Composed in 1804. Two movements.
It's hard not to feel a bit of pity for the Op.54 – it’s a little thing jammed right between the massive Waldstein and Appassionata, and even though it’s every bit as radical as those behemoths it’s practically unknown and rarely performed. This is probably because its radical nature is expressed in a way that makes it hard to pin down; the Waldstein is bright, and Appassionata is dark, and the Op.54 is – well, what, exactly? Happy? Delicate? Tipsy? I suppose the way to put it is this: it’s structurally very odd, but in a rather gently misleading sort of way.
Take the first movement, which is in ABABA form. The A section is formed from a theme that’s designed to have no hint of tension or progression in it; all of its 8 phrases end in the tonic. The B section has a theme that (a) basically isn’t a theme, being formed of just brusque octaves, (b) modulates without preparation, (c) suddenly decides to shift midway to 2/4 time, and (d) has suddenly become a *lot* shorter the second time it appears. The only real development you get is the decoration of the A theme each time it appears, and the whole movement is built almost entirely around the contrast between the two themes. this is also a feature of some of the very latest sonatas, in particular the Opus 109 in E Major.
The second movement is even weirder. It's in sonata form, but either the exposition doesn't give you the full theme (and yes, it's basically monothematic, with what could be a new idea in development), or the recap itself continues to aggressively develop the theme. And the whole texture of the movement is surprisingly Chopinesque: it is a very pianistic perpetuum mobile in harmony of two parts on a single theme, with a strange accent. The only texture this movement seems to know is counterpoint, the only counterpoint it seems to know is 2-part counterpoint, and the only type of 2-part counterpoint it knows about is basically, well, arpeggios. Tonally, it moves between melodious farce and direct drama and is modulated with abandon in distant tones, in contrast to the more typical dominant tonic scheme of the first movement.
In early 1804, Beethoven moved his home to a location that would help him produce his opera, then titled Leonore. The rooms proved unsatisfactory, as shown in a letter dated March 1804 to Joseph Sonnleithner (1766–1835), who at the time was Secretary to the Court Theatres. After expressing the hope that the opera would be produced in June, the composer complained: Since in my current rooms the servant has to sleep in the kitchen, by now I've had three servants, and the third doesn't either. will tolerate this arrangement for a long time, apart from other inconveniences…. I don't want to spend another hour in this miserable hole.
The first performance of the opera did not actually take place until November 20, 1805, but Beethoven moved to the suburbs for the summer and in October took an apartment in a house owned by Baron Johann Baptist von Pasqualati (1777–1830), where the composer resided intermittently for more than a decade. This residence, which is located in the Mölkerbastei, is currently a Beethoven memorial museum.
The summer of 1804, when this sonata was being written, was the summer when, as Ferdinand Ries recalls, Beethoven tore off the cover of Symphony No. 3 to remove the dedication to Napoleon. Beethoven said: So he too is just an ordinary man. He too will trample on all human rights and indulge only his own ambition; he will set himself above all others and become a tyrant!
This sonata was offered to Breitkopt & Härtel together with the sonata no. 21 in a letter dated August 26, 1804. The publication was delayed, because in a letter dated April 18, 1805, the composer demanded that the work be published within the next two months, apparently in vain. The sonata was published by the Bureau d'arts et d'industrie in 1806. The work does not bear a dedication.
The first of the non-didactic two-movement sonatas, the other sonatas are no. 24, no. 27 and no. 32. There is no fully realized sonata form structure in this work, although the second movement follows a compressed version of that form, one that is similar to the final movement of no. 6, also in F major.
There may be a tenuous connection between the F major opening in the ascending lines of the two movements in bars 1-4 and 1-8 respectively.
The music is like a minuet, but the structure resembles a two-part rondo.
The elegant first theme unfolds in two sets of twelve measures.
The section B is made up of triplet octaves that go into free imitation. The passage is double, the first instance beginning in F major and ending in C major, the second beginning in E♭ major and ending in D♭ major. A three-note snippet serves as a transition, back to the A section at bars 58 to 69.
The return of section A unfolds with figurative variations.
The second occurrence of the B section is only ten bars long and remains in the opening key, F major.
The final appearance of the section A is enhanced by florid variation figures leading into a cadence-like passage with a series of trills in bars 132–135 and a final recitative, with time signature a tempo Adagio change.
The A theme serves as the coda, now presented with a repeated note from the pedal point in the left hand on the tonic.
This movement is one of perpetual motion, featuring nonstop sixteenth notes throughout.
The opening thematic idea consists of a rising tonic arpeggio followed by broken sixths. Imitatively enters F major. This monothematic section, marked to be repeated, ends in C major. The second ending is moved to A major.
This section acts as a development, opening in A major and moving through a variety of keys, with sections beginning in C minor at bar 53, A♭ major at bar 75, and C major at bar 99.
The return in F major is more than twice the length of the opening section. At one point, entries follow each other in C major at bar 134, B♭ major at bar 138, and A♭ major at bar 142 in development form.
The coda features the opening theme marked più Alegro. The movement ends fortissimo but abruptly.