Composed between 1801 and 1802.
Beethoven's last Opus 31 sonata is one of the warmest, big-hearted lyrical things he ever wrote. It is the penultimate sonata in 4 movements (the last one is the Hammerklavier) and does not contain slow movements. It's also worth noting that 3 of them are in full-blown sonata form!
The first movement is a total delight to listen to, from the surprising harmony that opens the piece, to the richly textured chord response and thematic group that emerges from it, the repeated memories of the kind of motivic introduction that begins, makes us think in the Pathetique!, and the wonderful thing that rises that is the second theme, all air and light.
The second move is one of my all-time favorites - it's hilarious and addictive to the ear. Everything fits very well; the bassoon-type bass, the off-beat accents, the absurd little F sustained in bars 2 and 3, the violent contrasts and the textures of sixteenth note against sixteenth note in the second theme, those repeated C that sound as if the player had had a disastrous memory slip.
The third movement is the last minuet movement Beethoven ever wrote. After this sonata it looked like the form didn’t quite have enough dramatic potential for him, although what we have here is a real nice example of Beethoven’s ability to write a beautiful piece when he really wanted to.
The last movement is full of rhythmic arrogance; from the first tarantella-like idea, to the vigorously funny second, to the insistent third, and the suddenly coruscating textures, almost like Waldstein, that suddenly emerge, it all comes together perfectly in a natural expression of pure joy.