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PIANO SONATA NO. 18 IN E FLAT, OP. 31 NO. 3

    Tuesday 7th June, 2130-2400
    Alfred Brendel

    Allegro
    Scherzo: Allegretto vivace
    Minuetto: Moderato e grazioso
    Presto con fuoco

    Even though Op. 31 No. 3 was written in 1802, there is nothing about it to suggest that Beethoven was to write the famous Heiligenstadt Testament (his confessional statement verging on the suicidal) later the same year. On the contrary, it is a particularly relaxed work, except for the vivacious finale, which has earned the Sonata the nickname The Hunt (though this title is as inapt for the rest of the Sonata as is Moonlight to the rest of Op. 27 No. 2 ).

    Although reverting to the four-movement form after the three-movement predecessors in Op. 31, the layout is unusual in having a moderately paced scherzo (in duple rather than the usual triple metre) replacing the traditional slow movement, and a gentle minuetto instead of the customary fast dance movement - this is not simply a case of the middle movements exchanging their positions.

    The Sonata opens with a striking harmonic idea that begins on an ambiguous added-sixth chord and does not reach the tonic until the sixth bar. The falling fifth motif in the first bar becomes the motto of the first movement and provides a thematic link between the different elements of the first subject group. The scherzo, although true to its title in its playfulness, differs from what Beethoven usually means by the form - a vigorous expression of relentless energy. The melodious minuetto is contrasted with a trio composed almost wholly of chords alternating between lower and upper registers of the keyboard (later used by Saint-Saëns in his Variations on a Theme of Beethoven of 1874). The 6/8 hunting finale is in sonata form with continuous quaver movement dominating both subject groups, themselves unified by common material.

    Matthew Rye

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