 1818)

To George Keats he wrote:

I am as happy as a Man can be; that is in myself I should be happy if Tom was well, and I knew you were passing pleasant days. Then I should be most enviable, with the yearning Passion I have for the beautiful connected and made one with the ambition of my intellect. Think of my Pleasure in Solitude, in comparison of my commerce with the world. There I am a child; there they do not know me, not even my most intimate acquaintance. I give into their feelings as though I were refraining from irritating a little child. Some think me middling, others silly, others foolish. Everyone thinks he sees my weak side against my will, when in truth it is with my will. I am content to be thought all this because I have in my own breast so great a resource. This is one reason why they like me so; because they can all show advantage in a room, and eclipse from a certain tact one who is reckoned to be a good Poet. I hope I am not here playing tricks “to make the angels weep.” I think not, for I have not the least contempt for my species, and though it may sound paradoxical, my greatest elevations of my soul leave me every time more humbled.” (31 October 1818- George had emigrated to America with his wife Georgiana and Tom was seriously ill with Consumption)

Another example of John’s humbleness and spiritual maturity was his not caring “to be in the right.” To Benjamin Bailey he wrote:

I never had your Sermon from Wordsworth, but Mrs Dilke lent it to me. You know my ideas about Religion. I do not think myself more in the right than other people and that nothing in this world is proveable.”

He then goes on to say:

Now my dear fellow, I must once for all tell you I have not one idea of the truth of any of my speculations. I shall never be a Reasoner because I care not to be in the right, when retired from bickering and in a proper philosophical temper.” (13 March 1818).

John’s spirituality was unconventional for the times he lived in- he rejected the Church, disliking its dogma and instead delighted in the ancient Greek philosophies- he had a particular fondness for Apollo. He sometimes jokingly referred to himself as a “Hethen.”

Throughout his life he never gave up his spiritual seeking and came up with his own theories. Perhaps the most famous of them is his theory of Negative Capability:

Brown and Dilke walked with me and back from the Christmas pantomime. I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, and at once it stuck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries and doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” (To George and Tom Keats 21, 27 December 1817)

In this same letter he had stated that:

The excellence of every Art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate from their being in close relationship with Beauty and Truth.”

For me, Negative Capability has been a revelation- I think John’s theory is extremely profound and timeless. I find myself coming back to it again and again. I am reminded of what a Theravadin Buddhist monk once wrote- that one thing we can always be certain of is doubt. I have come to the way of thinking that there will always be doubt, uncertainties and Mystery- that in the human state we cannot possibly know all there is to know, and indeed to acknowledge that there is Mystery leaves us open to realisations. Realisations may not always come from the mind- but from the heart or experience- as once John bemoaned, science was taking the magic out of the Rainbow. John Keats was one of those courageous people who dared to express his uncertainties, fears and doubts and use them to explore the deepest recesses of his soul.

To his friend John Hamilton Reynolds he wrote:

An extensive knowledge is needful to thinking people; it takes away  the heat and fever and helps, by widening speculation, to ease the burden of the Mystery, a thing I begin to understand a little and which weighed upon you in the most gloomy and true sentence in your letter.” (3 May 1818)

In this remarkable letter he goes on to describe his ideas on the “Mansion of Many Apartments.” Remarkable in that he was just coming up to his 23 rd year, when he was comparing human life to a large mansion which had many apartments, “two of which I can only describe, the doors of the rest being as yet shut upon me.” The first Chamber he called:

“…the infant or thoughtless chamber, in which we remain as long as we do not think. We remain there a long while, and notwithstanding the doors of the second chamber remain wide open showing a bright appearance, we care not to hasten to it, but are at length imperceptibly impelled by the awakening of the thinking principle within us. We sooner get into the second Chamber, which I shall call the Chamber of Maiden- Thought, than we become intoxicated with the light and atmosphere, we see nothing but pleasant wonders and think of delaying there forever in delight. However, among the effects this breathing is father* of is that tremendous one of sharpening one’s vision into the heart and nature of Man, of convincing one’s nerves that the World is full of Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression, whereby This Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually darken’d and at the same time on all sides of it many doors are set open, but all dark, all, leading to dark passages. We see not the balance of good and evil. We are in a Mist. We are now in that state. We feel the “burden of the Mystery.” To this point Wordsworth come, as far as I can conceive, when he wrote “Tintern Abbey”, and it seems to me that his Genius is explorative of those dark passages. Now, if we live, and go on thinking we too shall explore them.”
(I am wondering if John meant further, as I confess I don’t fully understand this part)

He ends this letter affectionately and humbly, seemingly unaware of the extraordinary insights he has just shown:

Your third Chamber of Life shall be a lucky and gentle one, stored with the wine of love and the Bread of Friendship. When you see George, if he should not have received a letter from me, tell him he will find one at home most likely. Tell Bailey I hope to see him soon. Remember me to all. The leaves have been out here for MONY a day.”

I get the sense that had he lived beyond 25, he would have gone beyond the second Chamber and through the Mist to even greater discoveries. Like me, many admirers of John Keats’s letters and poems like to speculate on what further insights he would have amazed us with, what wondrous poems were still inside him when the Consumption cruelly stole his life on Earth.

Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die.

How strange it is that man on earth should roam,
And lead a life of woe, but not forsake
His rugged path; nor dare he view alone
His future doom which is but to awake.

John Keats. October 1795- 23 February 1821


Murchie, Guy, The Millbrook Press, Southampton, 1953. The Spirit of Place In Keats.

Scott, Grant F (editor), Harvard University Press, London, 2002.Selected Letters of John Keats: Based on the Texts of Hyder Edward Rollins.


A Taste of Nature- An Exploration of Emily Dickinson’s “I taste a liquor never brewed.”

I taste a liquor never brewed —
From Tankards scooped in Pearl —
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of Air — am I —
And Debauchee of Dew —
Reeling — thro endless summer days —
From inns of Molten Blue —

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door —
When Butterflies — renounce their “drams”
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats —
And Saints — to windows run —
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the — Sun —


Emily uses an extended alcohol/intoxication metaphor her experiences of nature as a feeling of intoxication, but something she has not experienced through drinking alcohol ( I don’t know if she was teetotal, but this poem assures us that she has never drank enough to get inebriated).

Her use of capitalising words, many of them nouns (Tankards, Rhine, Air and so on) is effective in driving the extended metaphor along, a common device used in nineteenth century literature.  

The tone of the poem is joyful, genuine and unapologetic with a sense of truth about it- the sensual experience of enjoying the beauty of a summer’s day reminds me of John Keats-“Truth is beauty, beauty truth, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” The form of the poem- 4 stanzas and the use of some rhyme –dew, blue, door, more, run, sun ( the second and fourth lines rhyming in each quatrain) looks back to earlier poems of the Romantic era, and reminds me of Keats and “To Autumn”. (I have read that Emily at least was aware of William Wordsworth, so I think it is likely that she enjoyed some of the British Romantic era works, and may have read some of Keats also).

A line by line analysis of the poem.

I taste a liquor never brewed–From Tankards scooped in Pearl–

Here is metaphor for beer foam or perhaps white Rhine wine; we have in addition to the creamy white colour the value of a pearl- something that is treasured and sought after. Her use of the word liquor is a colloquial word, yet it has a resonance; a languid feel to it, which suits and sets the tone of the poem.

Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol

The use of the word vats indicates the large amounts of wine produced in the Rhine valley, Germany. Yet her source of intoxication- the connection with and response to Nature is infinite, so greater even than this.

Inebriate of Air — am I —

Another metaphor where she describes her state of intoxication – this time by even breathing in the summer air. I can identify with this- as there is some indefinable scent to summer, which is like nothing else and can only be described as the scent of summer. The use of dashes make one pause when reading and echo her feeling ( her heady state) and also evokes how people speak in a drunken state- slurring, and pausing. Yet, her language contrasts with those who are drunk on wine- the rhythm is elegant- “inebriate of Air” (something a drunk would have trouble saying well!) and the break to “am- I” is emphatic and self confident. She is not ashamed of this state of being.

And Debauchee of Dew —

This metaphor suggests giving into pleasure of the senses, the dew being her next intoxicant which sends her

Reeling — thro endless summer days –

Dancing, and staggering like a devotee of Dionysus, with again, dashes to suggest the movement.

From inns of Molten Blue —

This effective metaphor uses opposite words – blue is a cool colour, but molten evokes summer heat and the vibrancy of a summer sky. Perhaps she has fallen down into the grass, and is gazing up into the sky- the effect of lying down looking into a bright blue sky is a powerful one- it becomes her inn from which she drinks in the view of the sky. When we view something in nature that has immense beauty we often describe it as “drinking it in”- we want to be immersed into this beauty, but at the same time it can also take on an almost unreal quality.

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door —

In these metaphors the bees are as drinkers in an inn, turned out after closing time. The Foxglove being the inn. Another image that comes to mind is when a Queen Bee is outed from the hive to go and build a new one. The use of inverted commas highlights her attention to the metaphor. “Landlords” has a couple more possible connotations- God and the cycles of nature, (change of seasons). The Bee and the foxglove will eventually die away.

When Butterflies–renounce their “drams”

This metaphor likens the insects to Temperance people of the time, renouncing is when someone gives up something they enjoy, namely alcohol in this context ( the butterflies’ nectar). However Emily goes on to exclaim jubilantly that:

I shall but drink the more!

There is no closing time or Temperance for her! She has no restrictions placed upon her from either self recrimination or someone else’s judgements.

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats —

The angels in heaven are described metaphorically as the clouds in the sky.

And Saints–to windows run–

The dashes effectively drive along the image of saints hurrying to church windows

To see the little Tippler as she charmingly describes herself; the word tippler is an amusing word used to describe a woman who likes to partake of a little wine. She ends the poem by

Leaning against– the Sun-– like a drunk leaning against a wall, using dashes again to indicate that there is no ending to her experience- they will continue.

Some final thoughts.

Emily expresses a kind of freedom to be drunk on nature; it is not socially acceptable for a respectable nineteenth century lady to be drunk on wine, but to feel intoxicated by nature is something she feels is not only acceptable but to be confident about expressing- hence her use of the personal pronoun “I”.

Intoxication is also a metaphor for the spiritual joy of experiencing the sensuality of nature- the blue sky, the warm sunshine, dew drops, the smell of fresh summer air and flowers, and so on. It is only by and through the physical senses that Emily can experience them. The image of a foxglove is interesting, for these flowers are poisonous and thus potentially dangerous, but beautiful to look at. It is juxtaposed between the domesticated bee ( if we are taking the bee to be a honey bee) and the innocence of the butterfly. So in effect there is nature tamed (honey bee) and the innocent aspect of nature ( butterfly) with the seductive dangers of nature (foxglove) in between.

The mention of the Rhine sets the scene- an extremely beautiful part of Germany, which is associated with feminine power in German literature ( Clemens Bretano, Heinrich Heine). In this literature spirits of water enchant men with their beauty much like Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci.This is interesting in light of the hidden danger of foxgloves, who are also associated with  Otherworldly beings. The exploration of intoxication in poetry often looks at the subject of power- someone being intoxicated by power- either of their own perceived power, or being captivated by someone else’s (often of a physical nature such as men captivated by feminine beauty to their detriment).

Emily’s ecstatic emotions arising from her communion with nature is self empowering, sensual, yet non threatening- here she can express her feminine power in a positive way.

She sanctifies the experience, elevates it beyond earthly alcoholic drunkenness by seeing angels in clouds, and saints approving of her revelry- the beauty of nature is part of God and holy. Bees and butterflies also get intoxicated on nectar, yet this is pure and innocent and serves a purpose in nature -pollination of flowers and crops, and honey production. Furthermore, honey is mentioned in the Bible in a positive way.

The poem ends with a Christian flavour with the mention of saints and seraphs- alluding to the Catholic saints who fell into ecstatic religious states. Yet, there is also a pagan feel with the intoxication extended metaphor- reminding one of the Greek god Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, whose followers became intoxicated on mead (made from honey) and wine, and saw this intoxication as drawing into themselves Dionysus’s spirit. Wine was poured into the earth and seen as completing the cycles of nature. In the earlier Romantic poetry of which Emily was familiar with, there was a looking back to classical times and the celebration of nature. This poem is as much a celebration of nature as the Romantic poetry of the early 1800s.

Some links:

A comparison of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor, Op. 10, No. 1 (1798), and Piano Sonata No. 4, in E flat major, Opus 7, “The Grand Sonata” (1797).

Ludwig lush2

This was an essay I did for the Coursera Beethoven Piano Sonatas Course ( free and fantastic!), with Jonathan Biss in Autumn 2013. This is the first ever attempt I made of looking at forms in piano music, and indeed in any kind of music! It is seen through a beginner’s eyes and heart.

This sonata was dedicated to Anna Margarete von Browne who was the wife of one of Beethoven’s patrons, a Russian diplomat in Vienna. He was aged 28/29 when he wrote these two sonatas. His hearing loss had already began at aged 26 in 1796; however he was still able to perform in public at this time, despite suffering from distressing Tinnitus. One can only marvel at his fortitude.

Unlike Sonata No.4, No.5 has 3 movements:

  1. Allegro molto e con brio in C minor

  2. Adagio molto in A flat major

  3. Finale: Prestissimo in C minor

First Movement.

In contrast to the first movement of No.4, No.5 starts energetically in Allegro. There is a repeated motive starting in C minor. The transition is in E flat major. The notes in the theme are rising dotted quaver arpeggios, which I like a lot- the rhythm is interesting and to me, typically Beethoven with the use of strongly emphasised bass notes, which are also used in No.4.

The quieter, more gentle contrasting transitional stage in E flat major uses I think arpeggios, but they are more fluid (slurs?), rising to the punchier return in the exposition. Like in the first movement in No.4, the motive is the theme in this movement.

The development has a variation in a key change to F minor, then B flat minor. I don’t know how to work out tonics and relative minors and majors and so on, being a beginner in music theory/piano, but I assume that the tonic must be C minor and the dominant is E flat major. I know that Beethoven was particularly fond of C minor, and during the time he lived in, this key was associated with heroism and struggle. No.4 is in E flat major, which was also associated with grand heroic works- so again there is a similarity in the mood of both sonatas.

I hope I am not digressing too much to add that this surely would not have been lost on those who bought his sonata sheet music to play at home. Although living in the twenty first century and therefore having quite a different listening experience to those from the 1790s, I can still get some feel of the mood of this sonata.

We often associate minor keys with a more sombre mood than major keys, yet this sonata isn’t sombre as such- it is aware of struggles yet seeks to overcome them with energetic determination! The arpeggios almost seem to be saying: “ I can do it!” Of course this is to an English speaking listener- in German I can do it is “Ich kann es tun.” So that is me being fanciful!

The recapitulation returns to the beginning ( C minor) and ends softly- PP or P; I am not sure which; followed by a loud flourish of what sounds like 2 chords. This ending really needs to take place; it is a satisfying, logical conclusion to so determined a movement. It feels and sounds like a statement- there is no doubt to the listener that this movement has ended. There is a short pause to create just enough suspense for the next movement.

Second Movement.

This starts slowly in Adagio Molto, quietly in P or PP; a gentle elegant melody, but somehow underneath it I get a feeling that something is not as calm as it seems, and I am waiting for something… and yes! some emphasised, strong notes (chords?) come in amongst the tranquillity.

This movement is in sonatina form ( A-B-A-B ) unlike No.4. Instead of a development section as in No.4, there is a rolled V7 chord, creating a nice harmony and taking it back to the tonic key. Cleverly, the main theme reappears as a coda, with beautiful lilting notes.

Third Movement.

The third movement starts with a new theme in C minor, contrasting with the slower second movement. There is a nice balance between the fast beginning and overall pace of the first movement, the overall slower pace of the second, and a logical and balanced ending with the final movement. It is faster than the first movement being Pretissimo. Five eighth notes create a very energetic, and almost agitated rhythm.The exposition is in E flat major, continuing the theme.

The development section anticipates the theme from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I find like No.4, No.5 has a kind of bell like tone to the bass notes at times, and is somewhat symphonic in the feel.

The tempo is slowed down with the coda ( in C major), the same notes as the fast runs in the third part of the recapitulation in C minor, creating a nice contrast and suddenly rushing on again to end on a high, determined energy.

The whole sonata is to me immensely satisfying and interesting to listen to- the need for resolution is not only met by recapitulation, but also by the use of fast- slower- faster pattern of the 3 movements and the sonata, for me this has the emotional effect of stating discontent, making a statement of intent and seeking to find a resolution through courage and determination. In a way, it reflects the times it was written in and the emotions and thoughts that were current in Beethoven’s society. The psychological effect of this I feel, is relevant.

The patterns and structures in music may also be related to the structures in other art forms such as literature- we have settings, themes, conflicts and resolutions in novels, so we can also recognise these patterns in musical form.

Jonathan Biss plays Sonata no 5:

Andras Schiff Lecture on Sonata no. 5:


Sonata no 4 played on Fortepiano by Alexander Lonquich) :

Andras Schiff Lecture on Sonata no 4:

The Beethoven Piano Sonatas Course is ran around twice a year, sign up for it here:


Wikipedia entries:

You tube colour coded analysis:

Website on Beethoven’s sonatas, particularly form and notes/comments on Op7:

A Discussion on Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and the Piano Sonata.

Music sheet B and H

This was a piece of work I did for a Coursera Course on Beethoven’s Sonatas with Jonathan Biss and looks at one of Haydn’s last sonatas and two of Beethoven’s from 1809. 

The Sonatas:

Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat major, Hob.XVI:52 and Beethoven’s Sonatas no.26, Opus 81a, Les Adieux, in E Flat ( in depth) and no.24, Opus.78 in F sharp.

I am a beginner in music theory and on the piano, but have loved classical music, especially Beethoven’s music, for a few years now. 

Here is a link to Haydn’s sonata:

But my in depth listening has been Ronald Brautigam on the fortepiano which I got from Amazon UK. Hearing Haydn on a fortepiano has been a revelation!

For Beethoven’s piano sonata no.26, Opus 81a, Les Adieux, I looked at the colour coded you tube version (The Daily Beethoven) to look at the form:

However the version I am really responded to is Ronald Brautigam playing this sonata on fortepiano. I bought the mp3 files from Amazon UK.

A word about the term “fortepiano”- this is a term used today to distinguish between modern pianos ( with iron frames, roughly 1840s- present ) and the earlier pianos of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. These are the pianos Haydn and Beethoven played and composed on.

For Beethoven’s Opus 78 I listened to:

The ways in which Haydn’s late-in-life conception of the sonata differs from Beethoven’s at this point.


The backgrounds to the two composers and their ideas, approaches and conceptions of the sonata form is very interesting. From my reading about this and my listening experiences I have found that there are several differences. Although in these sonatas both men were working to the traditional sonata-allegro form, there are some key features to their respective sonatas which make them distinctive to each composer.

The Conceptions.

Haydn’s Sonata Hob.XVI:52 in E flat major is interesting in that it mimics aspects of court social life he saw and was part of in his role as Kapellmeister at the Esterhazys. There are many (non musical) themes or ideas in Haydn’s Hob XVI: 52– clocks, dances, horns and military drum beats. Unlike Beethoven’s two sonatas, Opus 78 and 81a, there isn’t one unified idea- the 3 note motive and long introduction that carries on throughout a movement in Opus 81a and the repetition of the main theme in Opus 78. Beethoven’s Opus 81a suffused with one idea- the farewell- 3 note motive- Lebewhol (farewell). Haydn unifies a sort of series of humourous imitations of the leisure pursuits enjoyed by aristocrats. The Allegro in Hob XVI:52 is in E flat major and has a marching rhythm in the opening and recapitulation; armies were a visible part of court life at the time and E flat major was a popular key for their brass players. The sonata has a grand sort of feeling due to this. (Cecily Locke, 20). Haydn had composed many dances for the Esterhazy court between 1750s- he incorporated these into his sonatas in a different way than did Beethoven; Haydn incorporated the rhythms of popular dances such as minuets and contradances into Hob XVI: 52, and changed them for humourous effect.

In contrast, Beethoven’s two sonatas were written as dedications and are of a personal nature and less of a social observation. Opus 76 was dedicated to the Countess Terez Brunszvik de Korompa, one of his students in 1809, and Opus 81a was dedicated to the Archduke Rudolph of Vienna, also in 1809. Terez was a very close friend of Beethoven’s, and sister to Josephine, whom Beethoven was deeply in love with for most of his life. Opus 76 is notable in having just two movements, unlike Opus 81a, and Haydn’s sonata in E flat major.

Haydn’s Hob.XVI:52, was composed in London, 1794-5, for the celebrated pianist Therese Jansen, where Haydn was able to play the English Broadwood instruments, which were stronger with heavier resonance. In England, pianistic styles such as flourishes, runs and demonstrations of virtuosity were much admired. There was more musical freedom in London due to independent publishers- composers were not as not tied to the aristocracy as on the continent. Many famous musicians resided in London like Muzio Clementi, who were part of the social life; there were many public concert halls leading to the need for the powerful sounding Broadwoods. ( Cecily Locke 23-27). Haydn hadn’t been usually associated with grand sounds and big chords, but a feature of Hob.XVI:52 can be attributed to his experiences of Broadwood pianos in London. ( Cecily Locke, 27-28). I think it is rather a shame that Beethoven never made a trip to London; in light of the musical scene there I feel his exciting music and piano virtuosity would have been much appreciated.

Clementi’s influence can be heard in Hob. XVI :52 near the opening by the runs in thirds ( Cecily Locke, 29), and Haydn also exploited the abilities of the new English fortepiano by dynamic contrasts- 5 between forte and piano in just 5 bars (Cecily Locke,30). Hob.XVI:52 is a showcase for new fortepiano techniques; sounds expressed within imitations of social life of the upper classes. It is very much of its time, yet still sounds fresh, fun and alive; all the more impressive given that Haydn was nearing the end of his life. Haydn’s use of runs from the top to lower registers of the keyboard show his excitement of the exploration of this new fortepiano and wanting to use all its capabilities. The treble and bass were more powerful than in Viennese instruments and this was obviously relished by Haydn as the bass notes are fantastic in movement one.( Cecily Locke 31). This sonata is an interesting blend of the English and Viennese styles.

The use of pauses in the sonatas also differs between the two composers. Beethoven uses pauses for emotional effect: they seem to hang in the air and are alive with emotional meaning; suggestive of words one wishes to say and either cannot voice them for fear of being hurt or being unable to find the right words. Opus 81a, Les Adieux, starts slowly in Adagio, with a hesitant feeling, captures an emotion of not wanting to leave- saying goodbyes, with pauses, and then launches elegantly with a rise in loudness (forte?) into the gorgeous exposition. This is, in my view one of the loveliest melodies Beethoven ever wrote- sublime! The motive is carried into the development with a bolder strong rhythm and again in the recapitulation there is the repeat of the phrases of the exposition, with beautiful expression. This carries into the coda with a key change- feeling brighter and hopeful. The final notes end on a strong statement. Both Beethoven sonatas start quietly and slowly, unlike Haydn’s -an unusual feature of sonatas which traditionally started on Allegro fairly loudly. Beethoven was to use this in a few of his sonatas to create a pensive, melancholic mood.

There is a long pause between first and second movements in Haydn’s sonata. This could be an imitation of the pauses between one dance and the next. In the second movement there are a lot of silences/pauses in it and I can still can hear the mechanical clock influence in the high notes and flourishes. The beats really do sound mechanical by the use of many pauses for emphasis- like the pause the elaborate chiming eighteenth clocks had when about to strike. There is also a set of 3 notes in the bass towards the end of the movement that sound like the deep chimes of a big town clock. The whole effect of these imitations is amusing and clever. There is a continuation of the motive of deep bass notes which are expanded. It runs into real mirthful imitation of a clock imitating a hunting horn. The key used is B flat, a key hunting horns were in. Another example of Haydn’s sense of humour is shown by his use of an imitation of a military drum in the finale ( bars 44), despite the finale being based on a contradanse. (Cecily Locke, p19).

An exploration of how I responded to these distinctions when I listened to the music.

I have found learning about the context of both Beethoven’s and Haydn’s sonatas very helpful in enhancing my listening by gaining insight into the meanings of the music and circumstances in which they were composed. In light of Haydn’s sonatas this has proved even more so, for as a modern person, the allusions to courtly society of the late c.18th in the music would be lost on me.

Without this knowledge I hear what sounds like very formal orderly music in contrast to Beethoven’s, which is far more emotive- even without being aware of the background to Les Adieux, the emotional impact is felt. The two Beethoven sonatas have in common a feeling of personal experience and emotions. The passages in Beethoven’s sonatas have more memorable melodies; an example for me is the exposition in the first movement in Les Adieux, which I just love. It makes the whole piece for me. I always feel like I am waiting for it and love the return to it. This is what Beethoven was conveying- the hope of the return of the Archduke Rudolph- I can feel the longing in the music. It is so alive and full of feeling and captures the spirit of youth. The motion of this young Duke riding away on his horse can also be felt. A very poignant part of the background at this time is that Beethoven had not yet met his nephew Karl (who was aged 3) and Beethoven had become close to his patron, the teenaged Rudolph. The slower second movement, has a heavy sombre mood and suggests the fear of no return. The third movement is contrasted by its triumphant, buoyant notes and rhythms, with the motive being repeated as though to say; ” I’m coming home!” It also evokes cheering crowds for Rudolph’s return.

Beethoven’s Sonata no.24, Opus 78 begins like it is in the middle of something unheard ( In F sharp, an unusual key)- we feel as if there are some notes missing, which evokes a private conversation between two people, and we enter the room and inadvertently interrupt them. I find this very touching and beautiful, as though Beethoven is letting us into his private world. We can imagine rather fancifully, that he is in private conversation with someone dear to him. If you listen to the you tube video, 0.00-17 evokes the private conversation, 00.20-27 is the interruption, and 0.28 onwards evokes the moving back into company of others. The transitions are very seamless, creating the effect of the ability to move from private conversation, to public discourse and company. The mood in the subsequent passages is hopeful, yet there is a key change which sounds like a minor to me and the motive becomes melancholic, as though he is losing hope. The Coda is very interesting harmonically, but I am at a loss how to describe it musically- the effect is of various moods all at once- despair, fear, hope and determination.

The personalities of two composers could not have been more different- (which I can hear expressed in the music)- Haydn- the witty neatly dressed gentleman, known to have been calm tempered, kind hearted and gentlemanly; an employee of the Esterhazy court, his music indicative of the tastes of the day, even though he pokes fun of them a little in Hob.XVI: 52. Beethoven- passionate, unconventional, eccentric, and fiery tempered at times, working to his own rules, somewhat outside of society, and highly innovative. His moods were changeable and it shows in his music. Contrast this to the more even tempered Haydn, of whom: “It is hard to think of the music of any composer that is so free of neurotic. Haydn’s music is always sane and healthy.” (Schonberg, 56, 1975).

Overall, Beethoven’s sonatas have more explosive energy, reach a louder, more furious pace, with very strong booming bass notes that make great emotional statements ( this is a very noticeable difference to Haydn’s use of bass notes which imitate hunting horns). There are many scalic runs and emphasised notes. The endings often come with a strong flourish of emphatic statements. They also point forward to what is to come- Beethoven would go on to use a lot of emphasised notes and motifs in his symphonies. Beethoven’s music can be described as “a way of communicating knowledge about reality.” ( J.W.N. Sullivan, 16, 1927). This is the power of Beethoven’s sonatas- they have a transcendental quality to them.

This is in contrast to Haydn’s reaction to events around him and how it entered his music; he was involved in the pastimes of the aristocrats, creating their social lives within his music, being comforting and bringing hope that their lives would continue as normal. Sonata Hob. XVI: 52 is playful, and doesn’t include any anguish or sadness. It is interesting and, in places, amusing to listen to.

A note about early instruments- I am a great admirer of early instruments that the composers themselves would have been playing and composing on- call me sentimental, but I find that these early pianos, and to some extent their copies, bridge the time between then and now and bring the feel, the spirit of the music, and the composer closer to us; often the music sounds more alive, and in a strange way more contemporary. To hear Beethoven’s Opus 26 played by Ronald Brautigam on a fortepiano is an interesting experience; it sounds “fresher” than on a modern piano. In a bizarre sort of way it sounds more “modern”. Perhaps I am finding a way to listen as an 1809 person rather than an twenty first century one- and can appreciate this music as “new” and capturing the spirit of the Enlightenment. The fact that both composers were using the most up to date pianos at their disposal certainly accounts for the freshness of their music.

On listening to the first movement of Haydn’s Hob XVII 52 by Ronald Brautigam on fortepiano, I heard a huge difference- the “clock” notes really leap out and are more obvious to the ear, and the descending notes are so clear and bell like; in fact all notes are more clearly heard and the music is infused with far more vitality and power. The reverberation of the strings give an echoing effect that is very pleasant to the ears and is almost like the notes are jumping out from past to now. As a would be time traveller I really like the feeling that gives me! I can even feel it reverberate through my stomach from the speakers. The bass notes are very deep and grand and sing like a horn! I don’t think I want to hear Haydn on a “modern” piano from now on really. The trills are really thrilling! It ends triumphantly and does actually create a mood of confidence and hope. Because of the variations in registers on the fortepiano, compared with modern pianos, this sonata can be heard more exactly- Haydn meant for the music to imitate musical clocks, horns and drums etc., and in this the fortepiano excels over the modern piano.

Interestingly, Hob XVI:52 turned out to be his last piano sonata, whether a deliberate decision on his part or not, I have no idea. I have seen the manuscript of the opening of this sonata in Haydn’s own hand and it is very neat and orderly looking, completely unlike Beethoven’s ink splotched and messy looking manuscripts.


Thanks to Jonathan Biss for his brilliant lectures and my fellow Couserians who encouraged me in this assignment and of course the marvellous composers themselves- Joseph Haydn and Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Internet References.

On Haydn: ( Dissertation by Cecily Lock)

On Beethoven:

On Beethoven and Haydn:

On sonatas:

Book References/Research.

Beethoven, A Cassell Caravel Book. David Jacobs. Cassell, London, 1970.

Beethoven, The Life and Letters Series, Volume 15. J.W.N.Sullivan, London Jonathan Cape. 1927, 1933. ( Awesome book- highly recommended if you can find it in a second hand book store!)

Haydn, his life and times. Neil Butterworth, Midas Books, 1977, 1978.

The Lives of the Great Composers, Volume 1– Harold C Schonberg. Futura Publications Limited, 1975.

The Master Musicians, Haydn. Rosemary Hughes. J.M Dent and Sons, Ltd, London, 1950, 1989.

Magic of Melody. John Murray Gibbon. J.M Dent and Sons Ltd, 1933.

2 thoughts on “Essays on Literature, Poetry and Music.”

  1. Amazing post.

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