Nº 21, Op. 53 – Waldstein

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. 21 from part 2 (link to Coursera).


Beethoven composed this sonata in 1803-04 and published in 1805 dedicated to Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein. Beethoven dedicated several works to the count but his name, for some reason, has stuck to this sonata.

Andante favori, WoO 57 was originally intended as the second movement.

(…) Beethoven’s best-known and most misunderstood works.

This sonata was written in 1804, in the same twelve-month span as the “Appassionata”.
The two sonatas have vastly different characters, and yet they share many things: their epic scale, their refusal to be hemmed in by classical conventions or proportions, and perhaps most of all, their ubiquity.

The Waldstein Sonata is a work of tremendous mystery, and ultimately spirituality as well. It is also a piece that hugely expands the piano’s range of sonic possibilities: it asks the instrument to shrink to a whisper and to expand into a cathedral, and it uses the pedal in revolutionary ways – this is probably Beethoven’s first piano work to ask the performer to defy the limitations of the instrument, which becomes such a central characteristic in his late period. And perhaps most importantly, the Waldstein truly rewrites the rules of classical harmony in ways that were to send Beethoven on a new path that he remained on for the rest of his life.


3 movements:

  1. Allegro con brio (C major)
  2. Introduzione. Adagio molto (F major)
  3. Rondo. Allegretto moderato – Prestissimo (C 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 – 1977

Annie Fischer – 1977

Richard Goode – 1993

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

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