Studying Beethoven – Piano Sonata in Bb (Op. 22)

We now enter the last of Beethoven’s early piano sonatas, the sonata in Bb (Op. 22), and it is a fine and grand ending at that. It is the last sonata where Beethoven uses the conventional four-movement format of fast sonata, slow sonata, scherzo, rondo. While he did compose four-movement sonatas later in his career, they all depart from convention in form and content. The “Jagleid” sonata (in Eb, Op. 31) has no serious slow movement, the sonata in A (Op. 101) and “Hammerklavier” sonata (in Bb, Op. 106) put the scherzo movement 2nd and the slow movement 3rd. Even the sonata in Eb (Op. 27), that follows this sonata right after, follows a revised four-movement pattern, though to less effect.

I mentioned before how Beethoven’s earlier four-movement sonatas, though intricate and beautiful, were stilted and forced in some ways, as if Beethoven was still trying to teach himself how to construct the many Classical forms he inherited from Haydn, Salieri, Mozart, Clementi, and other older masters. This sonata, the sonata in Bb (Op. 22) is the last of these earlier sonatas. Beethoven, in all his later four-movement sonatas rewrites the old format to suit his purposes. The sonatas in A (Op. 101) and Bb (Op. 106) put their heavy, slow movements later so as to better lead to a great, satisfying finale. The new format levels the dramatic weight of the sonata at a climactic ending, not at the first movement, a problem Beethoven worked to solve for decades.

Allegro con brio
This sonata in Bb (Op. 22) has the style of a piano concerto – like the sonata in A (Op. 1) – complete with imitations of virtuoso piano passages, orchestral accompaniment, and orchestral tuttis; all of this is most obvious in the first movement. The very main subject itself in Bb imitates a quiet orchestral beginning with softly playing snare drums, a grand statement, and a decisive half cadence. The orchestra builds up in a crescendo as two voices climb up the broken Bb chord together. The grand statement itself is made of two broken descending scales, both built on the notes A (leading tone) and G (submediant), the first ending in an imperfect authentic cadence, the second decisively landing on Bb (tonic). – However, Beethoven surprises us by writing this passage in subito piano (suddenly playing it softly) to hold us back a bit. – A second ascent, now in a full forte, takes us up the Gm broken chord, then slams down on F (dominant), ending the main subject in a half cadence. This both leaves the music open to further lines and prepares for the usual modulation to the dominant. Like in many sonatas before, Beethoven makes his main subject as complicated and dynamic as he can.

So now what? Beethoven delays us a bit with a surprising episode; he undermines his main subject by putting the rising Bb chord passage as a baseline for counterpoint. He even surprises us with harmonies; he jumps to D (mediant), then goes down the circle of 5ths like this: D-Gm-C-F-Bb. This episode concluded, Beethoven gets down to business with a straightforward modulation. Tremolos jump to C (secondary dominant), and hover there while circulating among F and Bd7, the base hums on repeated C notes the entire time, making a secondary dominant base. All this builds expectation for a firm C-F cadence, to solidly nail us to the dominant, a cadence Beethoven avoids completely by softly trailing to F.

The subordinate subject in F builds on the ascending broken tonic chord with two voices moving in parallel thirds, like the main subject; but here we have sweet woodwinds, the virtuoso flurries kept firmly in an F base (new tonic). But keeping the music this way would be boring, so Beethoven suddenly dips into D7 (submediant). The virtuoso base truly goes down a broken D7 chord, but all the D7 chord’s notes are offbeat, so it sounds like Beethoven is going down a C#7 broken chord, so you could call this section bitonal. The F# leading tone in the melody is strongly expected to resolve to Gm, but Beethoven never does so; instead he peaks his melodic arc at C (the secondary dominant) and plows down the scale to loudly land on F (the tonic). Beethoven moves down the circle of fifths again, with the general harmonic plot being D7-Gm-C-F, but he does mutate Gm to Gd and G7, which further develops the music.

We enter a second subordinate subject in F, but this time using parallel thirds to move down a broken chord. It builds a melodic arc from A to D, then breaks that pattern at the end, as Beethoven often does, to jump to G, then falls back down to the tonic. Beethoven leaps down the 3rd with harmonies with Ehd7-C7-A7, which does not resolve to F, as you would expect an Ehd7 chord to do, but prolongs the tension to resolve to Bb (subdominant). Beethoven develops the subordinate subject with a synchopated variation, but finishes it on A, not at a proper resolution. Beethoven builds a lengthy bridge with this open question in A, full of flying arpeggios and broken octave scales in the treble while an active base fills in harmonies below; something you see a pianist do in almost every piano concerto. The closing statement drops suddenly to pianissimo, a base in F (tonic) acting as a drumroll. A treble in three voices starts low but climbs higher, with many diminished progressions: Ahd7-Dm, Ad-B, Edh7-F, and Ed7-F. The diminished chords makes a darker and more mysterious tone, giving the right feel of suspense – until Beethoven suddenly goes to fortissimo! The full orchestra returns to climb up the F scale, peaking at the subdominant, and falling down the F scale to end the exposition.

Beethoven begins his development with a benign precore in F; the snare drum cell breaks into little dominant-tonic motives, and we have an orchestral tutti in F7 that emphasizes the subtonic as its highest note. It suddenly shifts gears into D7 (submediant) as it falls down. The first core is based off the rumbling, suspenseful moment of the closing statement. It starts in D7 (where the precore left off) but soon resolves to Gm, revealing the true home key. The harmonies revolve around Gm, but extends slightly through C#hd7-D cadences, in other words keeping the core suspended on the dominant. The second core is built on a solo virtuoso treble on a broken chord of dominant or leading tone, then resolving to an orchestra tutti – this time developed with parallel sixths and thirds. Thus we have these progressions as the keys keep changing: D7-G, Bd7-C.

The third core keeps this harmonic trend, but turns the treble into ascending and descending arpeggios while the base draws out a broken chord; both parts function to more definitely outline harmonies, which are now more condensed. The harmonies resolve in these progressions: Ed7-F, G7-Cm, Gbd7-F7, Bbm7-Bbd-Eb7. The retransition falls to a low, suspenseful tone; the treble keeps the arpeggios running but its top note keeps hovering over the Eb or Eh note. The base itself takes up the orchestral tutti motif, but softly and only the contrabase is involved. This way we cycle through Eb7-C7!-F7. The base motif breaks down into only the descending line, a held base note in F being a constant, which prepares for a F7-Bb cadence to return us to the home key. Beethoven transforms the downward line motif into an upward F7 scale but denies us a cadence. Instead, he suspends us on a soft, prolonged F7 chord, the top Eb note (subdominant) chosen to further soften both harmony and melodic arc.

The main subject in Bb returns with no change. The transition starting, the brief episode is slightly developed as the opening snare drum motif exchanges base and treble roles in Bb. The soft descending scale is developed as well, the melodic arc now prolonged from Ab (subtonic) to Bb (tonic); the harmonies progress in a similar fashion but using more distant progressions: B-Cm, Eba-Ab, D-Gm, Ad-Bb, Ehd7-F. The tremolo part of the transition trains its focus on Bbm (mutated tonic) rather than C. The subordinate subject repeats but all harmonies based around Bb, as do the second subordinate subject and the long bridge to the closing statement. The closing statement assumes its old character, revolving around Bb; it briefly hops to different harmonies like Ebm7 (subdominant minor) and Cm (supertonic), while we have diminished progressions thus: Ahd7 (w/Cb)-Bb, and Fhd7 (w/Cb)-Bb. The orchestra leaps into a grand tutti, the snare drum motif softly returns with a leading tone-tonic progression, and two final tutti chords.

Adagio con molto espressione
The humming base chords throughout the second movement in Eb are typical of a slow movement in a piano concerto, while the movement itself is in sonata form without the repeated exposition. The main subject in Eb is built on the upward turn and a held out dissonant leaning tone, the first sentence rising: G-Ah (leading)-Bb-Bh (leading)-C (appoggiatura)-D. In essence, we move the mediant of Eb to the median of Bb7, and the harmonies in the base follow suit. The second sentence takes a different approach, built on notes a minor 3rd apart: F-Ab, F#-Ah. Beethoven then breaks the pattern to develop material, in this case using an Eb arpeggio to reach a high Bb (dominant) before falling down an arpeggio to C (submediant), the harmony drifting to Ab and Aba (subdominants both), then Fm (supertonic). Beethoven, never leaving well enough alone, hits an extra sforzando note in C, higher than the Bb high note, and finally falls to Eb. What follows is a kind of closing statement of the main subject, built on a long descending broken Eb chord, arriving to a warm and melancholy cadence in cello and base lines.

We enter a brief transition to take us to Bb, built on an abridged version of the closing statement, itself built on the rising and falling 3rd. This way the melody is built on an Eb chord: G-Bb-Eb. Now Beethoven must resolve his transition down to a Bb (dominant) note, while also modulating to that same harmony. He does so by taking his melody down a chromatic scale from Eb to Bb, while his base acts as counterpoint to guide the harmonic progression through upward chromatic cells: Ah-Bb, Eb-F. Beethoven drifts a bit to Cd7-Gm-Ebm7, but he ultimately he cadences with a diminished chord: Ed7-F7+4-Bb.

The subordinate subject is based on a descending scale of complex rhythms and small note values, with a brief stretto where the tenor takes after the soprano ceases to climb up again. First time in Bb: the subject falls from D to D two octaves below, the soprano turning upward to F (dominant). Second time in Eb7a: subject falls from D to Bb in the base, while the soprano turns upward to Bb as well. Then the melody breaks up into leading tone cells, going up the Bb chord and down the Cm chord. Beethoven augments his melody with ever smaller note values so the subordinate subject may reach its climax, and to bring out a virtuoso passage typical in a piano concerto. The virtuoso passage peaks at a high F note (dominant) before falling down an elaborate road built on the Eb chord, then a long chromatic scale rising to that high F again, and finally an F7 arpeggio fall to Bb (tonic). The closing statement builds on a rising 2nd and falling 3rd, with an offbeat leading town first. The harmony can be interpreted as A (major leading tone)-Bb-F7-Bb.

The precore of the development is simple, where Beethoven takes the turn and leading tone motifs of the first subject, climbing up a Bd broken chord as the base hums a G base note, making the overall harmony G7 (submediant major of Bb). After Beethoven reaches the important F note his melody divides into two parts among soprano and alto, as they both move their way down the scale; the soprano moves F-Eh-D-Cb and the alto in a parallel 6th – but broken by moments it leaps a fifth to the subtonic of the chord and falls down a m2nd. All this happens while the base moves down the circle of 5ths: C7-F7-Bb7-Eb7-Abm. So we arrive to a brief three voice core; the soprano melody rises and falls a m2nd, the alto and tenor move in parallel thirds. The harmony now moves up the circle of 5ths in leading tone progressions: Gd7-Abm, Dhd7-Ebm, Bd7-Bb7, Ad-Bb. The retransition holds out the soprano on Bb and repeats an Ah-Bb leading tone sequence while a fourth voice, the base, arrives to hold out a low Bb note. Beethoven hovers on Bb (dominant of Eb) to prepare us to return to Eb (tonic).

The main subject in Eb repeats but with the melody augmented with embellishments, again quite common in a piano concerto. In addition, Beethoven throws in more leading tones, both to suspend the melody (F#-G notes) and to spice up the key notes in arpeggios. The closing statement cuts to the transition straightaway with no extra cadences while transition takes a longer chromatic descent down an Eb octave. The base is built on cells rising up a m2nd; the cells themselves hop down and up the base registers. The harmonic progression takes a surprising twist by leaping to harmonies a M2nd and m3rd away, such as Ab-Gb-Bb9 and modulating back to the tonic through Fb-Gb7-Bb7-Eb. The subordinate subject and closing statement follow the same program as the exposition, just all around Eb.

The minuet and trio in Bb are refreshingly simple after the grand first and second movements. The minuet subject is built up a rising Bb chord, then once it reaches a Bb (tonic) it moves up the scale through dotted notes to F (dominant). Beethoven keeps the base, based on thirds, interesting through rising leading tones. After this small modulation to the dominant, the subject resolves by rising and falling in broken Eb and Ad chords, while the arpeggio base keeps the harmonic context in F7. Then Beethoven uses a turn motif to climb up the Ahd7 chord to a G note (subtonic), then cadences to Bb. The baseline in turn holds on to the dominant note, while the tenor moves down the scale from Eb to Bb.

The development comes is composed of a sentence divided into two parts. The first part is a tremolo built on the C#d7-D progression, building to a fortissimo crescendo. The high treble takes over, falling from a high D (dominant) to G (tonic); in this way D is established, then subverted by becoming the dominant as the music modulates to Gm through Ad-Gm-Ahd7-Gm. Gm is itself the submediant and relative minor of Bb. The second sentence: the tremolo is built on the Bb7-Cb progression, using the Neapolitan, but holding out the dominant-tonic progression that typically comes afterward until the very last moment; the melody falls from Ab (subtonic) to Ah (leading tone) and the harmonies proceed in Bd7-Cm progressions, only entering Bb-F-Bb at the lead us back to the reprise. The reprise carries as usual, but Beethoven adds a codetta at the end. The melody’s broken chords carry out through Gm7-Bb-Bb, the harmony progresses Bb-Eb-Bb-Cm+4. The end of the codetta is unusual as the melody grounds itself on D-Eb (leading tone to subdominant), the harmony exchanging Bb-Cm+4, and only making a F7-Bb cadence at the last moment.

In the minore, Beethoven lets the base put many turns into a virtuoso chain while the treble becomes a set of block chords. The base tumbles down in such a manner that it falls down and up Gm and D broken chords as to be able to rise up to a D note (dominant) in the tenor range. The melody follows a simple path, D (dominant) leaping to G (tonic) but falling to F# (leading tone) to end on the dominant harmony. The “resolution” of the minore ends in the dominant; the treble and base spell out a Ed-F progression but breaks a Ehd7 progression with the secondary dominant, moving A-D. The melody is itself bizarre; it leaps from G (tonic) to C# (leading tone to the dominant) to D (dominant). The melody, in a way, progresses D-G and G-D, the opposite pattern you would usually expect.

Beethoven follows a brief development where both treble and base move contrapuntally down in 3rds in a virtuoso flurry; three motifs overlap each other in three voices. Beethoven’s melody starts in a high Ab (mutating D to Dd – an interesting turn), and the key notes keep falling from G down an Ab7a chord, landing to the Gm harmony to begin the reprise. The harmony revolves around Cm and Gm through: G-Cm, Ad-D-Gm. The reprise is short, with no extra material, in fact shortened; the melody D note (dominant) leaps to G (tonic) but then to C (subdominant) – small harmonic movement down the circle of 5ths – then a dominant-tonic cadence. The harmonies follow the same Ad-D-Gm progression as in the development, giving the revived minore subject a new perspective.

The last movement in Bb is ostensibly a rondo, and similar to the rondo in the sonata in Eb (Op. 7) in holding complex subjects with three or more voices, though thankfully the harmonies are not too complicated. The main subject in Bb begins up on an F note (dominant) and functions by dipping and rising, using a dissonant leading tone (like in the second movement) to lean on the last note of the phrase. Our first phrase, the question, does this by building around the notes of the F chord (dominant), leaning on a C note (secondary dominant). The second phrase, the answer, builds around a Bb7a chord, ending on a D note (median of tonic). The base voice hangs on A (leading tone) and Bb (tonic) during both respective phrases. The main subject resolves itself by using Alberti to hover on G and F notes, scales up from D to a high D (median) and resolves on F (dominant), where it started. The harmony gets interesting at this point as G (submediant major) replaces Gm, as one would expect. But the main subject is not fully resolves. It repeats in a variation, treble in octaves, base an octave lower to give a fuller range from highest to lowest notes. Extra Ab and Ah notes enter in an alto part, putting a hard dissonance on the G harmonies while complementing the F harmonies. An extra phrase acts as a codetta of sorts; a chromatic scale up from Bb to high Bb, with augmented notes, peaking at the tonic to signal a firm resultion, and a perfect authentic cadence to conclude it.

Beethoven transitions from tonic to dominant through a brief episode, using two complex little motifs based on the rising 3rd, one to add tension, the other to resolve. We have two harmonic progressions in this manner: Bb-Cm-F7-Bb, then Bb-C-C7-F, where Cm (supertonic) mutates into C (secondary dominant), allowing the C7-F cadence. The subordinate subject comes in two parts; the first part is made of simple rising arpeggios with the notes held out, the top note consistently A, while the harmony stays in F, only once veering to Bb7 and Dd, then topping on a high F note (tonic).

Then comes a long descent of synchopated octaves, with the base acting as counterpoint and root the harmonies. So Beethoven moves the melody down from F (tonic) to a lower F, but with a slight upward curve. A bit more comes afterward where the structure of the base duplicates in the melody, which itself uses leading tones while the key notes move up and down a broken F chord, and end with syncopated alto and tenor voices in parallel thirds. A new sentence emerges in the subordinate subject, rising arpeggios, similar to those at the very start, moving up and down different chords, the base holding rising notes to also spell out a harmony. The F-C7 progression happen twice, then the melody condenses, keeps climbing up over and aver again, peaking at F (tonic) at the very top, harmonies being F7-Bbm (a small surprise) then falls down the Gb7 chord (Neopolitan). The closing statement acts also as a retransition, since it is a rondo, built on two descending scales complimenting each other throw counterpoint, but as it intensifies, only one scale survives, that starts at a high F and repeats over and over again, then augments, the peak notes traveling through F-Gb-G.

The main subject returns in Bb with no change, but a variation of the transition appears in Bbm (tonic minor) to act as a precore in development would. Beethoven takes advantage of harmonies related to Bbm that would otherwise be distant, such as Ab, but now we modulate to a new key through C-Fm, and Bd7-C-Fm; to the dominant minor. The second subordinate subject in Fm acts as a development of sorts. The soprano uses C (dominant) and F (tonic) as its top notes to lynchpin the alto as it follows a dipping and rising melodic arc, the tenor and base moving in parallel thirds, in opposing counterpoint. The subject makes two attempts to each a climax, a tactic Beethoven used to keep building suspense. The soprano makes the first attempt (harmony in Bbm), climbing from F (tonic) to C (dominant), but this lifts all voices up an octave, so the alto tries climbing from Ah (Fm briefly mutates to F7) to F (tonic). This success a quick and savage motif tear down the melody from a high F down two octaves.

Beethoven gives us a second precore, one even longer and more convoluted than the first. We starts with the first precore’s motif, slightly more embellished, and slowly rises up the treble clef with it, fitting whatever harmony it is in, starting in Gb but soon falling into a nexus of Bbm-Cm-F7. Two new motifs enter, of the same nature but moving in opposite counterpoint, and they alternate in stretto, developing the rhythm. Beethoven has no clear melodic arc in this area, neither a clear harmonic progression; he uses the change to jump around various odd keys related to Fm, such as Ebm, Gd,Db, Cd, Cm, Gb, and he finally lands to Bbm through Ebm-Bbm-F7-Bbm. The subordinate subject enters again, but in Bbm (tonic minor), and repeats itself the same way, save for forte climax where the Bb note leaps to the F note, not up the octave. This is just one example of how the dominant note is so important to Beethoven since it harmonically grounds the work in tonic or dominant, keeps the music ambiguous to a certain extent, keeps tension as it has not resolved yet, and makes modulating to distant keys easy.

The retransition to the main subject uses the dominant in a unique; the melody uses a chromatic dynamic between Gb and F notes while the harmony progresses in Chd7-F (only one Ad7 is the exception). And this way we return to the main subject once more in a sort of recapitulation. The main subject enters a unique variation with broken octaves, normal octaves, parallel sixths, and heavily embellished melodies – yet the harmonies and basic melodic arcs stay the same; a true variation. The transition and subordinate subject remains the same but centering on Bb, though the rising arpeggios at the end emphasize Dd and Eb, signaling a subdominant, as important in all recapitulations. A small tonally ambiguous variation of the main subject is added in, using three melodic arcs to bring us to the retransition; built on C-F notes, D-G notes, and Ab-D notes. The Bb harmony, which should be clear, is blurred by being mutated in Bd so often, while the familiar F (dominant) is replaced with Gm, Eb, and Cm, all related keys but not providing the solid cadence a dominant harmony can give. The retransition mirrors its old self, though a rising chromatic scale brings us back to the main subject while we have an F (dominant) basso continuo.

Another variation of the main subject ensues, though it is not so outlandish, the melody simply being augmented to triplets and 32nd notes; later with the octaves the triplets get broken to add more diversity. The movement ends in a coda that is especially beautiful even by Beethoven’s standards, built from the transition’s motif inverted; the soprano repeats F (dominant) while the alto climbs from Bb (tonic) to Eb (subdominant). The soprano then assumes the melodic line while alto fills in the harmony, rising from Bb (tonic) to F (dominant) before falling back to Bb. The sentence repeats with the base embellished in an orchestral drone. The second little phrase, where the soprano soars high, is twice repeated in crescendo, climaxing to fortissimo where the entire orchestra of the piano concerto joins in. The movement quietly trails off, soprano and alto falling in parallel 3rds, where the melodic arc of the main subject is “perfected”; F falls to F and simply rises in Bb, this happening twice. A soft dominant-tonic cadence, then a sudden loud one!



Choral Fantasy Translation

Schiller’s lyrics from Beethoven’s choral fantasy, translated so it can be sung. Now you can sing along in English!

Schmeichelnd hold und lieblich klingen
unseres Lebens Harmonien
und dem Schönheitssinn entschwingen
Blumen sich, die ewig blühn.
Fried und Freude gleiten freundlich
wie der Wellen Wechselspiel.
Was sich drängte rauh und feindlich,
ordnet sich zu Hochgefühl

Wenn der Töne Zauber walten
und des Wortes Weihe spr-icht
muss sich Herrliches gestalten
Nacht und Stürme werden Licht
Äuss’re Ruhe, inn’re Wonne
herrschen für den Glücklichen
Doch der Künste Frühlingssonne
ässt aus beiden Licht entstehn

Großes, das ins Herz gedrungen
blüht dann ne-eu und schön empor
Hat ein Geist sich aufgeschwungen
hallt ihm stets ein Geisterchor
Nehmt denn hin, ihr schönen Seelen
froh die Gaben schöner Kunst
Wenn sich Lieb und Kraft vermählen
lohnt den Menschen Göttergunst.

Graceful, charming, sweet, and singing,
Our living tones are beginning,
With a sense of beauty rising
As flowers forever bloom.
Peace and Joy do flow together
As the calming play of waves.
The once bitter has forever
Transformed into august Joy

Music’s magic reins enchanting,
Telling us the sacred wa-ay.
The sun’s mighty glory rising
Night and tempest turn to day.
Peace reigns the world, Bliss reigns the heart,
Solacing the blessed men.
All the genius in Springtime’s Arts;
Let all sunlight shine from them

Grandeur did pierce our hearts with light,
Blooming new in wond’rous sou-und.
Once our souls have taken in flight,
Spirit choirs do resound.
Let all Truth shine, joyous beings,
From High Art’s beloved Grace.
When Love and Strength, come uniting,
All men rise through Divine Grace.

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.

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.