1. Allegro con brio
3. Scherzo. Allegro
4. Allegro assai
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.
This is the last of the three sonatas from the Op. 2 group that Beethoven, more or less, composed simultaneously. Like the First Piano Sonata, the Third draws on material from his youthful work, Piano Quartet No. 3, and, like the Second, it contains some significant innovations. The first movement (Allegro con brio) is dominated by an witty opening theme initiated by a figuration in double-thirds. Additional motifs generated from the initial theme complete the first theme group, and while all the general mood remains lighthearted, the music is also dramatic and replete with characteristic Beethovenian drive and assertiveness, this energy exemplified by brilliantly ascending arpeggiated chords. The second main theme, based on material from the aforementioned Piano Quartet, is lyrical, combining an air of graceful nonchalance and elegant spontaneity. What follows is a remarkable passage that begins with the opening theme and goes on to feature three ascending arpeggiated chords, the last of which, an augmented triad that sounds at first like a bold misstep, is both mischievous and unexpected, not to mention absolutely daring for its time. In the development section, Beethoven deftly moves through several modulations and then briefly suspends all development, indeed, all thematic activity. Suggesting the despair of a traveler who is lost, this static moment ends when the main theme reappears in a more assertive form. The movement ends with a coda, which Beethoven enlarges to monumental proportions, in violation of any traditional conception of a coda. The Adagio second movement features a lovely, somewhat ponderous, theme that seems to hesitate as it moves along. It is played twice the same way, then is heard boldly and in a different key. After this restatement, it returns, more or less, to its original form, but is heard now mostly in the upper register. The brief third movement Scherzo (Allegro) begins with a confident, impish theme, whose rhythms and melodic fragments spray the movement with much color and delight. There is a brief trio section, which is rather athematic, but creates a contrast with its rich arpeggios and stormy atmosphere. The finale, marked Allegro assai, is a rondo with a sparkly theme which moves rapidly upward, then tumbles humorously down. This arched pattern dominates the movement even as thematic transformations occur. A second theme appears that is dreamy and lyrical, providing effective contrast. There are many transitions and episodic passages throughout, imparting a range of color, illuminating the joyful mood. The Sonata concludes with a recapitulation and a lengthy, brilliant coda. Like the other sonatas in the Op. 2 group, this work is dedicated to Joseph Haydn.
(All Music Guide)