Studying Beethoven – Piano Sonata in Cm (Op. 13)

The Pathetique sonata (in Cm, Op. 13) is arguably Beethoven’s first great sonata; at least it was the first one to earn itself a nickname, one that Beethoven liked for a change. The sonata is a milestone for Beethoven, where the composer achieves a high sense of drama never done before in his career, taking his skills to the next level. He was only 27 years old at the time.

The sonata itself comes in a structure prominent in Beethoven’s later great sonatas; it is composed in three movements, with a great first movement in the full scope of sonata form balanced by the second and third movement combined; in the same structural approach in the Waldstein (in C, Op. 53) and the Appassionata (in Fm, Op. 57). The Pathetique is in a minor key, so it follows a structure where a serene and deeply felt middle movement stands between two emotional abysses. Later sonatas that follow this pattern are the Moonlight (in C#m, Op. 27), the Tempest (in Dm, Op. 31), and the Appassionata (in Fm, Op. 57).

Grave – Allegro di molto e con brio 

The first movement is of truly epic proportions, boasting a grand and tragic slow introduction followed by a dark and agitated sonata form, with the grand, tragic motif recurring at the development and coda sections. The introduction motif exists to add extra weight to the sonata form and to vastly increase the first movement’s emotional breadth and depth. While the main subject in the sonata form proper is truly pathetic, the sonata would be hardly better than the early Fm sonata (Op. 2) without the extra motif. Beethoven always looked forward, to climb higher and higher, and so he considered it a failure if he merely repeated himself.

The Grave motif has a melodic arc based on forcefully rising up two steps, then sighing down one step; it holds a dotted rhythm that characterized French Baroque music by giving it powerful feeling and royal grandness, most effectively used by Jean-Baptiste Lully; it harmonically moves to a diminished seventh chord and hangs on it before resolving to a new key. Regarding melodic line, Beethoven peaks twice, with the melody at a high subdominant note relative to the key he resolves to; the first note being Ab with Beethoven resolving to Eb and the second note being F with Beethoven resolving to Cm.

Beethoven spends the first few bars slowly rising up the Cm scale, his harmonies Cm and Bd7, later adding some F#d7 to lead to G, the dominant. – The melodic note is first the tonic, then subdominant, then tonic of Cm, pointing that Beethoven makes much use of the subdominant key in this movement, which is Fm, significant since Fm was considered to be the darkest key in Beethoven’s time – Beethoven slowly climbs his way up to the Ab note (with a small leap from F to Ab), meanwhile his harmonies lead F#d7-G before using keys close to Cm to reach Bb7, preparing us for Eb. (Notice that Beethoven briefly plays C instead of Cm, adding a more colorful touch to the passage.)

Now in Eb, Beethoven develops his Grave motif further by contrasting a piano, tender, pleading phrase with a fortissimo, forceful denial. – Beethoven uses this idea of pleading and denial in other words, such as the second movement of his piano concerto in G (Op. 58) – Beethoven slowly works his way up the Eb scale (but never “perfectly” as he almost always includes small leaps to make the melodic arc more jagged) all the way to the high F note, frequently using leading tones such as C# and Eh. However, he does take the melody in interesting turns by using interesting harmonies; he moves to D of all chords, mutates it to Dd, and moves to Fd.

Once Beethoven reaches that high F note, he modulates Gm7-Ab, meaning he briefly denies us the Cm we expect to hold us hanging a little while longer and to play the softest and most tender phrase of the introduction. The last bar comes in the standard harmonies of Cm, Bd7, and G7, and shrinks the note values further to play a long descending chromatic scale. And Beethoven hangs us on a diminished chord (Bd7) while holding us on a sudden high note, which is a typical technique for Beethoven at this point.

The sonata form is monothematic; it makes use of the main subject and its variations throughout the entire movement; as a main subject, subordinate subject, closing subject, development, and coda. Haydn, the great composer and Beethoven’s teacher, also created monothematic sonatas where the same material appeared as main and subordinate subjects. The main subject itself is a rising Cm scale but uses Eh frequently, which makes the harmonies to often be Ed leading to Fm. Beethoven emphasizes Fm, the darkest key, and the leading tone gives a sharp edge that highlights the wrathful and tragic subject, which you wouldn’t get if the rising Cm scale had no accidentals. All this established the main subject, now Beethoven must add to it in order to resolve it; he does this by using half notes that move down the Cm scale, an inversion of the main subject before. Beethoven resolves through F#d7-G-Cm.

For the transition, Beethoven uses as material the syncopated sustained notes held in G, the dominant of Cm, then follows it with downward eight note arpeggios where Beethoven again uses F#d to lead to G. But all this is a small episode in Cm the whole time, now Beethoven modulates for real. He brings back the main subject so he can break it up into smaller leader notes, and he pairs it with a huge contrast; low, thundering whole notes resolving down a step. This way he modulates from F#d-G to Gd-Ab to Ad-Bb, then he breaks down the whole notes so he can use a cell to descend by the octave; he uses Ad-Bb over and over, so by highlighting Bb he prepares us for Ebm.

The subordinate subject uses material from the main subject but part of it is broken off and placed in the base. Beethoven uses repeated notes in the middle register to give harmonic context with his left hand while he jumps between low and high registers with his right, and trails this striking motif with a falling melody in the treble, again an inversion. Beethoven’s new key is Ebm, which subverts our expectations of Eb or Ab, and he points it out more by using Gb notes. He modulates us to Db during this time, from Bbd7-Ebm to Ab7-Db and Ab7a-Db. Time to raise the pressure; Beethoven uses large leaps and trails off with the descending melody more to build our anticipation as he leads us to the closing section; the harmonies change from Db to Ebm7 to Bb7, making us expect Eb major.

And for the closing section in Eb, Beethoven makes use of a long rising Eb scale but with chromatic notes thrown in; Eh-Ah-Dh, thus linking the harmony Eb to the harmony C7, the major submediant. Beethoven builds us up slowly, with sixteenth note Alberti base in opposite motion, taking the melody higher while the base goes downward, taking us to a high Eb note before falling quickly downward, resolving through Eb-Eba-Ab-Bb7-Eb. Beethoven brings us a new phrase, using a half note to underline that high Eb and descending downward in sixteenth notes. It also holds examples of where Beethoven has the implied harmonies of the two hands not agree with each other. The left hand fleshes uses repeated notes to flesh out the harmonies Cm-Fm7-Bb while the right hand fleshes out diminished sevenths of the left hand harmonies;

And finally, Beethoven plays the main subject once more, untampered with except in the key of Eb, and brings back whole notes that keep leaping by octave from the Eb6 to the Eb5 notes. He cycles through keys close to Eb, then he falls to a D note and makes the leap by two octaves, and shifts the harmonies to D7-G7 to prepare us for Cm.

Now here is where performance gets tricky. Most print editions of the Pathetique direct us to repeat the Allegro sonata form, but Andras Schiff makes a compelling argument of why we should go all the way back to the Grave introduction; it further cements in our mind the bold and tragic material that gives so much weight to the first movement.

Beethoven reprises the Grave introduction before going to the development proper. He begins in Cm again but his high note is G, the dominant, not the tonic note of C like last time. Beethoven climbs his way slowly to a high Eh note, the median, before slowly moving down to a middle Eh, making much use of the F#d7-Gm harmonies, before shifting to D#d-Em.

Beethoven lands on Em for his development, the mediant of Cm, and for his first core he uses the subordinate subject in treble and base lines, meanwhile accompanying it with tremolos or repeated quarter notes. The material itself is, the subordinate subject, a more jagged version of the main subject made entirely of leading notes, the rising scale replaced by leaps from leading cell to the next. Thus Beethoven plays the material in the treble, taking us from Em to D to Bbm, then shifts the material to the base, taking us from Bbm to Gb to Bd, then leads us from F#d7-G.

Thus begins the second core, where Beethoven drums away tremolo notes at the base in G, the dominant of Cm, there is high tension here as the 18 th century audience would expect that G base to leap to C to resolve the tension through a V-i progression. But Beethoven has no interest in letting us off the hook easily; he uses arpeggios in the tenor range to cycle through C#m-Dd-Ab-G, keeping an Ab (the submediant of Cm) as the top note. He does suddenly shift to the soprano range to play a variation of the main subject, using C#d-Dm, then makes use of something new; whole notes and trills, to bring us to Cm-G. Once Beethoven has brought us to G7, the dominant, he uses eight note arpeggios to throw us all the way down from a high F, the subdominant he makes so much use of in this movement, to a baseline C.

Now in the recapitulation, Beethoven still develops his main subject even after just reintroducing it; he develops the descending half notes to function as a new transition to trail us to the subordinate subject, modulating from Db to Bb7-Ebm to C-Fm. Beethoven puts the subordinate subject in Fm, which deviates from the usual as most listeners expect the harmony of C. But Beethoven does modulate to Cm, but even still he uses harmonies such as F9, Bb, and Ab, as if he was in Eb the whole time. The closing section is the same as before, only transposed to Cm, but at the end, when Beethoven thunders with his whole notes and two octave leap, he crashes us to F#d7, which appears like he is leading us to the G, the dominant.

He returns to the Grave introduction but without the large thick chords; the point is to create a poignant and sad feeling and keep us in suspense, which works very well as Beethoven built so much expectation beforehand. Beethoven, perhaps more than any other composer, knew the value of silence. Silence is as important to music as zero is important in math. He leads us from F#d7-Gm to Bd7-Cm to Ed7-Fm, before softly floating down the Cm scale, using Cm-G7. Beethoven uses the main subject a final time to bring the movement with a fortissimo close, using F#d7-Cm-G7-Cm, delaying the F#d7-G7 progression a bit with an in-between harmony of Cm.

Adagio cantabile 

The second movement is romantic and deeply felt, and its pensive nature contrasts the agitated and violent first movement. It is rondo form where the main subject appears three times and is contrasted by two subordinate subjects and a coda. So what about the main subject itself? The melody is based more or less on the Ab triad while also making use of rising chords, leaps downward, and resolving by a downwards step. The harmony usually sticks to Ab and other nearby harmonies, but does have a Ghd7-Ab and a Ahd7-Bbm progression. The etxture is sophisticated, with a songlike soprano melody above and a similar base below, both using quarter notes and first species counterpoint, while the alto and tenor roles come in sixteenth notes to flesh out the harmonies.

Now Beethoven arrives to a brief subordinate subject in Cm, the texture simplified to only two voices, the melody built around the cell of a held quarter note and descending sixteenth notes taken from the main subject. The peak note is always Ab, the submediant of Cm, until it becomes G when Beethoven suddenly moves to Eb. The retransition shifts the melody, now a chromatic descent and later a chromatic turn, to the tenor part, the repeated eight notes give the very thick harmony of Bb9s4 before resolving to Eb9 so Beethoven may return to Ab.

Beethoven replays the main subject but only once but avoid repeating himself too much. Now he mutates to Abm to play a second subordinate subject, and breaks it into two parts; an eight-note descent by scale followed by a leap or a step in the treble, and a chromatic descent in triplets in the base, while the alto is made of repeated notes to flesh out a harmony. Beethoven lingers around in Abm and Eb for the first sentence, then makes a sudden leap to the F# note, the dominant of the relevant key, to a passionate outburst in B7, the median of Abm. The triplet descent swaps to the soprano role as the harmonies modulate to E through the progression B7-E-F#7-E (in between harmony)-B7-E.

Beethoven begins his second sentence in E and B7 but rather than taking his material to any special places he slowly modulates back to Ab; he uses rising broken chord triplets way down in the base to do so, going through Dd7 (leading tone of E) to Bbhd7 (submediant of D) then to Eb7 (subdominant of Bhd7 and dominant of Ab). Beethoven returns to the main subject, playing it in full, and slightly develops it further by using triplets in the alto and tenor parts.

The coda makes use of descending triplets in the melody, with the melody starting high on an F note (submediant of Ab), then falling to an Eb note and later an Ab note. The whole movement can be said to be a gradual development where sixteenth notes gradually become triplets as the movement progresses. Either way, Beethoven gently lets us down with a turning and descending phrase. He uses Ab and Eb7 as harmonies the whole time to let us know the piece is over.


The third movement is a rondo in Cm and, together with the second movement, balances out the massive sonata form first movement. While this last movement is not as grand and tragic as the first movement it is still a heavyweight piece of music in its own right, and should be respected as such. Most listeners would agree that this rondo satisfies us as an ending to the entire sonata. Beethoven himself may have disagreed, as he would go on to try different ways of putting the most weight on the end of a sonata, not the beginning. His later third movements, such as those of the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas, do have a higher drama and urgency than the first movements and create the climax of the entire sonata, not just one movement. Beethoven would later blow even that out of the water with the fugue finale of the Hammerklavier sonata (in Bb, Op. 106), and repeated that success with the choral finale of the 9 th symphony (in Dm, Op. 125) and the Große Fugue finale of his massive string quartet in Bb (Op. 130).

But we have not arrived to such heights yet.

But we have not arrived to such heights yet. The main subject begins with a dotted swinging motion in Cm, peaks with G and Ab (dominant and submediant) half and three quarter notes, and swings back down to Cm. Beethoven draws a tail to our subject, where the melody peaks to the Bb and C notes (subtonic and tonic) before decisively ending with G-Cm chords. The harmonies never leave the usual Cm nexus except for a brief moment in C, between Ab and Fm.

The transition uses loud whole note chords to suspend us before resolving to the “proper” harmony, whereby rising and falling arpeggios in piano take over. In this matter Beethoven easily takes us to the subordinate subject through C7-Fm and Bb7-Eb. Again, Beethoven is fond of playing the dominant or leading chord of the new home key first, then resolving to it, and even modulates to the dominant or leading chord through keys relevant to them, not the new home key.

Beethoven uses the subordinate subject to raise the blood pressure; he uses eight notes in both hands; arpeggios in the left hand, a brisk melody in the right, all in Eb. Beethoven sprints around in Eb before climbing up with half notes to Bb (dominant) and Eb (tonic) so he can slip into new material; two phrases built on triplets imitating one another in the soprano and alto parts. Beethoven builds his first phrase, and its triplets, on the high Bb note, dominant of Eb, and peaks his dramatic descent with the highest note in F, the supertonic. In the next phrase, Beethoven centers on a high Ab note, subdominant of Eb, and Db, the subtonic. Never one to leave well enough alone, Beethoven squeezes in one more dramatic descent, the peak note being C, the submediant of Eb. The harmonies throughout the entire subordinate subject are rather plain, mostly Eb and Bb7, with only a Cb7a, an Ad-Bb, and a Cm7 chord throughout.

Beethoven begins the closing subject with a theme made of repeated notes and slow turns, the key notes are Bb (dominant) and F (dominant of dominant), and includes a chromatic descending base with a Cb note, which adds dissonance to an F harmony. This small episode acts as a brief respite and a bridge to the real closing subject, one built on the imitation of eight note triplets among soprano and alto, based on Eb and Ab notes. Using this standard I-IV-I progression, Beethoven uses it to build to a climax, at first using the triplets in a melody in a full bar to peak at a G note (mediant), then jumps up a broken Dd chord (leading tone of Eb) to reach high up to F (subdominant of C), playing the harmony of G7 in the process. This way Beethoven modulates through Eb-Abs4-Dd-G7-Cm.

Beethoven briefly returns to the main subject, then immediately jumps to a second subordinate subject in Ab; it functions like a canon with a subject of half notes that leap up by 4ths and down by 5ths. The harmonies have a marked contrast to previous subjects because Ab is by no means emphasized, drifting through almost every key closely related to Ab while Ab itself only appears once in the beginning. Beethoven repeats the subject many times, trading it among alto, base, tenor, and soprano, each new version a variation, and he tails it off by using whole notes to lead the base through F-F#-G, while the treble climbs down from a high C (median of Ab) to a low G (dominant of Cm). Now in the retransition, where the triplets are crushed into sixteenth notes, Beethoven hammers G in the melody (dominant) over and over, slowly jumping into higher Gs by octaves, then to Bh, then to D, then peaking at F (subdominant of Cm); in other words, up the G7 chord. The harmonies are just are straightforward; G-Cm-Bd, and so forth, and like the melody they function to prepare you for a return to Cm.

We now return to main subject a third time, which Beethoven cuts up after the first sentence to lead us to the subordinate subject in a different way. His transition his built on rising arpeggios figures that climb up the Gm7 chord to peak at F (subdominant as usual), and drop to G (dominant), while the harmonies are built on leading tones Bd-Cm, Ed-Fm, and F#d-G. The third subordinate subject is similar to the first one, transposed to G rather than Eb, where Beethoven peaks with a high F note (subdominant of Cm) and later when he uses triplets in imitation he holds on C notes (subdominant of G7) and G notes (dominant of C).

The closing subject begins in C, the mutation of Cm, which you would expect to be in the subordinate subject, but Beethoven develops it by leading his melodic line, through three fourth notes, up a Gm chord to an Ab note, the essential harmonies progressing through Cm-Gm-Dd-Eb-Dd7. The retransition is brief; Beethoven uses whole notes to make a chromatic fall from Ab (subediant of Cm) to Eb (median of Cm) while the harmonies progress G-Da-Bd-Cm.

Beethoven repeats his main subject a fourth time, and jumps to the coda, which is once more a long dramatic climb up a C chord of all things, before leaping to a G note (dominant) and repeating it to raise the pressure, then another leap to a high F note (subdominant of C), then rapidly falling to a Bb note (dominant of Eb). The harmony at this point is build around C7-Fm, where the subdominant Fm is key in a recapitulation and this coda functions as such, with some progressions to relative keys mixed in; F#d7-Bd-Cm, Dd-G, Db-Eb7. The base notes remain the roo

Beethoven holds us on Eb for a while to signal he is still not done yet, which you wouldn’t get if he went to Cm. So he delays Cm a little more with calm Ab versions of the swinging phrase from the main subject. A small leading melody from F#d7-Cm (in between note), then Beethoven plays a fortissimo finish from G7-Cm, the melody flying down from F (the usual subdominant) to C.

Studying Beethoven – Piano Sonata in D (Op. 10)

The sonata in D (Op. 10) is overshadowed by the “Pathetique” sonata (in Cm, Op. 13), but unjustly so. I could even describe this sonata in D as superior to the “Pathetique”, if not on the whole than at least in a number of ways. For instance, it tells a larger and more nuanced story than the “Pathetique” does; its movements explore more different nuanced moods and are less linear in form; while “Pathetique” is intense and dramatic but in stark colors of black and white, and its Sonata Form structure goes from point A to point B. While this sonata in D (Op. 10) does have a four movement structure typical of Beethoven’s earliest sonatas the movements come together in a more organic way. While Beethoven lumped contrasting moods together in his earlier sonatas he still, in essence, followed an outlined script of how he should structure his ideas, but here it is different. Now Beethoven is using the different movements of the piano sonata genre to tell a larger story, a pattern he develops for many different kinds of works later on: the “Pathetique” sonata, the “Eroica” symphony, his last string quartets, and his last piano sonatas.

So what story does this sonata in D tell? It is hard to say because the moods are so varied; the first movement has a light touch but is neither too lyrical or comic, the second movement takes us through a sudden mood whiplash to very grim and profound emotions, the third movement is lyrical and gentle, and the last movement is a little strange but lively. Beethoven usually thinks of death when he writes such dark and grim slow movements; either he thinks of the death of a person, where he evokes a funeral march, or death as a general part of the life cycle, such as in this sonata. Beethoven centers the whole sonata on his deathly slow movement, and he devotes following movements on how to respond to death, which he does in a way that evokes triumph, beauty, gratefulness, optimism, and other such emotions. Once Beethoven, we listeners, and the sonata itself go under such a death-rebirth cycle we are never the same again.


A Presto first movement is uncommon but not unheard of, but here we have it; either way it makes extreme use of the main subject as a motif throughout the entire movement, and goes through a winding path of different subjects and moods. It could have as many as three subordinate subjects depending on how you look at it, as if the sonata itself does not know what emotion to have so it simply tours different lands. It lacks an emotional center.

Either way, Beethoven builds his main subject with a turn and a rising D scale, suspending us at the melodic tip in A, the dominant. He establishes everything this movement will be made of in at most five seconds. The rest of the main subject is turning that opening turn into variations, one soft and lyrical, the next loud and bouncy, then Beethoven repeats the opening phrase (in variation) and suspends us in F#, the median and dominant of Bm…

…which is where Beethoven begins his transition. He inverts the opening turn and breaks it into its three opening notes, uses it again in eight notes, and further builds on it to make the entire transition in one very long melodic phrase. Perhaps this is where the humor is. He uses the turn and scale to create a long tine of arpeggios, and uses it to create two slow melodic climbs, building in intensity until he finally falls to A. The first climb peaks at D, our current home key, the second peaks at E, the dominant of A. Beethoven pairs his arpeggios with pieces of the rising scale and even spends some time swapping registers in them to make cells imitate each other. His method of changing Bm into A is by mutating F# (dominant of B) into F#m (subemdiant of A), then going F#m-E-A. The rest is basically A and E.

We reached the subordinate subject but Beethoven meanders around different variations of the falling scale and turn, as if he doesn’t know what mood to cast his music. He converts the falling scale bit into something more lively and witty by putting grace and eight notes in it, and rising scale material from the transition is further collapsed. Beethoven suddenly stops this idea and tries something different; a placid second subordinate subject, where he uses the opening turn in the base, then uses imitation with a rising scale motif, all the while changing harmonies many times: A-D-G7-C (moving down the circle of 5ths), then Dm-Bb (submediant of D), then returning to A with G#d-E-A.

Now, a third subordinate subject, where Beethoven tries something a little more spunky. He uses the turn to create a descending melodic line, then swaps the Alberti base to the treble, using it as a variation of a long climbing scale, meanwhile the tenor imitates the descending turns from before. A tranquil episode later, we arrive at a closing subject at last; created from a piece of the descending scale, and suspends us in A.

The development is one very long unbroken phrase, like the transition except even longer. He leads us from A right into Bb! He bases his precore on connecting many turns to make a descending scale (again), which moves right away into the core; he builds a phrase with a rising scale of quarter notes in the base, then answers it with a descending scale of eighth notes in the treble, and so he uses Bb and Gm. He then takes the base part longer, and answers that larger expectation with quarter notes that oscillate between the cello and flute parts, taking advantage of how his filler eighth notes are in the middle register. This way Beethoven takes us to Eb (with F# notes implying Gm, so you could interpret it as Gm in Aeolian Mode), to leap to A, which comes with Dm (minor subdominant) and Bb (neopolitan), an inventive alternate to the usual V and IV, then suspends the melody on G, the subdominant of D, while the overall harmony is A7.

Now in the recapitulation, Beethoven repeats the sonata’s opening phrase but then develops a little afterward with a rising chromatic base to take us from A to B, which is the dominant of Em, where our new transition begins. The transition and subordinate subjects are more or less the same but all in D, but Beethoven adds on to the closing subject to build a Coda: he develops it by cycling through D-Gm-Dd-Bb, then falls down a minor second to A-G-Em-A-D. He builds the Coda with a long falling scale and a long rising scale, guns blazing with a eight notes in both hands. His final cadences are novel, based on the G# note leading to the A note, which means he creates the unique harmonic progression Dd-D-G-D.


Now we arrive to the deathly slow movement, the lynchpin that anchors the entire sonata, gives context to the story. I could say that among composers before Beethoven only Mozart himself used slow movements to such effect, but Beethoven goes further in this sonata. I could say that this movement is the deepest and most melancholy piece of piano music ever created, only surpassed by the slow movement of the “Hammerklavier” sonata (in Bb, Op. 106). Beethoven often likes using dotted notes in serious slow movements to amp up the drama and grandeur, borrowing from French Baroque music, used to great effect by composers Lully, Rameau, and Gluck. Not so much in this movement; like the “Hammerklavier” slow movement ironically enough. Perhaps he did not want to remind people of a funeral march.

The second movement is in Dm, and is in Sonata Form, but the transitions are so long you can see the movement as large blocks of ABACoda; the form like a lengthy elegy, one eloquent statement to the next without too much connection between them. The main subject is based on the minor 2 nd interval and a leap; the melody goes from F# to stop a bit at B (mediant of the Gm harmony), then B to climax at F# (mediant of the Dm harmony), before falling to D. The harmony is designed to take us to Gm (subdominant) in the first phrase, then use less typical harmonies to keep tension; like going to C#d7 but changing to E7 rather than going to Dm so soon, then finally going G#d7-A-Dm.

We can say the large A block as two transitions; the first one modulates to C, the second to F. In the first transition, Beethoven hangs around A7 and Dms4, so he can take us to G7 and Cs4. Even in C, Beethoven surprises us with some D harmonies (major subdominant of Am, supertonic of C). This small hopeful major episode gives nuance to this dark movement, which Beethoven drives home with a C and D note played together, a soft dissonance. The second transition gets very angsty; Beethoven builds up tension with counterpoint with similar lines in the tenor and soprano parts and leaps to a high F# where the opening motif is transformed into heavy chords, and the harmony transitions from G#d7-Am. The repeated phrase amps the tension with octaves, thirty-second note imitation, and leading notes D#-E-F# to lead to three heavy chord motifs; the harmony moves from G#d7-C#d7-D#d7-G#d7-Am. Beethoven does not lead you from G#d7 to Am right away. Instead, he develops his material by treating G#d7 (yes, a diminished seventh), as a kind of home key and moves around it with diminished seventh dominants and subdominants.

Beethoven lingers in Am a bit before silently ending there. Then, he begins the subordinate subject by leaping to F. He convinced us this entire time that he was moving to A or Am but now he takes to a different place entirely. Granted, the relative major is what is usually expected, but Beethoven seemed to be preparing us for something different. Anyway, Beethoven takes the 6/8 rhythm of the main subject and turns it into a baseline and harmonic color, giving the melody an anchor while it floats freely above. Beethoven makes a point to peak his melody at the E note (leading tone of F), not quite making it up the octave, so the dejected melody can fall down an octave, moving chromatically downward to the D note. Beethoven also plays his F harmony alongside Dm, Am, and Gm instead of E and D, to once more make the point that this hope does not last.

A mournful phrase take over, treble triplets above, a basso continuous and alto coloring below, from Gm-A-A7-C#d7, where the retransition happens. The triplets fall far down the scale to slowly diminish tension, then suddenly leap out of nowhere to a sharp pang in Bb. You will see Beethoven use a similar tactic in his “Tempest” sonata (in Dm, Op. 31) where he interrupts a downward scale with a sudden leap to a sforzando, then hang us there for a short while before falling down again. Here, he says that grief comes in long numbing pains and sharp pangs.

We return to the main subject in Dm in a recapitulation of sorts. Beethoven uses extra thick voices in the alto and baritone registers, later swaps voices in the treble cleff, the whole point is to make the main subject stronger and more dramatic in its return. Beethoven skips a phrase and goes right to his first transition, where he modulates from Gm to Bb, and he does use C7 sometimes, major subdominant of Gm. This subverts our expectations since we usually expect the subdominant of a minor key to also be minor.

Passing the second transition, same as before but in Dm, we enter the Coda, where Beethoven ramps up the pressure by using ever smaller note values but, being resourceful as always, reprises the main subject in the base. With his baseline he slowly climbs up a chromatic scale from D (tonic) to A (dominant) but he uses harmonies that do not match the leading tones in the base. While an A note leads into a Bb note, Beethoven does not play Ad and Bb harmonies but instead mutates Ebd into Eb, and so forth.

Beethoven returns with the same descending triplets to slowly guide us to base clef to make his final grievous statements, where he sharply contrasts his ferocious arpeggios from before with stillness. Andras Schiff compared the Coda to winter, where everything is frozen, dead, still. Beethoven leads C# into D in the melody many times but his harmonies are Ed7-Dm. Using the C# as a dissonance grinds the pain in more.


The third movement in D in Minuet Form can be compared to new shoots growing in spring; overall the movement is easygoing. Beethoven builds his melody loosely from the turn motif from way back in the first movement and uses it to go in a placid downward motion; first A (dominant) to F# (while playing D), then B (while playing Em) to D, pretty standard. The three voices underscore the melody with simple first species counterpoint, again to convey an easy, relaxed feeling. You can breath.

Beethoven brings up a new little motif to imitate among different registers, cycling around the relative keys F#m-B-E-A (down the circle of 5ths), then reprises his subject but develops it: he extends the two phrases by having the motif climb upward to build tension before letting fall in a longer arc, he gives greater counterpoint to the other voices, especially the alto voice, and extends the harmonies as far as B.

For the Trio in G, Beethoven uses leaps in the base and treble, not unlike in the first movement, and uses the turning motif in the minuet. The harmonies are very straightforward here; close keys to G, climaxing in A7 to modulate us to D7. (He chooses D7 over D so he can easily move us back to G.) Both subject (in the base) and triplets (in the tenor) rise higher, with the triplets hitting the soprano line at the peak. Both subject and triplets go in a similar pattern when the phrase resolves but the triplets don’t go as high up when the Trio ends, with Beethoven hanging us in A7, dominant of D.


The fourth movement in D in Rondo Form functions as a book end to the sonata; like the first movement it meanders through different keys and moods but the moods it does reach convey a more confidant and assured feeling. The piece makes its Rondo Form clear by ending each Part in an unresolved fermata; similar to the Rondo of Beethoven’s very first piano sonata, the “Kurfursten” sonata in Eb. Beethoven has come a long way since then, as have we.

We begin Part A: the subject at the heart of the movement is a melody where a leading tone is followed by a rising 3 rd , the base descending the broken G chord in opposite direction. The harmony is D-G, with the leading F# note making G the core harmony, not D. Beethoven does use the rising third cell to build an ascending broken G (subdominant) chord melody to complete his first phrase in A7. – Notice how Beethoven turns G7s4 into G#7, but mixes a base B# note with a treble G note; all before resolving to A7. – The second phrase, that resolves the A7 tension, develops the motif, having it ascend a broken Bm chord (submediant).

Beethoven builds his transition on a rising scale and downward leap, countering with Alberti base, then has both parts swap hands in imitation, while Beethoven constructs his Alberti base in a way to imply keys such as Em, Bm, and C#d7 to not have a stale I-V-I progression, and overshoots to E7, pretty typical stuff. The subordinate subject is made of the second and third beat of the subject, transformed into chords with a knocking rhythm; melody turns into rhythm, while Beethoven builds tension with a rising chromatic scale, first peaking at the E note (E7 harmony, dominant of A), then peaking at the E note again (but with the A harmony, the tonic). He moves downward to the G note (with the A7 harmony) where he suspends us, readying us to return to D.

Now Part B: Beethoven repeats the main subject, but he suddenly leads from A7 to a bridge in Bb to take us to a new subordinate subject; where the treble and base parts of the motif swap hands and call and answer the other. He also used this A7-B tactic in the first movement. The Bb subordinate subject builds on the rising 3rd part of the motif: to invert it and dip down a broken Bb chord before rising a broken Ad chord, before doing it again in Eb and Dd. Beethoven ramps up with sixteenth notes in Eb, climbing up, going somewhere, but suspends us in Ed (Neapolitan of Eb).

And this way he leads to a false reprise of the subject in F. Beethoven takes us through a broken Gb chord (Neopolitan of F), then peaks his melody in G (Neopolitan of Gb), then descends down a chromatic scale, to further emphasize a chromatic feel to this episode, and suspends us in A7. It’s an interesting way to move to distant keys and return to D.

To Part C: He repeats the subject as before but the transition leads to a very different place than A; instead it features a more chromatic melody and progresses D-F#d7(diminished mediant)-F# (mutated into a major dominant)-Bm. Our third subordinate subject is quiet and mysterious; repeating woodwinds on top, the base strings taking up the motif, not sticking to Bm but floating around distant harmonies as the woodwinds slowly rise up a chromatic scale: F#-Gd7-Ebm-Ed7-G#d7. Beethoven raises tension: the volume goes into crescendo, the treble shortens into sixteenth notes, the baseline motif becomes more frequent, the harmonies G#d7-A, and once more crashes down to an A harmony suspension. This intense phrase acts as a retransition taking us back to a recapitulation of sorts.

To Part D: Beethoven develops the subject by putting sixteenth note counterpoint in the base, then drops to a Coda in the lower register. The Coda in D is complicated, with a phrase leading to a false ending, a remote key episode, and a final phrase. Beethoven builds the melodic line on the motif, both upright and inverted forms, and in this way he culminates at a high D note, the harmony being A7s4, to point out that the highest note being on a tonic note does not make it the end of a movement. Beethoven moves to Gm into an episode of synchopated chords, the melody descends a chromatic scale, into a soft finish; the base picks up the motif with a I-IV harmony, the treble gently goes up and down and up and down the chromatic scale and later arpeggios of D and A7, finally falling to D. It’s a silent and unassuming end to a great sonata but Beethoven knew silence to be as worthy as any note.

Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in Cm (Op. 10)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I will continue analyzing Beethoven sonatas in blogs but I will no longer make YouTube videos on the subject as it takes way too much time. I have also struggled with some time to describe melodic line and harmony changes without being tedious, sounding like I’m merely describing every little thing in the music, and making YouTube videos does not help. I should hopefully do better. – I should still learn to condense this a bit. Sonata form movements are the hardest. It should only have 4 paragraphs.

The Cm sonata (Op. 10) is Beethoven’s first published piano sonata to have only three movements instead of four. Beethoven wrote the first four sonatas to sound like symphonies through many different means; he wrote them in four movements, wrote each movement to be large to allow subjects much space to develop, and often writes for orchestral parts such as clarinet parts in the Fm sonata (Op. 1) and horn parts in the Eb sonata (Op. 7).

Now Beethoven tries something different and writes a more typical sonata; with only three movements and with no obvious orchestral parts. Still, Beethoven develops his subjects and follows his ideas in a clear, forceful, concise way, in fact even more so in this sonata. It is useful to see the striking differences between this Cm sonata and the Fm sonata (Op. 2) Beethoven wrote a while back as both are dark and impassioned music but approached in very different ways.

The way Beethoven ends this sonata is also important; a fizzling out to a quiet finish rather than slamming thick chords at the end. Indeed Beethoven ends many future sonatas in this way as an alternate way to finishing a piece of music and fulfilling the journey back to the home key.

Allegro molto e con brio

The first movement is in sonata form and is based on the Mannheim rocket; an intense phrase where notes rise in a broken chord to a high register. The main subject in Cm is short but complex, broken into three parts. In the first part Beethoven forces two sharply contrasting colors together; a thundering Mannheim rocket played in dotted notes to make it even more intense followed by a soft sighing motif. In the second part Beethoven builds off a descending scale, starting at a high G (the dominant note), and repeats it, each new phrase more intense, until he hangs at a low G (again the dominant note). In the third part, Beethoven suddenly breaks away into new material again; right hand arpeggios resolving in Cm. Beethoven consistently plays Cm and Bd (diminished) chords the entire time, using Bd as a darker counterpart to G7. He uses only two chords for most of the main subject but he does much with them.

The transition is simply the Mannheim rocket again, using G (again) as the high note. Beethoven simply uses Cm and G the entire time and simply decides to break it off after he resolves in Cm. The main subject and transition here are very different from their counterparts in the Fm sonata (Op. 2). The Fm sonata main subject is far simpler as it slowly moves from piano to sforzando using a simple Mannheim rocket the entire time. The Fm sonata transition, by contrast, is complex as Beethoven makes a big deal modulating to Ab, using Dba (augmented) and Bbm to spice things up. But in this Cm sonata, it is quick and simple. Beethoven is fine jumping from Cm right to Eb (the mediant).

The subordinate subject is based on the submediant; the first phrase starts in Eb7, the second in C7, the third in Ab7. A simple descending base makes up the backbone while the soprano and alto parts fill the harmony in. From now on Beethoven stays in Eb, which is pretty typical for classical sonata form. The second subordinate subject is a rising arpeggio with an Alberti base underneath, harmonies simple Eb-Bb7. He quickly gets more interesting with a chromatic melody, using Ad and Aa harmonies. He thunders with the Mannheim rocket again for a while so he can lead us to the closing subject, but he uses Ebd and Cd7 instead of Bb. The closing subject itself is built on the small sighing motif we saw way back in the main subject to slowly fall to a low Eb, while Beethoven uses some Cm7 and Gm7. The purpose is to darken the Eb closing theme a bit and connect it to the main theme in Cm, to show how close we are to dark and minor keys.

Beethoven builds the development with two cores, both based on the less striking melodies in the exposition. He elevates those melodies by playing them in octaves in a very singing manner. But first he needs to make a bridge to lead you to the first core; and he does this with the Mannheim rocket subject in C (submediant leap from Eb), and he uses it like he did with the transition by cutting it off after he resolves. The first core in Fm is based off the filler melody of the first subordinate subject underscored by an Alberti base. The second core in Bbm is based off the second subordinate subject while the base is taken from the closing subject. The retransition is based off the sighing motif but he strings many motifs together to make a long melodic descent all the way from a high G (dominant) to middle C (tonic). Meanwhile, he keeps the base at G to emphasize a V-I return to the main subject. But do notice how many different harmonies Beethoven plays throughout; it’s anything but a boring V-I for 11 measures.

The main subject is just as before and Beethoven skips a transition altogether, making the journey even more streamlined. The subordinate subject comes right after, now in Db7 (IIb7 of Cm), and he breaks his descent by submediant theme to quickly move to Cm. However, do note how he frequently plays C also, the mutation of Cm to make the harmonies more interesting. But the quick resolution to Cm is a ruse. The second subordinate subject is in F instead (mediant of Db) then quickly goes to Fm (the subdominant of Cm). This is important as the subdominant is usually emphasized in a recapitulation but Beethoven delays for a while to keep the listener guessing. The closing subject neatly wraps it all up in Cm.

Adagio molto

The second slow movement is in sonata form without development but with a coda with a variation of the main subject. The main subject is in Ab and is played twice; the first in its “base” form and the second as a variation where the base becomes arpeggios and repeating 16th notes. The subject is based on a rising and falling third, the melody rises to a climax in Db (the subdominant) before making a long fall back to Ab. The transition is a striking contrast to the lyrical subject; a loud drop by two octaves. The harmonies sometimes blur together in the little sighing motifs and, while F7 is a striking submediant leap from Ab, the harmonies are the usual ones around Cm.

The subordinate subject in Eb is made of two different parts. The first part; we have a rising 3rd motif similar to the main subject, and it also peaks at a subdominant note (Ab in this case). The virtuoso 64th note arpeggios in Bb9 is a development of the rising 3rd. The second part; a long rising scale from G to Eb on dotted notes. This would be boring in itself but Beethoven uses Eba, Dd7, and Ad7 to make chromatic use of it. The variation that follows peaks in the harmony of Cb7, the tension highest in a distant key of Eb. The retransition is based on the subordinate subject and is in Eb, preparing to return to Ab.

The main subject has little change in it except some variation in the base, first dotted notes and later arpeggio triplets. The transition has an extra phrase; sighing motifs clumped together to make a chromatic descent to Db. Beethoven uses many distant keys such as Fb, Gbm, and Fhd7 (half diminished); a striking alternate way to going to the dominant. The usual method is F-Bb-Eb or Dm-Bb-Eb, but Beethoven plays odd F chords before going to Bb-Eb.

The subordinate subject and retransition are almost verbatim similar as before except now in Ab. The coda is a variation of the main subject, now in cantabile as we have a viola part in the middle made of syncopated notes. The coda has no dramatic peaks but simply slowly falls down the Ab scale: from Eb5 to Ab4, from Ab4 to Ab3.


The finale is in sonata form but is very brief, much like rondos of classical sonatas, a breezy finish. Still, it has some weight. The main subject is based on a rising chord, this case Cm, but the melody dramatically peaks in dissonant F while the harmony is F#d7. The second time around Beethoven climbs up the G scale and peaks at F again while the harmony is in Fm. Then the rhythm intensifies to 16th notes so Beethoven can rush down to G (dominant) with flair. There is no transition. A jump from G to Eb happens instead. Notice how the melodic line of this main theme climaxes on a subdominant note, not too unlike the main theme from the last movement, while also highlighting G like in the first movement. The harmonies matter too; Beethoven sometimes mutates Cm to C, while he uses the F#d and Bd chords to lead to G and Cm.

The subordinate subject is based on a rising and falling 3rd with a distant last note; it reaches a sudden climax in Ab (subdominant). At first Beethoven falls to Bb into what seems a quiet finish but suddenly rises to Eb at the last moment; a creative way to avoid a typical resolution. The closing theme uses the turn motif of the main subject over different registers, and it peaks at Ab (again subdominant) before resolving to Eb. Beethoven then resorts to more distant harmonies; Ed and Bd, diminished versions of the tonic and dominant, and frequently uses Fm and Cm too. He does all this to make the ear less certain it is in Eb, making Cm stronger. He also drops a sudden Cb7; instead of going from Bb to Eb to goes from Bb to its Neapolitan (IIb7/V).

We only have a small development of the main subject motif; though in Eb it uses Bd, Dd, and Bb, all related by a 3rd. Beethoven also briefly uses C7 to again disrupt the expected Cm and he develops the melodic line by having it rise to a very high F (subdominant of Cm). The main subject makes little change while the subordinate subject is in C (mutation of Cm), except with a chord progression from Dm-D7-G. The closing theme is different, starting with the main subject motif rather than a tremolo. The next part has the same chord structure as before except tailored around Cm; this includes C#d leading G and the sudden drop now in Ab7. The closing theme halts, holds the tension on suspended Ab7, withholding the ending.

We enter a brief coda based on the subordinate subject in Db, the music suspended in a slow calando. It’s mostly V7-I except for a brief Ebm-Eb-Ab (chromatic base) and how the colando suspends in Ad7. Then, an abrupt eruption as the music resumes its normal tempo, but rather than race to the finish it fizzles out, slowly moving from Ab to C. Beethoven does this by pretending the C is just Cm and playing the usual nexus of neighboring chords. The melodic line, back in the main subject motif, starts at a high Eh note but falls down the C chord to lowest C on Beethoven’s pianoforte. The lowest range of the pianoforte back then was F1.

Beethoven Analysis – Piano Sonata in Eb (WOo47)



We first see Beethoven writing piano sonatas in 1783, not the wild man we turned into a titan genius through myth but a mere boy of twelve. By this time Beethoven’s father Johan could no longer teach his son through his brutal methods so he turned his son over to more able tutors such as Christian Neefe, who introduced the young Beethoven to Johan Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. The boy learned quickly, practicing on the piano long past midnight for many nights to refine his skills, soon mastering J.S. Bach’s works.

Beethoven occupied himself with other tasks and hobbies. He played the organ in his church and the viola in the court orchestras of the prince electors ruling Bonn at the time. – The nation of Germany did not yet exist; the land was part of the Holy Roman Empire, broken into many small territories each ruled by a different prince. – In his spare time, Beethoven frequented the local university lectures, salons, and other forums, and quickly became enchanted by the principles of the Enlightenment, ideals he held until his final days.

The young Beethoven composed his first three piano sonatas in this climate, dedicating them to his Prince Elector Maximillian Frederick as per custom. The pianist Ronald Brautigam describes, in his booklet that comes with his recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, that Beethoven drew heavily on Carl Phillip Bach’s “sensitive style” keyboard works and Haydn’s “storm and stress” piano sonatas. He then mentions how Beethoven was lucky his father was too drunk to discipline his son to compose in a so-called proper style; had Mozart tried to write such music his father would have stopped him.

I am listening to C.P.E Bach’s keyboard works as I write this very essay and I do hear some of the same muses who stirred Beethoven when he was only a teenager and would inspire him for the rest of his life. The music is indeed in a “sensitive style”, with touching melodies one moment and stormy, abrupt chords in another, elements Beethoven puts in his own sonatas. I hear adolescent melancholy, youthful play, ventures in playing dark and difficult music, and some sight into the abstract realms music takes you when you really listen to it.

Let us now study the first of these earliest sonatas. I created a road map, posted just below this paragraph, and a YouTube video with the entire sonata in annotations, link at

Scan Forms i


The first movement, unlike Beethoven’s later sonatas, does not have any clear first subject, second subject, and so forth. It is like Mozart’s earlier sonatas and Classical ideals in general; you hear one gracious melodic line, then another, a new idea develops, all in balance and harmony. You can really think of movement one’s sonata form as a few melodies in Eb, then a few melodies in Bb, and so on.

Beethoven thinks along these lines of balance and harmony, his ideas mostly abstract, not trying to state any definite idea. He does explore a simple contrast between a high delicate woodwind range, a warm middle string range, and low stormy range. He does put more thought in his later “Kurfursten” sonatas on what he wants to say and how to say it; in the Fm sonata he explores loftier thoughts, but he is not used to writing in sonata form at the moment. Give the kid a break. He should do better things anyway, like try to get rid of his pimples, go to Hot Topic, and flirt with girls.

Beethoven’s “main subject” is made of a few melodies with little relation, but they do connect in the same way a few sentences create a paragraph; the paragraph being the “first subject”. The boy does put some color and contrast between sentences; sentence one has a rising then falling arc and implies a string ensemble (bars 1-4), another sentence leaps then falls in a woodwind’s register (bars 11-14).

When he modulates he plays many sixteenth notes to amp up the tension. Beethoven is technically in Bb already but he wants to establish a Bb harmony by modulating, so he does so as if he was in Eb in two sentences. In his first sentence he starts his first phrase in Bb, the second phrase in C (bars 15-18). He changes the harmony by moving it up a whole step, a technique Beethoven is fond of. The whole point of his exercise is to move to F, the V chord (or dominant) of Bb. By using the F harmony, Beethoven “overshoots” so he can play a V-I cadence of F-Bb.

The “subordinate subject” (bars 25-30) is very short and also counts as a closing statement, but what a striking and playful tune it is! Beethoven plays it twice, once as a flute, another as a violin. He brings back a similar contrast as before in his “first subject” but the order is reversed (woodwinds first, strings second). Beethoven does develop a few simple ideas; a contrast between high and low keys, and he develops it further.

We can break down the development into two “cores” where Beethoven explores an idea in the exposition. The first “core” . (bars 30-40). imitates the second idea but in Cm, among the highest keys. Nothing too new here. The second “core“ (bars 48-55)  is made of arpeggios in minor chords, mostly Cm, the register low, dark, stormy. He retransitions to the “main subject” easily by playing Bb then Eb.

I can only comment little on the recapitulation since everything is the same as before, just a 5th lower, in Eb. The only difference is the “main theme” is truncated, so we only hear one sentence. For a while I wondered by Beethoven played a sentence in Bb so soon (bars 11-14) but I may have a clue now. Beethoven may have seen how the line in the recap is in Eb exactly repeats the line in the expo, so he may have changed the latter to Bb to avoid repeating himself and create a bigger feeling of returning home as the movement closes.


Beethoven shows his true talent and craft in this movement. Like in many sonatas, including the Fm sonata, the middle movement is the heart of the sonata, the highest seat of thought and feeling and a fulcrum between the two fast movements. Beethoven uses this form in many later sonatas throughout his career but he takes it to a much higher level. A good slow movement can change the nature of the entire sonata, such a crucible seems to transform the music as you go from the first movement to the last movement. As a composer myself, I find slow movements hardest to write but when I do it somehow helps me write later fast movements far better.

In the second movement we can really see Beethoven express the sensitive style he picked up from C.P.E. Bach as he sings his lonesome and tender song. The constant mood is of adolescent melancholy; you truly understand how sad and lonely this boy was, with no intimate friends, with only a few sensitive adult women to comfort and protect him. Already we see the young Beethoven improving as a composer in learning what emotions to express and what techniques he needs to do so.

Beethoven sets this mood by cleverly using chromatic notes in the treble and base and in the way he uses his sentences; he makes them “two-bodied” where the first phrase or clause, if you can call it that, is simpler and the second one is more complicated and intense. You tend to hear this in the second part (of B part) of the exposition and recapitulation. However, his base is somewhat staid, as he plays Alberti base for almost the entire movement. He lets the melody do most of the work and, like in a lot of early classical music, the base is used for harmonic filler.

In the main subject and very short transition (bars 1-13), Beethoven makes both Bb and Eb natural. This adds color, yes, but also suggests the key of C, which is the V chord of F, the dominant. He plays a chromatic rising base as he transitions, up from Bb, to B, to C. This way he plays an inverted F chord, making the cadence imperfect, keeping suspense kind of like how a novelist refuses to resolve the plot of a story just yet. The harmonies he implies throughout are Bb, F, C, F (IV-V-V/V-V), again he “overshoots” by playing a C-F cadence, which is V-I relative to the key of F.

Beethoven writes two subordinates subjects in F. The first subject (bars 14-19), is in the tenor and base registers. Beethoven suggests a viola and cello, the warm tones contrast high notes in the rest of the piece. It is a shame Beethoven doesn’t use more contrast. He again plays a chromatic rising base, this time suggesting Bb-F (IV-I) harmonies, and again keeps us in suspense with an imperfect cadence.

The second subject (bars 19-25) is more straightforward. The harmony is “offbeat here”, starting as V-I not I-V, and Beethoven plays a string of 32nd notes in fortissimo afterward to intensify the emotion. He also plays an F# note, implying Gm to make the harmony more ambiguous. Beethoven is very fond of the F# and Bh chromatic notes in the second and third movement of this sonata. And finally, he plays a perfect cadence at the end, resolving the tension he set up earlier and leading us to a poignant closing statement (bars 26-31).

The development section (bars 31-37) is very short but Beethoven makes good use of it by playing many chromatic notes; these include F#, G#, Eb, and C#. While Beethoven technically plays F-C7 (I-V) the whole time the chromatic notes imply other harmonies like Am, Cm, and Dm. In the very brief retransition he plays the Bb note at the end to imply a subdominant harmony (relative to the key of F) to return to the home key of Bb.

The recapitulation, like in the last movement, repeats the exposition almost verbatim, most of the material is transposed a 4th higher. The main subject (bars 38-42) is shortened so much it merges with the transition to make one sentence. The second subordinate subject (bars 49-56) has an extra bar but it is important. Beethoven uses it to play an Ab note; at the moment it suggests a Bb7 chord but in the entire subject it creates a strong subdominant feel. Most composers at the time dwelled in the IV chord in their recapitulations to anchor your sense of hearing back to the home key and usually to play a IV-V-I harmony. Beethoven does something similar here.


Beethoven changes form in this movement; now he opts for a rondo form not the usual sonata form, but it does sound a lot like a sonata. Its three main stanzas of A,B,C each resemble an exposition, development, and recapitulation, and each stanza is made of four lines of a,b,c,d. Like the first movement, this last movement is made of a string of different melodies that have little relation to each other but the emotions expressed are more intense. The major lines are more zesty and playful, the minor ones more brooding, the cadenzas otherworldly.

In stanza A, line a (bars 1-8) is a theme in Eb in the standard I-V-I harmony. Line b (bars 9-16) acts like a transition of sorts; Beethoven plays a arpeggios throughout to fill out harmonies, he toys with a chromatic rising base a bit to create Ebaug harmony, and later modulates by playing Bb-Cm7-F-Bb. Line c, the “subordinate subject” (bars 17-23), Beethoven plays arpeggios again, just with the hands reversed, plays Bb and Eb to create a I-IV-I feeling, as if he didn’t modulate to Bb at all. Beethoven ends the line by playing Edim7 then holding out on F a bit. This is a diminished cadence where the composer plays viidim7-I rather than the usual V-I (relative to F in this case). It adds some spice to the music and lets the composer travel to a distant key easily without having to worry about a V-I cadence. It becomes clear to us at this point this piece focuses more on harmonies than having distinct melodies, a contrast to the first two movements, especially the second movement.

His closing statement is in two sentences (bars 18-36). Beethoven must get back all the way from F (which is a whole step above Eb, notice how this parallels the first movement) to Eb. He does this by going down the harmonies by 4ths, from F to Bb to Eb. Once there, he goes briefly to Cm before going to Bb (playing I-V-I) where he suspends us in a Bb chord. We are now in the end of stanza A, the suspending chord acts as a cadenza, which many pianists fail to improvise as they lack invention.

Stanza B begins. Line a (bars 37-44) is our familiar first tune. Now in line b (bars 38-55), we enter the first “core” of a “development” section. Here Beethoven explores the arpeggios from before but this time he cycles through a bunch of flat harmonies close to Eb; these are Ab, Fm, Bb, Gm, Cm, Bb7, and F7. The second “core” in line c (bars 56-62), he plays a Ebdim7-F cadence so he can hold on to F a bit. Then in line c, the “retransition”, (bars 63-71) he hangs around Ebmin (the minor version of the home key) before arriving to a second cadenza in Bb.

Stanza C mimics a recapitulation but Beethoven is more inventive here than in the last two movements. Before he played the exact same material just a 4th below in harmony. Now he does a few new things. We hear the first tune again (bars 72-79) as a “main subject”, barely any different than before. In line b, the “transition” (bars 80-87), he moves to Cm. He returns to using diminished cadences, this time twice; first with Bdim7-Cm, then with F#dim7-G. In line c, the “subordinate subject” (bars 88-99), is in Eb with the standard V-I, spiced up a bit with Ab (the subdominant) and another diminished cadence from F#dim7-Gm. Next Beethoven hangs around Cm, playing V-I with some Fm in it. This Cm sentence thus mirrors the Eb sentence before.

We enter the final cadenza, the notes held out in a single voice on the C note. Then we enter line d, the “closing section” (lines 100-109), where the main tune repeats again with a small extra flourish at the end to finish the movement. The main Eb theme changes very little throughout the entire movement, which shows how the young Beethoven is still pretty new to sonata form. The mature Beethoven would never repeat himself like that, a good counterexample being his “Rage Over a Lost Penny” rondo. He transforms the theme in so many ways; he changes its register, plays it in a remote key, diminishes it, embellishes it, shortens it, develops bits of it elsewhere in the piece, makes at least two variations out of it, uses it build a coda, and so on, all in five and a half minutes. However, the young Beethoven’s genius is emerging, even now he is getting the knack of writing complex and passionate music.