Piano Sonata No. 18 (Beethoven)
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The Piano Sonata No. 18 in E♭ 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. The sonata was given the nickname The Hunt by a third party due to one of its themes being reminiscent of a horn call. A playful jocularity is maintained throughout the piece.[dubious ] However, as with many of Beethoven's early works, the 'jocular' style can be heard as a facade, concealing profound ideas and depths of emotion.
The sonata consists of four movements:
The form of the entire sonata is unusual because it does not have a slow movement.
Beethoven's progressive harmonic language is apparent from the very first chord of the piece (third inversion of the eleventh on dominant B♭); the stability of a tonic chord in root position is delayed until bar 8.
The expressive harmonic colour, coupled with the changes of tempi in the introduction (mm. 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 (m. 89), in the recapitulation (m. 137), and also during the coda (transposed into the subdominant A♭ (m. 220), and then at its original pitch (m. 237)). The modulatory passage between the first and second subjects (mm. 33–45) explores the opening chord, but in a minor variation (with a C♭, 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.
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 rather than ternary form. This wasn't the first time Beethoven wrote a scherzo not in ternary form; the Op. 14, No. 2 sonata has a scherzo, in rondo form, as its finale. However, this movement 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.
The third movement is the most serious of the movements, with a sweet and tender nature presented in the piece. Both the minuet and the trio are presented in E♭ major. The final movement is very vigorous and rolling piece suspended by continuous, rollicking eighth notes in the bass, featuring tarantella rhythms.
- 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.
- A lecture by András Schiff on Beethoven's piano sonata Op. 31, No. 3
- For a public domain recording of this sonata visit Musopen
- Piano Sonata No. 18: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
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