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Piano Sonata No.18 in E Flat Major Op.31 No.3

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonata No.18 in E flat major, Op 31, No.3

With the exception of the “Hammerklavier” Sonata (in B flat major, Op.106, of 1818-19), the Sonata in E flat major, Op.31, No.3, was the last of Beethoven’s sonatas to contain four movements, as well as being the last to include a formal Minuet and Trio. It is also remarkable in that all four movements are in quick tempo. The first is in sonata form with a first subject whose salient motif is the drooping figure heard in the first two bars, and with a high-lying second subject accompanied by a conventional “Alberti” bass. A closely-wrought development based almost entirely on the drooping figure is followed by a regular recapitulation and a short but telling coda.

The second movement (in A flat major), although entitled “Scherzo”, is in fact in orthodox sonata form, yet its quick changes of mood and its sudden dynamic contrasts are thoroughly of a Beethoven scherzo. Its main theme, with its nimble semiquaver bass-line, is particularly appealing. The Minuet is formal and elegant: the Trio (still in E flat major) constructed from short chordal phrases. The finale is, once again, in sonata form, and its obvious kinship to eighteenth century “hunting” music accounts for the fact that the sonata as a whole has sometimes been referred to as “La Chasse” – though not, of course, by Beethoven himself. Most of the movement is pervaded by the rocking triplets of the main theme’s accompaniment and the hopping figure that immediately succeeds it.

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