The Andante Favori was initially intended to be the second movement of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” sonata, but it ended up as a standalone work. Had it been the second movement of the muscular and heroic “Waldstein,” it would have inevitably been compared to the outer movements, but fortunately, as a separate work, we can focus on its qualities without drawing any comparisons.
As is often the case with Beethoven, the Andante Favori offers both the performer and the listener a wide range of characters, conflicts, and contradictions. The first phrase poses an immediate question: What is this work? Is it a minuet, as alluded to by the rhythm of the melody? Or should we follow the harmony and the texture, in which case it starts out as a chorale?
The work abounds with such exciting puzzles and questions. But there is one aspect that I find especially endearing. It was on the advice of a friend that Beethoven extracted the Andante from the “Waldstein” sonata and replaced it with a short transitional second movement. In the context of the “Waldstein,” the Andante would be hugely incongruent, going diametrically against the character of the sonata. Could it be that Beethoven’s modesty in heeding his friend’s advice is somehow implicit in the work’s elegance and gracefulness? And if so, what do we make of the expansive coda in which there is a passionate and almost tumultuous passage of octaves, in stark contrast to the elegance of the rest of the piece, and much in line with Beethoven’s unrelenting and heroic style of the middle period? Is contradiction intrinsic to this work?