Piano Sonata No. 18 (Beethoven)

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The Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major, Op. 31, No. 3, is a sonata for solo piano by Ludwig van Beethoven, the third and last of his Op. 31 piano sonatas. The work dates from 1802. A playful jocularity is maintained throughout the piece, earning it the occasional nickname of The Hunt, although like many of Beethoven's early works, the 'jocular' style can be heard as a facade, concealing profound ideas and depths of emotion.

Roger Kamien has performed a Schenkerian analysis of facets of chords of the sonata.[1]

The sonata consists of four movements:

  1. Allegro: Beethoven's progressive harmonic language is apparent from the very first chord of the piece (3rd inversion of the 11th on dominant B[2]), the stability of a tonic chord in root position delayed until bar 8. The expressive harmonic colour, coupled with the changes of tempi in the introduction (1-18), creates an evocative opening, reminiscent of the improvisatory style of C. P. E. Bach's piano sonatas. This opening cell is repeated extensively throughout the movement - at the start of the development (89), in the recapitulation (137), and also during the coda (transposed into the subdominant (220), and then at its original pitch (237)). The codetta (33-45) explores this opening chord in a minor variation (with a C flat, implying ii7 of E minor), even appearing in bar 36 in the exact spacing (albeit with different spelling) of the 'Tristan chord', written by Richard Wagner some 55 years later.
  2. Scherzo. Allegretto vivace: This scherzo is different from regular scherzos, as it is written in 2/4 time as opposed to 3/4, and because it is in sonata form. However, its still contains many characteristics of a scherzo, including unexpected pauses and a playful nature. The theme is in the right hand while the left-hand contains staccato accompaniment. This wasn't the first time Beethoven wrote a scherzo that wasn't in ternary form; the scherzo in the Op. 14, No. 2 sonata has a scherzo as its third movement, which is in rondo form.
  3. Menuetto. Moderato e grazioso: It is surprisingly the most serious of the movements, with a sweet and tender nature presented in the piece, with both the minuet and the trio presented in E flat major.
  4. Presto con fuoco: A very vigorous and rolling piece, suspended by continuous, rollicking eighth notes in the bass.

The form of the sonata is unusual because it does not have a slow movement, which is instead replaced with a scherzo and followed by a minuet, before launching into the spirited finale.

Adaptations[edit]

  • Camille Saint-Saëns used the Trio section of the Menuetto as the theme for his 1874 Variations sur un thème de Beethoven, Op. 35, for two pianos.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kamien, Roger (Summer 1998). "Non-Tonic Settings of the Primary Tone in Beethoven Piano Sonatas". The Journal of Musicology 16 (3): 379–393. doi:10.1525/jm.1998.16.3.03a00060. JSTOR 199822. 
  2. ^ Harding, Henry Alfred (1901). Analysis of form in Beethoven's sonatas. Novello. p. 37. 

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