I. Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major, Op. 31, no. 3
   by Ludwig van Beethoven

The Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major was written by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1802. He struggled with a worsening deafness. This diagnosis was probably confirmed by 1798 and resulted in the so-called Heiligenstadt Testament, of October 1802, in which he expressed his deepest frustrations of losing the sense so crucial to a composer, in addition to losing the contact with the outside world. Sonata op. 31, no. 3 is probably the last sonata composed before this testament. Remarkably, in light of this unfortunate period, its prevailing character is one of exuberance, graceful comedy and lyric beauty. This sonata features many unique characteristics within its formal treatment and it has four movements, three of which employ sonata-allegro form.

  1. Allegro – this movement begins in an unusual manner, instead of posing a thesis or statement, it asks a question. Moreover, throughout the movement, it asks the same question over and over again. Distinctive harmonic departure from the classical sonata form convention fills the movement with drama. Traditionally tonality is to be established in the first theme with no ambiguity so as to make contrast with the second theme, which is normally set in the dominant. In this movement, however, such clarity in tonality is to be questioned. The opening begins on the subdominant of E flat major, and then the chords glide chromatically into the dominant. After a second appearance of the cadence from measure seven to measure eight, a tonic pedal asserts the actual tonic harmony much more firmly. In fact, the entire exposition is not so much in E flat major as "round about" E flat major. The transition, starting at measure 25, produces interesting development beginning with the first motive in the minor and cuts out in order to modulate to B flat major for the second tonal area, a simple Mozart-like melodic line with alberti bass in the left hand, a happy and humorous tune.

  2. Scherzo/Allegretto vivace – The second movement (in A flat major), although entitled “Scherzo”, is in fact in conventional sonata form, yet its quick changes of mood and its sudden dynamic contrasts are thoroughly of a Beethoven scherzo. Its most distinguishing characteristics are the perpetual-motion accompaniment in the left hand, and the sudden explosive chords that temporarily halt the movement’s continuous motion. The surprise ending is truly one of the composer’s masterstrokes.

  3. Menuetto/Moderato e grazioso – The Minuet is formal and elegant. It is characterized by a complete absence of the vigor and rhythmic thrust of most classical minuets by Haydn and Mozart, as well as those by Beethoven himself. Instead, this beautiful piece is filled with nostalgia and sentiment, as though the composer is reluctantly taking his leave of the eighteenth century. The Trio (still in E flat major) is constructed from short chordal phrases.

  4. Presto con fuoco – The final movement is sometimes called “La Chasse” or The Hunt. The tempo is occasionally referred to as a tarantella. Due to its constant driving triplet accompaniment in the left hand, it creates a feeling of fast simple duple meter instead of the notated compound duple. The light-spirited movement consists of two primary rhythmic motives: the triplet left-hand figure that quietly begins the presto and the horn-like motive of a saltarello rhythm that appears for the first time in m. 12. It starts breathlessly like the sound of hooves clattering on the cobblestones. The horn-like theme is built upon the tonic-dominant relationship and leads into a transition that modulates the motive to the parallel minor key. The secondary theme starts with a cover tone on F, bright as a chirping bird. The movement finally halts on the sforzando dominant seventh chord, marked with a fermata and continues to a joyous conclusion with only a tiny break just before the final phrase.

LOCATION: UTSA Recital Hall in the Arts Building [map]
Parking available at the Ximenes Ave. Garage

Copyright © 2014 Sound Delivery. All rights reserved.