Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major, Op. 28, is a piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven. It was named Pastoral or Pastorale by Beethoven's publisher at the time, A. Cranz. While nowhere near as famous as its predecessor, the Piano Sonata No. 14 or Moonlight Sonata, it is admired for the intricacy and technicality in the ease it portrays. It takes roughly 25 minutes to play the whole work.
Published in 1801, it is dedicated to the Count Joseph von Sonnenfels. This sonata was written at a time where Beethoven's alarm at his worsening deafness increased. Nevertheless, Beethoven paints a serene image with this sonata.
It has been speculated whether the title 'pastoral' refers to the sense of countryside and nature (the 6th symphony pastoral sense), or to its sense of calm, simplicity and lightness. Beethoven's publishers had a tendency to name his sonatas without any consultation from Beethoven himself. Beethoven wrote most of his works with greatly contrasting parts, and behaves no different in making this sonata. Though its first and last movements can well be described as "pastorale," the inner two find no real similarity to the nickname at all.
The first movement, Allegro, begins in the tonic major with a repetitive and monotone bass line sometimes described as "timpanic." This droning theme continues in various forms throughout the sonata. On top is the simple primary theme of the movement. It is very simple and quiet, yet cunning. Eventually, the work introduces a second, more tense melody in F-sharp minor, which builds up into a passage of constant quavers, on which is laid a rather simple, yet elegant melody. The development of the movement runs through various minor keys, ever becoming more dramatic and angst-filled as it compresses the main theme into a repeated one-bar rhythm, which gradually fades away. It then recapitulates back into the sweet and easy-going themes of the beginning.
The Andante movement is more forlorn and subdued. It is in D minor. The primary feature is the staccato semiquaver bass, giving the sense of a march. There is a slight diversion in the tonic major involving dialogue between a dotted, staccato rhythm and a gentle, rather playful set of semiquavertriplets. It then returns to the sombre tune with graceful harmonisation and variations of the primary melody. There is a sense of quiet solitude to it, but it is never menacing or overemotional. This movement was Beethoven's personal favourite.
The scherzo e trio is rather playful, and certainly humorous. The tune is joyous and cheerful yet straightforward. Its most important feature is the contrast between four long notes, each an octave apart, and a fast quaver melody. The frenetic trio, in B minor, repeats a simple four-bar melody eight times over, with a relentless broken octave/chord bass figuration adding harmonic, rhythmic, and dynamic intensity as the repeats progress. It provides a diversion to the blithe scherzo, contrasting sharply in tone and adding gravity to the prevailing humor. The movement as a whole provides an interesting comparison with the interlude of the second.
The final movement is a lilting rondo, and is probably the movement which comes closest to the sense of the word 'pastoral'. It sways and moves. Interestingly, out of not only his piano sonatas but all of his published works up to this point, this is the first time that Beethoven decides to write non troppo, therefore this instruction clearly means a lot to him. Some critics attribute the repeating bass line to a bagpipe, others to a dancing gigue. Beethoven employs various amusing, interesting and very adventurous episodes, all with different moods, rhythms, and harmonic texture. The finale, played a little faster than the allegro (Più allegro), can be termed as the only 'virtuoso' passage in the whole sonata. This exciting, brilliant ending rounds off what is generally a calm sonata.
Shortly after Beethoven wrote this piece, he pledged to take on a new path and direction.