L. van Beethoven - Piano Sonata Op. 2 No. 1 First Movement Harmonic Analysis

Hello dear reader and welcome to beethoman.com. In today’s article we will be talking about the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano sonata Op. 2 No. 1 in F minor, written in sonata form. We will focus on the main characteristics when it comes to harmony in the exposition and the development parts of the sonata form, since there are a lot of good articles regarding the formal analysis of this piece, like this one for example.

Sturm und Drang Roots

Here on Beethoman we talk a lot about Sturm und Drang. You can read about that peculiar stylistic movement here and here, however, in Beethoven’s piece we can also find traits of this proto-romantic movement. The first sign of it can be found at the very beginning of the piano sonata. As we said before, the minor key as a root tonal center in Haydn’s, Mozart’s and Beethoven’s pieces always implies the influence of Sturm und Drang. Why – well, because the minor key was understood as the greatest dissonance in the early classicism. It was used only in the development part of sonata form, primarily because of its potential to create drama and ignite the uprising of the musical expression. Only with the development of the Sturm und Drang, a proto-romantic movement whose goal was to shake the stiffness of the early classicism form, harmony and musical expression in general, the minor key started to find its place at the beginning of the musical pieces.

I will not talk about every chord individually, you can see that by simply clicking on gallery images. Rather than that I will talk about some interesting procedures when it comes to the harmony, and as we shall see, a lot of these interesting procedures will have something to do with Sturm und Drang. Now, let’s dive into the analysis.


Besides the F minor key at the beginning, in the exposition of the first movement we can find a couple more interesting examples. For instance, the beginning of the second subject in 21st measure. If we would only listen to the piece without watching the score, we would find it very difficult to determine the end of the bridge and the beginning of the second subject. The vagueness was produced by the simple concealment of the cadence. There’s no pause between the two parts of the exposition and the second subject does not begin with the tonic chord of a new (Major) key. Rather than that, the second subject starts with the dominant pedal, which increases the tension even further and, looking back at the bridge, it makes us think it is a one long piece of musical structure without the break. Make no mistake, this vagueness is here because of the Sturm und Drang principles. One of the efforts of this movement was to erase the borders between the formal parts as much as possible. Moreover, the tonal center in the beginning of the second subject is ambiguous because of the f flat note. This note makes a nice coquetry between A-flat minor and A-flat Major keys, which will be resolved only with the brief appearance of the major tonic chord over dominant pedal.


The second interesting example of harmony procedures is the procrastination of the V-I resolving in the course of the second subject. If we look at the music score from measure 21-41 we will see it is one giant piece of structure, internally extended more than once and with only one appearance of the tonic chord in its octave position. That would be at the beginning of the 41st measure, which marks the end of the second subject. Again, such a procedure was induced by the urge of Sturm und Drang and we should always have that on our mind. It would not happen like this if this composition would have been written 20 years earlier. 

Also, pay attention to the cadences viio/V-K6/4-V7-I in the closing section. In my opinion, their rhythmic and melodic structure, along with the voice leading in the left hand sound quite romantic. It reminds me a lot of Chopin’s cadences.


When it comes to the development part of this first movement, written in sonata form, there’s one peculiar place in musical flow that should be explained. Everything else you can see and read from the roman numeral analysis in the image gallery below. That specific place in music can be located between the measures 94-100. It marks the retransition part of the development section in this sonata form and here we can see an interesting movement in the lowest voice. A passus duriusculus occurs, since the bass line gradually goes down from c to f (which will appear finally in measure 101), from dominant to tonic. As we can see, the lowest (and only) note in measure 94 is transferred to the next measure as a passing note, after which the note next in line will appear and then be transferred as a passing note as well. This is a two-measures model which Beethoven repeats several times. Its purpose is to create the best possible preparation for the returning of the root key, the F minor. It is a common procedure in Beethoven language of harmony, however, for someone that did not analyze much of Beethoven’s music, this may be a challenging part of the analysis.

Final Words

I hope that this analysis will come in handy with your project about Beethoven’s Piano sonata Op. 2 No. 1 in F minor. I am planning to create a harmonic analysis of the second movement as well, so pay attention to new posts if you want to find out about its interesting examples. If  you enjoyed this article, maybe you could read this one as well, where I analyzed how Sibelius musically described “The Far North” in Pohjola’s Daughter. Until the next reading, stay safe and enjoy music.

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