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Sunday 5th June, 2130-2400
Alfred Brendel

Maestoso - Allegro con brio e appassionato
Arietta: Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile

In his last sonata, Beethoven seems to have found the ultimate solution to the unity of form by resolving in one movement the conflicts of the other. The two movements contrast on a number of planes: major/minor, Allegro/Adagio, appassionato/semplice, sonata form/variation form, turmoil/ecstatic serenity, earthly/spiritual. The perfection of this two-movement form was not, however, immediately realised by everyone when it was written in 1822. Beethoven's publisher assumed a rondo-finale had got lost in the post when he received a sonata ending in a long Adagio. Later, when Beethoven's friend and biographer Anton Schindler questioned him, Schindler was given the reply that he "had not had time to write a third movement", which was conceivably true in that a sketch for an Allegro finale was apparently abandoned in order to complete the Missa solemnis. But most probably Beethoven came to the decision that another movement would have disrupted the character of the sonata as it already stood.

The Maestoso introduction, with its double-dotted chords, prepares the way for the energy and conflict of the main Allegro. Here the semiquaver movement is relentless, with only occasional dramatic pauses and poco ritenente interrupting the constant tossing about of fragments of themes between all registers of the piano. The movement finally comes to rest in a pianissimo C major - and that, in effect, is where the music remains through most of the Arietta. Here there is no conflict - tension is exchanged for sublimity. The simplest of themes is subjected to ever more complex subdivisions of metre, until by the third variation the calm of the original is transformed into euphoric abandonment (with an uncanny foreshadowing of 20th-century boogie-woogie). The fourth variation returns to a more static representation of the theme over a demisemiquaver bass pedal. The fifth variation that follows an episode of trills, with the only real excursion away from C major in this movement, uses the theme in its original form over a busier accompaniment. In the sixth and final variation the theme moves into the uppermost register, intertwining itself around a continuous trill on the dominant, G, the whole becoming ever more ethereal, followed by a short coda ending in a mood of calm contentment.

Matthew Rye

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