The piano sonata in G (Op. 14, No. 2) still keeps a light and witty mood like it’s counterpart, the sonata in E (Op. 14, No. 1) but brings back some of complex form from Beethoven’s heavier sonatas. However, the sonata in G is lighter than its counterpart since it’s middle movement is a pleasant march and not the solemn, medieval dance we saw before. Beethoven tends to user larger and more complex forms to convey heavy emotions, but this rule is not absolute as this sonata is a comedy of manners.
The first movement is in sonata form, per usual, and right from the upbeat Beethoven employs his usual trick of beginning a subject at the dominant of the intended key, in this case D, before resolving it as opposed to simply starting at the “proper” key itself, in this case G. The main subject is built on the descending triad while using a sharpened leading tone before the mediant; A# to B, while the base is a rising triad. Beethoven peaks his subject at a high C, the subdominant, before extending the descending triad into syncopated descending Am7 notes before falling from D to G, dominant to tonic. Beethoven averts from using C, the subdominant, and opts for a minor sevenths chord, the submediant of Am7 instead.
The transition begins, and Beethoven modulates from G to D during this phase by slowly moving his baseline up the scale from a low G in the base climbing to an A in the tenor, putting the harmony in A so he can resolve to the new tonic key in D. Beethoven builds a simple melody from a descending whole step into a syncopated melodic line, then augments into sixteenth notes, locking the key notes as F#, D, and A, the D triad. The harmonies Am-G#d-A-E7 cycle in this manner, mutating Am, the supertonic, into A, the secondary dominant, until the harmony falls on A and the melody itself rises to a high A.
The subordinate subject evokes the image of two divas as the soprano register is occupied by two parts a 3rd interval part: a comedy of manners indeed. Beethoven highlights the m2nd interval and breaks the melody’s fall at the last moment with a half cadence, then smoothly leads the subordinate subject to developing material, a small gentle arc built from the F# note, the mediant, while of Bm, the submediant, and E7, the secondary dominant, spice up the harmonies. The melody augments into 3rd notes but its key notes are the Bm triad, the submediant, while the base climbs G-G#-A to the dominant harmony, then resolves to a half cadence on the C#d leading tone.
Beethoven lets the two divas return to make their closing statements; rather than short snippets of arpeggios and cadences, we get a long melodic sentence, letting the divas expand the movement and make their presence heard. The soprano posits a question with material based on the F# note, the base provides an answer with an A-A#-B line, their dialogue landing on an imperfect cadence three times before finally settling the issue. The tenor joins the divas and base so a complete SATB chorus of four voices carries out the entire exchange.
So we move to the precore, which Beethoven uses to build up to and smoothly transition to the core; he returns to his main subject, but now mutates the home key into Gm, and even plays some subdominant: Cm. The main subject develops through imitation in the treble and base, the harmony lingering in Fhd7, the subtonic of Gm. We are in the air as to where Beethoven will lead us next, but we know that it will most likely take us down the circle of fifths, which Beethoven does, taking us to Bb, the median of Gm. The two divas return to sing their usual first phrase, but then linger on Eb and Cm, and their respective leading tones. Beethoven uses the base to cleverly fill in all sorts of harmonies that have Eb and Cm notes in them while leading us to the core proper: F7-Cd7-Cm-Ab. Beethoven is resourceful with his diminished chords as always, since they are ambiguous by nature; the F# base implies F#d7, but it is also Cd7 in all but name, with the exact same notes, letting him easily go to Cm.
Beethoven enters the core with a sudden forte while he makes the harmonic transition just as sudden; Cm jumps to Ab without any dominant or leading tone to prepare us. The core’s subject expands on the main subject with a run up and down the scale, meanwhile the harmony jumps to the dominant of the new key before resolving to the new key. Oddly enough, most of the peak notes of the base line are the tonic of the old harmony. Thus we start Ab but leaps to D7-Gm, then to C7-Fm and F7-Bb+4. The triplet riffs Beethoven plays in the treble change with the harmony, making a downward melody that travels from the Eb to C notes, then Fh to D notes; most of these notes are the mediant of their relative chords. Beethoven develops the scale and makes melody’s peak note Ab, the subtonic of Bb; so we have a Bb7 chord, making us expect Eb.
And Beethoven delivers on this promise, the main subject entering on Eb. Most of us would expect the recapitulation to begin at this point, but this is a false reprise as it is in the wrong key, and it functions as the precore for yet another core. Beethoven develops on the dotted note descending figure, now starting on the Fh note, the secondary dominant, and uses it to go completely down the scale to Bb before leading us to D, while the harmonies themselves make use of dominants leading to relative keys to Eb, such as G-Cm7 and D-Gm. Beethoven starts his second core in D7 leading to Gm, and stays on this harmonic scheme as the second core is brief. The treble line goes wild with 16th note scales, an augmenting of the baseline from the first core, while the base is essential the main subject inverted and using a C# note at the end to lead to the D note.
The retransition stays on D7 as far as the base of triplet notes is concerned, this drawn out dominant harmony landing on G at the very end. The melody has a different idea; the motif of the main subject returns in base and soprano lines with various leading tones of C#m-D and G#d-A, and ends up descending through a long chain of sharpened leading tones while developing the theme of descending through triads, descending through the F7a and Am, and finally holds us on a C# note.
The recapitulation starts; the main subject stays the same. The transition does have C, the subdominant, as the harmony in the base, but the melody keeps playing an A note on the downbeat, making the overall harmony Am7, and Beethoven even uses Dm9, D9, and D+4. These interesting harmonies disrupt the subdominant harmony we expect to hear in a recapitulation as the melody keeps playing the “wrong” notes on the downbeat. Again, this is another of Beethoven’s tactics.
Beethoven carries on the subordinate subject and closing phrases as usual, but ends the closing statement with some new material with C harmonies in it, even peaking at a C note before falling down a C triad, at last having some subdominant. The coda, a final reprise of the main subject, always pays some last respects to the subdominant, with the melody not interfering with the C triad at the base with any A note but instead peaking at C to compliment it. The dotted note figure develops into a falling G scale of 16th notes, landing on a low G, the tonic. However, Beethoven uses the base to make the harmony D9, a less common but frequent form of the dominant. Beethoven takes the main subject motif on a tour through a few more notes: D, the dominant, to C, the subdominant, to B, the mediant, ending on an imperfect cadence.
The second movement is a variation on a march, light-hearted and seemingly simple but with colorful dominants and leading tones to various harmonies related to C. The first phrase of the subject is simple enough, turning and rising to F, the subdominant, before falling to D so the harmony lands on an inauthentic cadence. Round two: Beethoven rises to A, the submediant, before falling back to another inauthentic cadence, using an E7-Am progression along the way, then makes another effort; he makes a long climb up the scale, stopping twice on a G harmony to emphasize the dominant, the first progression D7-G, the second Am7-Gd7-G. The melody culminates on C, the subdominant, while the harmony is D7, before falling on G, the dominant.
Beethoven shifts harmonies as he develops his subject through two descending scale figures. On the first time, melody starts at a G note and peaks at a C note, but Beethoven returns to the C harmony to modulate briefly to F, the subdominant. The second time, our melody starts from A, the submediant, and falls to B, the leading tone, with the harmonies changing to C#d-Dm and F#d7-G. Beethoven leads us back to the dominant so he can reprise his subject on the tonic key. So our first phrase comes back but an octave higher, but it doesn’t stop on an imperfect cadence; it quickly protests that little defeat with a sudden forte on G before falling to C. Round two: the melody makes a chromatic rise to F, the subdominant, the base giving us the progressions of C#d-Dm and B-Em. The melody falls from F to C, from subdominant to tonic while the base gives the harmonic context of F-C-G7-C.
I spent so much time on the melody because it is intricate for such a light and childish subject – Andras Schiff said it sounded like playing with toy soldiers – and Beethoven stays very faithful to it throughout the movement. This is not like the Diabelli variations where Beethoven builds his variations from the harmonic structure up; these variations are very Classical in that sense. However, rather than adding notes to the melody to make it fancier as Haydn and Mozart would have done, Beethoven plays around with all the other voices and explores how they relate to the melodic subject.
The first variation has synchopated dominant notes and 8th note scales in the notes, while the melody subject itself exchanges between base and tenor parts, returning to the soprano part at the end while the base synchopates with the melody. The second variation has the staccato melody and base play at different times, a common device Beethoven uses for comedic effect, as he seems to have trouble making his hands play together. The base exchanges between a base part, that largely stays on the notes of C, the tonic, G, the dominant, and F, the subdominant, while the tenor line moves as counterpoint, and often features chromatic notes to flesh out the harmonies. The third variation takes a different style; the funny staccatos are exchanges for elegant legatos. The melodic subject is now made of the peak notes of triplet figures in the treble while the base becomes an elegant melodic line of its own in counterpoint.
The coda begins exactly the same as the subject before any variations happened, but all parts are an octave higher and it abruptly stops at a G#d-Am7 deceptive cadence. Three pianissimo chords follow, then a sudden fortissimo chord finishes the piece. Beethoven borrows this device from Haydn’s “Surprise” symphony (in G, Hob. 1/94), using it as both a prank to make us jump from our seats and a satisfying dramatic finish.
My Beethoven sonata book labels the third movement in G a scherzo, which is correct in beat but misleading in form. While the movement is in 3/8 time it has a rondo form. Beethoven does not bother to balance out the first movement with a strong last movement, because though it does have witty strettos and tactical fermatas on the dominant harmony, the second movement provides the most emotional weight and technical subtleties to balance out the first movement. This movement; a little flourish at the end likes many Classical last movements in the days of Haydn and Mozart, but still with wit and substance.
The rondo’s main subject is based on a motif: a little sweep of three notes. Beethoven puts many little motifs around the G scale to build a subject. He uses a sharpened leading note like he did in the first movement, peaking at C# and D, the dominant. As the phrase resolves, the tenor moves in 3rds with the soprano, creating F#, a major leading harmony, before going to G. The melody rises up and peaks at D once more, but quickly falls down to G, making the progression F#d7-G with the tenor part. Beethoven develops his subject by turning his little sweeps into triplets, starting at D, the dominant, and finishing at C, the subdominant. The triplets are lengthened, with imitation in the treble and base, the treble peaking at a high C note and falling to an F# note, suspending us in the leading tone and D7 harmony. The main subject reprises its first phrase, rises to D, the dominant, but the melody falls down to G, the tonic, twice.
Beethoven kicks off the subordinate subject with a leap to the distant B dominant of Em, resolving to Em, the submediant of G; the triplets become arpeggios, ending in G and B notes. We hear four calls, three of them in this pattern, the last call progressing E-Am, letting us easily progress to D7, the dominant of G. Beethoven holds us there in suspense and comedy with a long silence, as if he forgot what to play next. The subject in G returns with no alterations, but then we encounter a bridge where the subject’s development material swaps hands, then a stretto of rising triplets put together without breaks, each one culminating in an F note, the subdominant. The entire bridge is in G7, preparing us for a subordinate subject in C, the subdominant, but a suspended D# leading note implies an Em key.
But this is a false alarm. We reach a second subordinate subject in C, made of a singing melody and a graceful slurred arpeggio base, greatly contrasting the quirky and playful subject. The melody builds on rising from C# to G, the dominant of C, then falling back either to C#, the question leading to a secondary dominant, or Ch, the tonic answer. Meanwhile the base notes make a chromatic descent from C to G. Together, the chromatic notes of the treble and base make the interesting progression C#d7-A-Dm-Dd-G-C. The usual Am becomes A instead while through Dd-G we see the strange diminished dominant harmony.
The subordinate subject evolves further as Beethoven takes us through new material; here the melody is built on parallel 3rds falling from G to D. We also see Beethoven stick a leap to A, the submediant, to briefly delay the final D note, another trope he often employs. The base assumes a similar melody through the tenor part, the Eb notes mutating the tonic into Cm. The base at this point uses leading notes to bring about F#d and D7, especially when it rises in scales build on G and F# notes, implying a return to the key of G. However, the subordinate theme reprises its role, using G7-C progressions and using subdominant to tonic leaps to lead us to new material in C.
We encounter the main subject again, but in C; the false reprises peaks on the dominant, then the soprano and tenor fall a long way in thirds, their path built on the C and F#d triads using that resolving cell in the main subject. Then the true main subject returns in G with no change. Beethoven leads us to another bridge, similar as the first one. The strettos are in D7 but are then softened with F#d scales and a C chromatic scale. Beethoven tricks us with another false reprise in F, resolving it with a D7-Am7 deceptive plagal cadence, if such a thing even exists. He transitions to the key of G with small dotted notes falling from C, the subdominant of G, to G, the tonic. The alto rises from G to C, falling to C; the harmony returns us to G through the secondary dominant A7-G-D7-G, even sneaking in an in-between harmony.
The third subordinate subject uses triplets in the keys of G or D7, but the peak note is always D, the dominant. The thematic material itself is in the base, built on leap up a 6th and a leap down an octave. All the cells combined creates a broad melodic form, of G to D, a melodic line we saw elsewhere in this movement. Beethoven concludes the subordinate subject with a crescendo of rising parallel thirds between treble and base, building into a fortissimo of G7 and C harmonies, the melodic peak always in G. Then the melody breaks back into triplets, but with G notes on top, while the base uses the secondary dominant and in-between harmony to progress back to G through C-A7-G-D7.
Beethoven repeats the third subordinate subject, and follows it with a coda. The main subject makes a reprise, albeit with some octaves thrown in, then breaks down into the C#-D leading notes before falling down from C, the subdominant, to G, the tonic. The coda repeats all its musical cells an octave higher, a motif Beethoven used throughout the entire sonata.