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PIANO SONATA NO. 17 IN D MINOR, OP. 31 NO. 2 (TEMPEST)

Tuesday 7th June, 2130-2400
Alfred Brendel

Largo - Allegro
Adagio
Allegretto

Compared to the vivacious lightness of touch in the first, G major Sonata of Op. 31, the second is, as its nickname suggests, a stormy work. The name, as so often in Beethoven's piano sonatas, was not the composer's own, but here he is said to have remarked "Just read Shakespeare's The Tempest", when asked what this work and the Appassionata (Op. 57) were meant to be about.

The first movement's volatile nature is immediately apparent through its frequent alternation of stretches of slow and fast music: a Largo, improvisatory arpeggio - like a question - and an ominous Allegro - the answer - that soon gains unassailable momentum. Although in a major key (B flat), the slow movement carries on the sombre mood, with fragmentary melodic ideas broken up by a muffled drum-like ostinato in the bass. The energy returns with the finale, a succession of almost unrelieved semiquavers and an obsessive four-note theme that, according to the pianist-composer Czerny, was inspired by a horseman galloping past Beethoven's window - not an image likely to bring The Tempest to mind, but one that at least catches the urgency of the composer's vision.

Matthew Rye

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