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Piano Sonata No.16 in in G Major Op.31 No.1

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonata No.16 in G major, Op.31, No.1

The three sonatas forming Beethoven’s Op.31 were composed during 1802, the first being published in April 1803 by Nageli in Zurich, the third not until May 1804. 1802 was the year of the “Heiligenstadt Testament”, a despairing document Beethoven wrote to his brothers from the village of that name (near Vienna) when he thought would never survive the terrible ordeal of his impending deafness.

The G major Sonata is more conservative in style than its two companions, and musically on a slightly lower level. The first movement is dominated by the two main elements of its first subject: a flourish of semiquavers, and a succession of chords whose displaced accents give the music much more of its character. The second subject, a dancing slightly Weberish tune, has no really organic function, but draws attention to itself by virtue of the fact that it is cast in the unexpected key of B major (with a counter-statement in B minor).

The Adagio (in C major) is in ternary form, its opening and closing sections notable for their profuse and florid ornamentation; the middle section, which traverses the keys of C minor, A flat major and F minor, is based on reiterated staccato semiquavers. The theme of the rondo finale suggests that Beethoven knew Boccherini’s famous Minuet, but its treatment – especially in the coda, with its hesitation and changes of tempo – is more reminiscent of Haydn. The triplet figuration which acts as a counterpoint to the refrain on its second appearance plays a vital part in the structure of the movement.

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