Beethoven - Sonata in C minor Op 10 No 1 1st mv Allegro molto e con brio


The piano sonata opus 10 no 1 is from Beethoven's first period of composition. It was written in 1796, dedicated to Countess Anna Margarete von Browne, who was one of Beethoven’s most generous patrons at that time.

The key of C minor was one that Beethoven tended to associate with dramatic, turbulent moods and with pathos, as in the well known sonata 'Pathetique' and also the 5th symphony, conducted here by Leonard Bernstein.

Pupil Match & Suitability

The first movement of the Sonata in C minor Op 10 No 1 by Beethoven is set for the ABRSM Grade 8 piano examination 2013 - 2014.

Full of driving energy and contrasts, dynamically and tonally, this movement is perennially popular with students.
It is manageable by a student who has a well developed technical ability with a secure rhythmic sense. The ability to deliver strong tonal accents and incisive attack where necessary is also desirable.

Style & Tempo

Andras Schiff gives some valuable advice here, on interpreting the first movement of this sonata.

Schiff makes the point that the silences are important at the start of the movement - they must be precise in length - and he explains Beethoven's approach to tempo and timing.

No musical playing is entirely without rubato of course, otherwise it would sound mechanical, but Beethoven's music needs to be firm in its pulse and rhythmically strict.

Schiff goes on to explain the contrasting moods within the piece and the way in which Beethoven's performance directions guide the pianist towards giving an interpretation that has musical integrity.

Phrasing & Articulation

Musical phrasing is essential for this piece. It is all too easy for a student to pay attention to detail but lose the sense of line, especially where there are so many sudden changes in dynamics.

Every phrase should have a sense of going somewhere and this can be shown simply by following Beethoven's performance directions, particularly with regard to crescendo and diminuendo.

The articulation of the wedge staccato markings needs to be crisp and clean especially in scales, such as at bars 64-69. Beethoven is also very specific about slurring and rests, which ought to be observed with care, such as at bars 48 - 55.

Listen to Martin Roscoe's meticulous use of articulation detail here towards the end of the movement. The articulation choices strongly influence the changes in mood that characterise this piece.

Tone & Texture

Right from the start of the piece, the melody lines should be brought out clearly and this applies particularly to chords, in which the top notes need relative emphasis.

Students may need to be reminded that chords which are distributed between both hands need particularly careful balancing.

This is just as true in the unison passages, in which the top line is important and is reinforced by the lower line. It can be effective to bring out beats 1 and 3 in passages such as bars 81-86, giving a sense of musical direction by observing the crescendo. Listen to how Roscoe does this.

Great care should be taken to keep the textures neatly aligned vertically - in other words the notes of the chords should be precisely 'together' and never 'ragged' in sound.


The most significant aspect of technique may well be that of 'taking the arm with the hand' meaning that as the RH moves upward with the opening motif and similar, the hand is kept in a natural position in relation to the arm. There should be a fairly straight line down the outside (finger 5 side) of the hand and arm.

Watching a pianist who plays challenging music with great ease, it will invariably be observed that the hands are always in, well, a 'hand' shape! The hands are very rarely at an unnatural angle with the forearm. Pogorelich plays here, with no perceptible strain at all. Notice also his lovely, upright posture at the piano - this helps him to use arm-weight to make the sound rather than resorting to tenseness and force.


The fingering suggested in the ABRSM edition is sound and has stood the test of time, although alternatives are always possible. Ultimately it is up to the teacher and student to decide what works for particular hand shapes and sizes.

Particular care should be taken over bars that contain scales - practising unhelpful fingering to begin with is a common cause of mistakes, even if the fingering has been altered later in the learning process.

All fingering choices should stand up to being played up to speed - what works at a slow pace may not be the best choice at a quick tempo. It is possible to check this out by playing a very small fragment up to speed, separate hands.


Direct pedalling is a useful technique to learn as the chords often need to be articulated quite crisply and yet using the sustaining pedal will enhance the tone. In direct pedalling the pedal is depressed and lifted at the same time as the fingers play the chord and therefore does not connect the sound with the next chord.

More generous pedalling may be used for the more legato passages but the harmonies still should not be blurred.

Observe how Barenboim pedals here - he is a great exponent of Beethoven and you can see very clearly how he used direct pedalling for the chords. One could not wish for a more inspiring role model of how to play Beethoven than Barenboim.


Students often underestimate the challenges and importance of playing up to a well-judged speed. A tempo that drags cannot express the character of this music.

On the other hand, too quick a tempo may be impressive technically, but bear in mind that the style is not really the one-in-a-bar of a scherzo movement.

Similarly if the tempo is unsettled and varies according to the technical challenges within the piece then the sense of musical line and structure will be affected.

Another problem can be balancing the textures successfully - an Alberti Bass that is obtrusive will be unwelcome.

A basic fault in playing this movement is failing to make the dotted rhythms buoyant - it can help to think of the semiquaver notes as 'grace notes' before the dotted quavers.

Lack of appropriate detail or, at the other extreme, creating too strident a tone for the sf markings can mar even a reasonably confident performance.

It can be useful to listen to another student's performance such as this one, picking out the relative strengths and weaknesses:

Final Performance

The performance here is by Roscoe.*

In a concert performance of this sonata movement, the repeat signs are better observed to preserve the structure of the movements but in an examination the repeats are not required.

A real feel for the drama in this piece will make the best performances convincing. There will be scrupulous attention to detail and tone control will be authoritative, so that the range of nuances, textures and dynamics are conveyed with musicality and finesse. Pedalling will be appropriate and the pace will feel very lively yet appear effortless.

A good performance may have some detail and pace but might not show such a keen sense of musical line, texture and phrase, with the sf detail perhaps not tastefully controlled.

A reasonably successful performance must have a lively tempo and mainly successful accuracy, but may not have such a stylish sense of detail and technical control.

*E-MusicMaestro recordings are streamed under PRS licence.

Teaching & Learning the Piece

One of the best pieces of advice for teaching and learning any piece is to focus what we do around knowing and understanding the score before playing, rather than basing what we do around correcting mistakes.

For the student this means avoiding a practice routine of playing though a piece and stopping, or going back later, to correct mistakes. Instead, plan what to do beforehand, do it slowly enough to get it right, separate hands if appropriate, in small sections - and then practise it right a few times.

For the teacher this means to avoid listening until the student makes a mistake, then correcting it, but instead to explore the score before anything is played, in terms of musical structures, patterns and techniques.

Listening to recordings before beginning is invaluable so that there is always a sound musical intention behind practice.

A obvious starting point with the score would be to study the first section. Less obvious, but logical in approach, would be to study the sections that are similar, such as the recapitulation section.

Planning time is important too - many students do not allow sufficient time to study the development section of a piece in sonata form.

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