Composed in 18021. Three movements.
The warmest of all Beethoven's late sonatas.
In a late sonata, where you would expect ambiguity, radical structural innovation, twisted counterpoint, a conventional first movement, with such a simple and unadorned theme, its only guarantee, actually, is its beauty. The development is not simply simple but consciously minimalist, and the shift to and from E Major in the recap is exquisitely beautiful.
There is also the structural rigidity of the sonata. The first bars of the sonata become the theme of the first fugue in the last movement and, reversed, also the theme of the second fugue. The opening phrase of the second scherzo movement also becomes the arioso of the final movement. So Beethoven doesn't just change the focus of the sonata form from the first movement to the last, or even uses the ending movement to unify the other two; In this sonata, the closing movement is where the themes presented in the other two really take flight, and the closing movement is built almost entirely around the material already presented.
In the last movement, the most sophisticated use of counterpoint of the 32 sonatas is presented, not because the contrapuntal writing is ingenious, which it is, the Sonatas No. 28 and No. 29 also have it, but rather by the use of counterpoint (perhaps for the first time in musical history) as part of a dramatic narrative. The final movement is basically a struggle between the arious theme, which is not simply sad but overwhelmingly desperate (dolente = painful, aching, ermattet = exhausted) to the point that it literally breaks the second time it is presented, and the escape, that radiates an inner strength and comfort.
In the end, the escape wins, but in an extraordinary way. The second fugue not only takes on a triumphant form, it burns up and disappears. As the texture thickens and intensifies with simultaneous reversals and displays of increases and decreases, suddenly there are only two voices dueling in ecstasy, with the 2-voice shift on, incessantly reaching higher levels, and suddenly there is a single voice, the main theme spills out into a large chorale, a theme that leaps out of its own abyss of counterpoint, and when finally released it resonates with a kind of joy that should be impossible after the arioso, but somehow is not. . And because the theme of the fugue is really the first few bars of the entire sonata, the sonata has an open-ended cyclical form, with the basic movement throughout the entire piece from lyricism (opening) to hope (the final bars).
Beethoven was probably still recovering from a prolonged period of illness. This is the period during which he composed the Missa Solemnis, the work that Beethoven declared his greatest achievement. His philosophy, as expressed in letters and conversation books written during this time, was that he wanted to serve the muse only with the highest works, and that all works that were written to appeal to a "popular" market would be they were created only to provide a modest livelihood. In reality, the composer continued to pay for his nephew Karl's education.
The autograph is dated December 25, 1821, which is believed to be the day the composer completed the work. The sonata was published by Schlesinger in July 1822 in Berlin and Paris, Steiner in Vienna, Clementi in London. A second autograph containing the passages from the Adagio, ma non troppo to the end of the work. They are believed to have been prepared by the composer to correct errors in Schlesinger's publications. The first London edition shows a dedication to Antonie Brentano, and there is correspondence from the composer to other publishers indicating that this dedication was also supposed to be on his publications. Many scholars believe that Antonie was the subject of Beethoven's famous 1812 love letter to the Immortal Beloved, a document that was apparently never mailed but was found among Beethoven's belongings after his death. death. Beethoven later dedicated the Diabelli variations to her. Almost all subsequent editions of this work do not have the dedication.
Along with the sonata no. 30, this is the most frequently performed of the five late sonatas. Contains recitative-type improvisation and fugue writing. The third movement combines slow movement and fugue in a structure that is both challenging and uplifting, moving from the desperate depth of the arioso sections to a grand final climax that is glorious in its affirmation.
The melodic scheme of the opening of the first movement foretells the theme of the fugue.
The theme of the second movement, some have observed, is a free reversal of the opening melody of the first movement; that can also predict the downline of the arioso.
The first theme is established with mostly harmonic support, then expanded into a song line with an accompanying sixteenth note.
1/32 arpeggios, marked staccato on each set of four, to form a transition to the second theme area.
The second subject area is in the traditional dominant, E♭ major.
The first phrase of the opening theme is repeated in the right hand, moving through F minor, D♭ major, and D♭ minor.
The first theme is assisted by a lengthy change of course that develops in D♭ major from bar 63 and transitions into E major with a signature change of key. The transitional arpeggios and the first phrase of the second theme remain in E major.
A transition bar returns to the opening key, and the rest of the second theme area unfolds.
A coda emerges from the final passage of the second theme area. It incorporates a return of the arpeggio transition, as well as fragments of the opening phrase of the first theme. The movement ends in silence.
The mood of this move, which is reputed to be derived from a well-known drinking song.
The first eight measures are repeated. The second section consists of four sets of eight measures each, repeated with first and second endings.
The trio section features an irregular and difficult passage for the right hand over a syncopated bass line in the left hand, mainly in groups of eight bars.
The written da capo repeats both sections, the first section being repeated being written to incorporate a ritardando in four bars.
A coda features syncopated chords and long time, rests and resolves in F major, possibly to act as the dominant of the opening phrase of the next movement, which is in D♭ minor.
Adagio ma non troppo is free in character and features various tonality areas, rhythmic patterns and tempos.
After opening in D♭ minor, they move three bars into a recitative rising to a dominant minor with a ninth built on E♭. Then a three-progression chord marked Andante leads to an Adagio with a prolonged sonority in B major-minor and seventh chord in the left hand, on which the 7th repeats in 1/16 and 1/32 notes.
This section of A♭ minor is in 12/16 and is marked Adagio ma non troppo.
A three-part fugue in A♭ major in 6/8 time signature opens with a subject that appears to be drawn from the opening phrase of the first movement of this work. The octave doubling on the lowest line enhances the final climax of the fugue.
A striking modulation in G minor paves the way for the repetition of the arioso with small melodic variations, the lower semitone voicing reflecting the Ermattet, klangend (exhausted, sad) indication.
The final section is marked L'istesso tempo della Fuga, poi a poi di nuovo vivente (the same tempo as the fugue, little by little with a new liveliness). The subject ascends from the lowest to the highest register, rising higher and higher, increasing the sonority and exaltation. This remarkable seminal passage culminates in an A♭ major that heralds a resounding spiritual victory over the dark forces of the preceding arioso sections.