Nº 26, Op. 81a – Lebewohl

Coursera just launched a new set of lectures, part 3, for the course “Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas” by Jonathan Biss.

Below some notes and references for Sonata Op. 81a (link to Coursera).


Beethoven composed this sonata in 1809 and 1810.

Now, the greatest, or at least the most obvious, novelty about op. 81a is that it is a programmatic work: it is called Lebewohl–Les Adieux in French, Farewell in English –because its composition was motivated by the Archduke Rudolph – the patron who was most supportive of Beethoven and to whom he dedicated the most works –being forced by Napoleon’s attack to leave Vienna. 

(…) it is supposed to tell a story in sound. I’ve talked frequently about music as narrative, but the idea of a piece of instrumental music being a literal narrative – telling a specific story, as opposed to offering the listener the opportunity to imagine one, or to simply feel the implication of one based on the piece’s structure – that was an extremely novel idea in 1810.  

(…)  it is a public testament of Beethoven’s feelings for his patron, and his reaction to the patron’s absence. In this way, Beethoven has really opened the floodgates to the romantic era: in the cases of Schumann and Liszt, not some but most of their pieces are meant to be evocative of places, people, or situations.

While the Lebewhl is itself a sonata, and one that is in many ways structurally traditional,
its emphasis on tone painting helped pave the way for the romantic era’s move away
from the sonata, and towards character pieces. 



3 movements:

  1. Das Lebewohl. Adagio – Allegro (E major)
  2. Abwesenheit. Andante espressivo (C minor)
  3. Das Wiedersehen. Vivacissimamente (E major)



Before there were MOOCs, András Schiff did a series of lecture-recitals of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas at Wigmore Hall (2004-6).

Andras Schiff: The Lectures Beethoven Sonatas Wigmore Hall from 2004–6

For a visual impression, all sonatas of Beethoven are available on YouTube in color-coded analysis using Adobe Audition.




Detailed analysis in the description.

See also


Artur Schnabel – 1935

Claudio Arrau

Annie Fischer – 1977

Richard Goode – 1993

Daniel Barenboim, Berlin State Opera House, 2007
Barenboim on Beethoven Masterclass DVD

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