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Tuesday 7th June, 2130-2400
Alfred Brendel

Allegro vivace
Adagio grazioso
Rondo: Allegretto - Presto

Although published as a trio of works, the three sonatas of Op. 31, composed in 1801 and 1802, show great diversity in style and content and it is evident that Beethoven did not intend them to constitute a unity. No. 1 seems to be the result of a commission from a female admirer for a revolutionary sonata on new lines. When this request was conveyed to him through his Leipzig publishers Beethoven replied with both indignation and sarcasm: 'Are you out of your minds, gentlemen? To suggest that I should write a sonata of that sort? During the fever of the revolution, well, yes, that might have been possible, but now, when people are simmering down; Bonaparte has concluded a concordat with the Pope - such a sonata, now? - Heavens above! In these new Christian times, huh! - No, leave me alone, I shall do nothing of the kind. The lady can have a sonata of mine... but I won't follow her scheme.' So, true to his word, the resulting sonata (which is not even dedicated to the 'lady admirer') does not bear the slightest trace of revolution and is on the contrary bright and serene. Indeed, it stands out from its neighbours in Op. 31 by its conservatism and conventionality.

The main feature of the first movement is a figure in which the left hand is anticipated by the right by a semiquaver, as if Beethoven is making fun of bad pianists who can't play both hands simultaneously. The second movement is an Adagio grazioso in a rather nostalgic mood, full of trills, ornaments and free, arabesque-like runs. The cheerful finale is a sonata-rondo in which the first theme is developed in the central section and the first, triplet-dominated episode reappears in a recapitulation to confirm its status as a second subject.

Matthew Rye

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