Composed in 1809. Three movements.
I have a real soft spot for this sonata: it is the shortest of the three-movement sonatas and contains no emotional limbs, no bravado, no structural extravagance, no demonstrations of new technique or sonority (despite coming after the radically new Appassionata). And yet this sonata is beautiful, because what it is is a completely spontaneous and unforced expression of joy. It's the kind of thing you enjoy from the first listen and love from the second, and that you never have to struggle with at any point. That way it's like Mozart in his prime.
This sonata is also one of those rare things that’s more or less interpretively bulletproof: it works at all kinds of tempi, with all kinds of dynamic additions and articulations: it will end up sounding gently humorous, or lyrical, or even dramatic, but whatever it is it will sound pretty good.
The nickname Cuckoo comes from the second and third notes of the first movement (a third descending), whose harmonic elaboration in development and use in the coda has the feeling of the bird song of the same name. Interestingly, the Cuckoo motif is also important for the second movement; it is the decisive interval not only of the theme G minor, but also of the central section in E flat major of the Andante, and the third all those thirds at the beginning of the Vivace.
Another point of interest is the modulating sequence in the development of the first movement; Usually key changes in sonatas are spoken in structural terms that are very difficult to hear intuitively, but the development is a perfect textbook example of how modulation can be used to generate truly amazing moments.
And one last thing: theme A of the Rondo uses exactly the same harmony as the opening of the Opus 109, although not in character it could be more different from her: the Opus 109 is adventitious, expansive, even mysterious, but the Rondo here is tense and cheerful. It's hard not to smile at the opening of Vivace once you hear the similarity.
It was probably Baron Ignaz von Gleichtenstein (1778-1828) who introduced Beethoven and Therese Malfatti, an eighteen-year-old maiden. Beethoven wanted to marry her, but her family opposed the idea. Ironically, Gleichtenstein ended up marrying his sister Anna. His uncle Giovanni was a noted physician who treated Beethoven from time to time, including his final days. The composer wrote Für Elise with the original name of Für Therese for her, -but the copyist changed the name during a night of drinks-, and possibly had the intention of dedicating this sonata. On December 22, 1808, a concert of Beethoven's works was held at the Theatre an der Wien. It was one of the most important public events of his career. The program consisted of Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, the Choral Fantasy op. 80, three other choral extracts, and the Piano Concerto no. 4. Beethoven performed the solo part of the concerto. Extant sketches show that he altered over a hundred measures of the piano part, semi-improvising to make it more virtuosic and complex than the printed version.
At the end of 1810 this work was published as a "sonatina" almost simultaneously by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig and Clementi and his associates in London.
The opening themes of the first and second movements both rise from the tonic to the third to fifth of their respective keys in bars 1 and 2, and bar 1. The opening of the third movement also describes the tonic, third and fifth of its key, but changes the order in measures 1 and 2.
The term alla tedesca refers to a fast peasant dance, a Ländler type, in 3/4 time.
These bars of the first theme anticipate the rhythm and texture of the second theme.
Although the first theme is resolved in the traditional dominant key, D major, its emphasis on its own dominant, A major, leaves a somewhat ambiguous impression, adding to the energy of the music. The first ending returns to the starting key, G major, for the repetition, the second ending paves the way for the opening of the development in E major.
The development section is proportionally long compared to the exposition.
The first theme is expressed in E major.
The first three notes of the first theme are used repeatedly in a cross-handed figuration that occurs in two sections, the first in E major and C major, the second in C minor and E♭ major. A shortened third statement in the key of the dominant, D major, leads into the recapitulation.
The recapitulation is in the traditional way.
The second ending leads into a coda based on the first theme in which the opening phrase of the left hand is answered by the right hand. A gentle upward tonic arpeggio allows the movement to disappear.
This movement has a duration of thirty-four measures. By creating a rhythmic figuration they create a barcarolle-like effect.
Theme A features a melodic line in thirds and sixths with the right hand sustained by sets of three eighth notes in the left. The second occurrence of the theme extends into a codetta restating its opening phrase with an accompaniment of sixteenth notes followed by decorated cadenzas.
The B section uses the left-hand rhythm of the A section to create an E♭ major melody. The left-hand accompaniment becomes groups of sixteenth notes.
Theme A is presented in two sets of eight measures, each marked to be repeated. The first return of A is without repeats.
The B section is in E minor and is very short, sounding almost like a variation of the A section in that its opening motive has the same rhythm, as does the transition back to A.
A change in key signature heralds the C section. It introduces a new theme in sixteenth note scales and eighth note broken arpeggios, first in C major, then in F major, returning to C major.