Opus 2 no.1 Piano Sonata in F minor

1. Allegro
2. Adagio
3. Menuetto: Allegretto
4. Prestissimo
Claudio Arrau
Glenn Gould
The first movement, in 2/2 time, is in Sonata form. The first theme is driven by a Mannheim Rocket, very similar to the opening of the fourth movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 40. The second theme, in A-flat major, is accompanied by eighth-note octaves in the bass (usually with dominant harmony). There are two codettas; the first consists of a series of energetic descending scales in A-flat major, and the second is a lyrical passage marked con espressione. In this second codetta and in the second theme Beethoven makes interesting use of mode mixture as the right hand parts borrows from the parallel minor. The development opens with the initial theme, but is mostly dedicated to the second theme and its eighth-note accompaniment. The retransition to the main theme uses its sixteenth-note triplet. The recapitulation repeats the material from the exposition without much change, except that it stays in F minor throughout. There is a short coda. A tense, agitated feel is ubiquitous throughout the movement. Within the entire movement there seems to be two primary themes, with the remaining melodies simply making up the rest of score. The first theme consists of bars 1 to 8 which then repeats themselves, with very slight variations, in bars 101 to 108. It is variated in a bigger scale from bars 49 to 54. The second theme lasts from 20 to 35, and like the first theme is then restated in slight variations, in 55 to 60. It is also restated in bars 119 to 124. Adagio: Second movement. The second movement opens with a highly-ornamented lyrical theme in 3/4 time in F major. This is followed by an more agitated transitional passage in D minor accompanied by quiet parallel thirds, followed by a passage full of thirty-second notes in C major. This leads back to a more embellished form of the F major theme, which is followed by an F major variation of the C major section. This Adagio is the earliest composition by Beethoven now in general circulation; it was adapted from the slow movement of a piano quartet from 1785.[1] Allegretto: Third movement. The third movement, a minuet in F minor, is conventional in form. It contains two repeated sections, followed by a trio in F major in two repeated sections, after which the first minuet returns. The minuet is characterized by syncopations, dramatic pauses and sharp dynamic contrast. The trio is built around longer, more lyric phrases that pass between the right and left hands in imitative polyphony. The fourth movement, like the first and third, is in F minor, and is built using a modified sonata form (the development is replaced by new thematic material). The exposition is accompanied by ceaseless eighth-note triplets. The first theme is based on three staccato quarter note chords. A transitional passage leads to a more lyrical but still agitated theme in C minor. The chords of the first theme return to close the exposition. Where the development would be expected to start, there is a completely new theme in A flat, with the first respite from the eighth-note triplets. This is followed by an extended retransition based on alternating motives from the first theme and the "development" theme. The recapitulation presents the first and second themes in F minor. There is no coda, only a fortissimo descending arpeggio—in eighth-note triplets -- to conclude the piece.
In 1792 Beethoven had travelled from Bonn to Vienna to take lessons with Joseph Haydn. When his first piano sonatas were published in March 1796 he was by far no pupil anymore but a reputable composer, and particularly a renowned piano virtuoso on his first (and only) concert journey to Prague, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin. Haydn not only taught Beethoven counterpoint, he also introduced the young composer into society. In December 1795 Haydn invited Beethoven to play a solo piano concert in one of his concerts. For Beethoven that was a big chance. A better way to make him known was hardly possible. Haydn was one of the greatest composers alive. Performing in one of Haydn's concerts as a soloist playing his own music was a great honour and an indication of Haydn's respect for Beethoven (although their pupil-teacher relationship was characterised by many ups and downs). When Beethoven dedicated his first three piano sonatas to Haydn only three months later, he demonstrated his gratitude for Haydn's public support. (beethoven-haus-bonn.de)
Though this sonata is obviously an early piece, it still sounds very much like Beethoven in its driving rhythms, muscularity and overall sonic world. It is a fairly serious piece, too, but does not contain much that anyone would assess as profound or innovative. Still, it is a strong composition, even though it shows outside influences: for all the composer's stylistic traits throughout the work, it cannot be denied that the voice of Mozart is present, most notably in the first movement. Beethoven was still evolving his style at this point in his career and had not yet even written an important work for orchestra. For whatever flaws one might point out in this composition, it nevertheless fully deserves to be in the company of the other sonatas comprising the mighty canon of 32. Beethoven dedicated this sonata to composer Joseph Haydn. A typical performance of it lasts from 16 to 20 minutes. The first movement begins with a bouncy theme that hints at seriousness but remains rather bright and energetic. It must be noted that it seems to have been lifted from the finale of the Mozart Symphony No. 40, whose main theme only differs significantly in its key of G minor. Two more themes appear, the former a bit more serious and darker. The development section turns more intense, focusing on the drive and darker aspects of the thematic material. Ultimately this Allegretto con brio is solidly constructed, if unadventurous, and its thematic similarity to the Mozart Symphony serves in the end to illustrate the quite different ways the two composers treated the same material. The ensuing Adagio derives its main theme from the slow movement of Beethoven's Piano Quartet, No. 3, WoO. 36. The melody is serenely joyful in its pristine Classicism, and while it is rather simple and direct, it is also effective in capturing a mood of ecstasy and bliss. The Menuetto third movement (Allegretto) is robust and not intended to sound danceable. It is full of color and features an attractive trio, after which the main material is reprised. The finale (Prestissimo) may be the most Beethovenian movement here. It begins with a manic rush of energy, the theme seemingly in frantic pursuit of something elusive. The alternate subject is playful and comparatively dainty, featuring upper register sonorities that could hardly offer greater contrast. This movement is in sonata form, and so after the reappearance of the main theme, there is a quite effective development section, which ends as it sort of grows back into the recapitulation. (All Music Guide)
See also: http://www.worldofbeethoven.com/op2-no1/