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Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor

Ludwig van Beethoven is a German composer and pianist who entered history as a musical genius. Usually, his career is divided into three periods: early, middle, and late. The first period is characterized by notable Haydn’s influence, his teacher, and the most respected composer of the time. Despite this fact, even Beethoven’s works have something unique and innovative. The middle period of his musical art is often named a heroic one because it is characterized by the personal circumstances of his life presented in his art. The late period is marked by Beethoven’s isolation from society and the trend of reflexivity that was also transmitted into his works. Altogether, Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas; his art was traditionally seen as moving from the Enlightenment and Romanticism (Geck 6). Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, also known as Appassionata, is one of his most famous works, a unique masterpiece. It was composed between 1805 and 1806 and influenced the history of classical music, heralding the forthcoming Romantic period.

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Appassionata is one of three famous piano sonatas of Beethoven’s middle period that marks the beginning of his mature musical creativity. One can note it in his biography and the history of this work. It was dedicated to Count Franz von Brunswick’s sisters, with which Beethoven was in love. However, this love was not mutual; therefore, this situation can partly explain the real passion of the described sonata. The compositor was trying to overcome his soul’s controversial feelings and thoughts and represented this struggle in Appassionata. This, although is a characteristic feature of his work that “was to have an influential impact” in the nineteenth century (Quinn 17). Furthermore, this sonata was written after Beethoven’s famous Heiligenstadt Testament. In 1802 he wrote a letter to his brothers expressing his despair because of his progressive deafness. Fortunately, he decided not to stop creating and wrote after this letter such masterpieces as Waldstein, Op. 53, and Les Adieux, Op. 81a. Therefore, piano sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 is a product of Beethoven’s new and mature period work.

It is crucial to emphasize that Appassionata has a definite meaning, representing the tireless fight of humans against external circumstances. Everyone can see proof of it in Beethoven’s biography and the context of the creation of this composition. Personett notes that because of many compositors’ illnesses, Beethoven made “the act of composition a source of personal catharsis rather than a source of reason” (3). It means that he had a transitional period between the early and middle one that enormously changed the character of his work. Therefore, the compositor’s life circumstances dramatically interfered with his music-making, but he did not give up and expressed unwavering in the middle period’s compositions.

The musical structure also represents the fighting spirit of Appassionata. The sonata is a form of sonata-allegro and consists of Allegro assai, Andante con moto, and Allegro ma non-troppo. The first one has two themes: initially, it draws an image of revolt and dark force, then a calm one. The first movement’s texture is characterized by enigmatic pulsations and wisps above and below, and its dynamics and tone allow the melody to progress quickly; its coda is unusually long. The second movement, Andante con moto, has simultaneously melodic simplicity and a counter-melody in the bass. The sonorous chordal sequence of D-flat major makes a foundation for four variations, with notes becoming progressively smaller. This movement brings balm after raucous Allegro assai. The third movement, Allegro ma non-troppo, has no break before itself, rapidly plunging into the extreme angst of Allegro assai, which is not surprising as they both have a sonata form. Moreover, it also uses the Neapolitan sixth chord and several written-out cadenzas. The culmination is a presto coda, becoming a mesmerizing finale of the work. Therefore, all elements of Beethoven’s masterpiece paint a picture of struggle and overcoming with all their orderliness and structure.

In conclusion, Beethoven is one of the most famous and influential compositors in human history. His Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor marks the beginning of the mutual period of his work that can be named heroic because of the context of his life. Beethoven had many illnesses, and his deafness was progressing, but these circumstances did not break his will and prevent him from creating. In Appassionata, he most strongly expressed his resilience and unwavering. This work is about the revolt, fight, and struggle of human beings against any external circumstances that try to stop them from realizing their duty. It is a story about the battle with fate and dark forces depicted in Beethoven’s biography and the musical structure of this work. It is divided into three movements, and all of them are pervaded by Neapolitan harmonies. In general, Appassionata can serve as a milestone not only for a new phase of Beethoven’s work but for a new phase of all classical music, which he strongly influenced.

Works Cited

Geck, M. Beethoven’s Symphonies. Nine Approaches to Art and Ideas. University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Quinn, L. The Genesis and Development of an English Organ Sonata. Taylor & Francis, 2017.

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Personett, T. Music and the Human Psyche: Beethoven’s Recovery through a Time of Personal Turmoil. Rocky Mountain College, 2016, Web.

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