A famous [?infamous] note

When does one do something one doesn’t believe in, especially in the hallowed realms of Beethoven playing?

The A natural or A sharp in the first movement of the ‘Hammerklavier’ (bars 225/226, just before the recapitulation) is one of the most disputed notes in all music: if whole books haven’t been written about it, certainly copious articles, essays and footnotes have. The point is that Beethoven is temporarily in 5 sharps, B major, and the question is: did he just forget to put naturals before the A’s or did he intend the much more bizarre but just plausible A sharp, arriving back at B-flat major for the recapitulation enharmonically (a bit like the first movement of the Fourth Symphony, in the same key), rather than by means of a normal dominant-tonic cadence if they are A naturals?

Having read a fair bit about it and weighed up the evidence, I’m convinced it should be A natural. And yet I’m going to play A sharp! The A sharp is not quite impossible, and it is so arresting and magnificently daring that, once one has heard it like that, the “normal” A natural is always a bit disappointing. I almost wonder if Beethoven, maybe subconsciously, wanted A sharp, knew it was, sort of, wrong, and deliberately “forgot” to put in the necessary natural signs to leave it as a distant possibility for posterity.


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