Beethoven Piano Sonata 3

Opus 2 No. 3

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Beethoven portrait conducting an orchestra
Beethoven Piano Sonata 3 First edition

Beethoven Piano Sonata 3 –First Edition

Vienna, 1796.


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"The genie is made up of 2% talent and 98% constant perseverance." –L. V. Beethoven.

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Beethoven Piano Sonata 3 –Interesting Facts

The third of the Sonatas Op.2 is the masterpiece of the virtuoso compendium; it is brilliant, outgoing, and gently virtuous and humorous, full of impactful and motivating themes of the kind that easily lean toward developmental treatment. Its textures are clearly concert nature; there are many passages that mimic orchestral tutti or quartets in the second movement, and there are Emperor concerto-style cadences at two points in the first movement. The humor can be broad, as in can be seen in the first movement, or subtle, as in the initial stroke of the fourth movement, the dissonances in the third, or the recapitulation in false D major and sudden harmonic changes in the first movement.

Beethoven Piano Sonata 3 –Novelties

Sonata with a diversity of textures and figurations: the first movement is symphonic, the second is Bachiano, the third delicate with scathing accents, and the fourth alternately mischievous and lyrical.


The third movement added retains the Scherzo designation, an innovation that appeared in the above Sonata, No. 2. The structure and time signature of the minuet and trio are still used, but the spirit of the work is lighter and the tempo faster. The movements are more extensive. The first movement features two second themes in the exhibition followed by previously presented material, as well as a closing theme. The first and fourth movements have codas that are modeled after cadences that would normally appear in a concerto for piano and orchestra.

Harmonic Characteristics

The exposition of the first movement features a second theme in the dominant minor, G minor, and then another second theme in the dominant major. The use of the tone by, E major, in the second movement which is unusual for the period. This is the only time that this relationship occurs between the first and second movements in Beethoven piano sonatas. Note, however, that exactly the same pitch relationship occurs between the first and second tracks of the first movement of the Sonata No. 21, and a parallel relationship between the first and second theme of the first movement of the Sonata No. 16.

Relations between movements

The four movements begin with in the tonic and go to the dominant or preparation to the dominant in the first sentence.

First Movement: C Major | Allegro con Brio | 4/4 | Sonata Form

Measures 1 to 3

Double thirds are an example of Beethoven for the penchant for placing technical challenges near sonata openings. Other examples are the Sonata No. 2 with fast scales, in bars 32 to 38; Sonata No. 7 with ascending broken sixths in bars 11 to 15; Sonata No. 17, fast notes in measures 3 to 18; Sonata No. 23 with broken arpeggio at cpmàses 14 to 15; and the Sonata No. 26 with double notes in bars 29 to 33. Note the articulation of the double thirds and their relationship to the following eighth notes. The only other Beethoven piano sonata in C major, the Sonata No. 21, opens with the same chord in a different register.

Measures 13 to 20

A second segment of the first theme, still in the opening key, features broken chords and octaves on sixteenth notes.

Measures 27 to 60

The first segment of the second thematic area announces a theme in G minor, the minor parallel to the expected, major dominant. This theme modulates up to D minor, A minor and G minor and reaches D major, the last function as dominant for the second segment. A new theme in the expected G major appears at bar 47.

Measure 60

Note that the left hand chord spans the interval of one tenth. Beethoven calls for this scope again at bar 136, as well as several times in the third movement of the Sonata No. 29 at bars 170, 171, 184 a 187. Although physically the distance of an octave interval differed on vintage pianos, it was often less than today's 164 to 165 mm, making the intervals easier to reach. Shallower key: immersion period, pianos also helped at that time.

Measures 61 to 77

The second segment of the first theme is used to lengthen the exposition, at a point extending to octaves in alternate hands in syncopation in bars 69 to 72, a device that will be used more widely in the developing section. This segment closes the G major tone in the expected dominant.

Measures 91 to 96

The development opens with the repetition of the cadences decorated with trill used at the end of the exhibition. The technique of linking the exposition to the development section by using figurations heard near the end of the exposition is one that Beethoven uses frequently in sonatas. To varying degrees it occurs in Soatas 6, 7, 9, 16, 20, 21, 27, 29 and 32.

Measures 97 to 108

Arpeggios derived from the second segment of the opening theme go through the diminished seventh, as well as F minor and F# minor.

Measures 109 to 138

The opening theme of the exhibition returns and is expanded to be combined with material derived from the octaves of the second subject area of the exhibition from measures 69-72, the syncopation is now underlined with sforzandi. Fragmentation of the initial figuration leads to recapitulation.


All events in the exhibition are presented in the recap in order, preserving the opening tone for the second topic area.

Measures 147 to 154

The change uses the aforementioned syncopation in octave figuration, passing through F major and G major, the latter acting as the dominant in the starting key.

Measures 218 to 232

A striking A flat major chord, followed by a figurative descending chord similar to an arpeggio, marks the beginning of a series of diminished seventh that settle on a 6-4 chord tonic. Follow a cadence, written on a small note.

Measures 233 to 257

In a quick and brilliant display, the opening motif is followed by syncopated octave material and broken octaves derived from the second segment of the first track.

Second Movement | E Major | Adagio | 2/4 | ABABA | coda

Brief explanation

As with the slow movement of the previous sonata in this ensemble, this movement is contemplative, joining others of its kind in the keyboard sonatas: opp. 7; 10, us. 1 and 3; 31, no. 2; 53; 81a; 101; 106; 109 (variations); 110 (arioso); and 111 (variations).


The two B sections develop differently, the first one opens in E minor, the second in C major. A's final statement presents the material with figurative variations and in different registers of the piano.

Measures 1 to 10

The first theme includes motivic fragments interspersed with breaks. The syncopated ascents accompany bars 7 and 9. The opening fragment passes from the tonic to the dominant, reflecting the opening of the first movement.

Measures 11 to 42

A figure of thirty-second notes played by the right hand alternates with bass octaves and melodic fragments played by the left hand crossing the right. The passage opens in E minor and goes through G major at bar 13 and A minor at bar 29.

Measures 53 to 66

An unexpected declaration of the motif A in C major marked in fortíssimo is the beginning of a much shorter return to the B section, which opens in C but moves to E major at bar 59.

Measures 77 to 82

The short coda is based on the opening motif.

Third Movement | C Major | Allegro | 3/4 | Scherzo-Trio da capo, coda


As in the second sonata of this ensemble, the concept of vivacity, the scherzo is linked with the traditional minuet. Other examples of this union can be found in the Sonatas 12, 15 and 29. Both the scherzo and trio sections present full returns of their opening segments. The trio is in A minor, the repetition of the second half is written to move on to the day capo.

Measure 1

The three eighth notes together before entering the first measure, but not linked to the quarter note of the first measure. This joint is consistent throughout the movement. The editors have differed on its execution, some extending the ligature over the bar line for the quarter note, others adding an accent on the quarter note so that it doesn't sound like the end of a phrase.

Measures 1 to 8

The first sentence ends in the dominant, subtly reflecting the motifs of the first and second movements, which end in the dominant.

Measures 55 to 64

The return of the opening section is extended, this idea being used as the basis of the coda that is going to be played after the capo.

Fourth Movement | C Major | Allegro Assai | 6/8 | Rondó | coda


As in the Sonata No. 2, the final movement is emitted in a rondo that is related to the sonata-form in which the first section B is in the dominant and the second is in the tonic. This structure appears throughout the piano. Sonatas with various alterations that bring it even closer to the sonata-allegro concept, such as including the development in the section C or eliminating the final return of A. Examples of its use are in the sonatas 2, 4, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 21, 25 and 27.

Measures 1 to 4

The first sentence of the opening theme ends with the secondary dominant of the dominant tone, a device that is in line with the harmonic profiles of the previous movements.

Measures 81 to 102

A brief development of the main theme provides a transition to theme C.

Measures 103 to 180

An unusually long C section is built on a lyrical form similar to a chorale.

Measures 259 to 296

The final declaration of theme A is presented as an integral part of the coda similar to a cadence, which opens with a long trill in the right hand with almost immediate extension in bars 269 to 279.

Measure 269

The fingering is shown in the first edition, presumably from Beethoven: Right Hand; 5, 2, 4, 1, 5, 2, 4, 1, 5, 2, 4, 1. Left Hand: 1, 3, 1, 3.

Measures 285 to 296

The trills in this section mimic motifs found near the ends of the concert cadences of this period, going from simple trills to double and triple trills before tapering off.

Measures 298 to 312

The drift towards an outer tone, A major, and slowing down the tempo, as well as reducing the dynamic level before a final burst of energy in the opening tone, is a resource that Beethoven uses frequently. Examples of this resource in the final movements Sonatas No. 5, 8, 13, 14, 24, 26 and 28.