Opus 109 is the first of the last Beethoven Sonatas (Opus 109-111). This sonata, like the other two, show characteristics of Beethoven's last creative phase, including rich harmonic structures, a fascination with intricate counterpoint, and strict adherence to classical and baroque forms.
- Vivace ma non troppo - Adagio Expressivo - Tempo I
- Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung ("Andante, molto cantabile ed expressivo")
Vivace ma non troppo - Adagio Expressivo - Tempo I
The opening movement is surprisingly brief, but its brevity demonstrates Beethoven's complete mastery over the sonata-allegro form. The entire first movement lasts about 2-3 minutes, but the first theme of the exposition takes about 5 seconds! The vivace sections of this movement are remarkably simplistic texturally, being basically a continuous line of sixteenth notes outlining an E Major chord progression. The second theme is a dramatic contrast to the first theme. It begins with an arpeggiated diminished seventh chord, marked forte to contrast the piano coloring of the first theme. After a cantabile theme in thirds, it moves into simple arpeggiated runs that suggest a written-out improvisation. The development begins with a seemless transition from the second theme by means of an ascending B Major scale. After modulating through various rare sharp keys (D-Sharp, C-Sharp, A-Sharp, F-Sharp, but not in that order), Beethoven leads into the recapitulation by introducing the first, and only, sustained lines in the movement. Beethoven ends the recapitulation with a cadenza-like passage in parallel sixths and leads into a brief but beautiful coda, ending on a sustained E Major triad.
The second movement, marked Prestissimo follows directly after the opening movement. Before the final chord of the opening movement has fully decayed, the second movement comes crashing in on the parallel minor. This movement, though not fugal in nature, is comprised of the counterpoint that was characteristic of Beethoven's late works. This movement is much closer to a Three-Part Invention than a fugue and is mostly almost entirely contrapuntal, doubled at the octave.
Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung ("Andante, molto cantabile ed expressivo")
The finale is perhaps the most radical of the three movements while being the most traditional in form. It is a theme and variations in Baroque form, with the basic tempo remaining constant throughout the movement and increasing the speed (and virtuosity) by subdividing the measures further and further, adding more and more notes into the same amount of time. It should also be noted that this movement, like the second movement of Opus 111, which is also a theme and variations, is a slow movement; Beethoven obviously felt that these last sonatas should end with great emotional intensity. The Tema is a beautiful melody marked mezza voce with beautiful harmonies moving in the tenor and bass voices. Variation I is the homophonic variation and seems to look forward to the pianistic waltz; its bass shockingly similar to what would become the standard waltz bass, but it is decidedly locked into triple meter, which denies it the waltz's compounded single meter. Variation II is a moto perpetuo which is often taken too quickly by performers; to speed up this variation rather than accept the sixteenth note rhythm is to break the form of the theme and variations. Variation III breaks away from the original tempo and is marked Allegro Vivace. It is a virtuosic Allegro which relies more on scalar configurations outlining the original chord progression than it does on a form of the melody. Variation IV returns to the original tempo, but in compound triplet meter (9/8), creating the first instance of triplets and sextuplets to the quarters, eighths, and sixteenths of the first two variations. Variation V again breaks out of the original tempo; Beethoven marks it Allegro and Alla Breve, which is a decided increase in speed. This variation is reminiscent of the second movement, as it is also in double counterpoint at the octave. Variation VI captures the very essence of the form. The melody is in the alto with harmonies in the tenor and bass and repeated notes in the soprano; this repeated B goes from quarter notes, to duplet eighth notes, to triplet eights, and then to a measured trill in sextuplet sixteenths, while quickly accelerates to octuplet thirty-second notes. This "trill variation" makes ingenius, virtuosic use of three- and four-handed effects. (Triple trills and other three-handed effects were supposedly some of Beethoven's pianistic tricks in improvisation; the use of triple trills and arpeggiation of diminished seventh chords suggests that this variation may give a glimpse into Beethoven's famous improvisations.) At the end of this variation the trills vanish, and the theme appears again largely in its original form, marked cantabile rather than mezza voce. This cantabile marking gives the performer freedom for great emotional expression while bringing the listener full-circle and giving the movement unity.