Das Lebewohl: Adagio - Allegro
Das Abwesenheit: Andante espressivo
Das Wiedersehen: Vivacissimamente
While a number of Beethoven's piano sonatas have titles (authentic or otherwise), Op. 81a is the only one to have a concrete extra-musical inspiration: the flight from Vienna of his patron the Archduke Rudolph (along with the entire nobility and their entourages) in anticipation of the French invasion of the city. In the light of the political situation, Beethoven was understandably indignant when his publisher, with an eye on the international market, insisted on giving it the French title, Les adieux , rather than his own German Lebewohl . In his next sonata ( Op. 90 ) he would reject Italian tempo markings as being Napoleonic, and later even replace pianoforte with Hammerklavier.
Beethoven began the first movement of his E flat major Sonata in May 1809, just after the Archduke had left and a matter of days before Vienna was besieged by Napoleon's forces. During the siege he sheltered in a cellar with a pillow over his head to protect his already diminishing hearing. The other two movements were written in January 1810, following the Archduke's return. The published dedication reads: "On the departure of his Imperial Highness, for the Archduke Rudolph in admiration" - though his private dedication in the sketches refers to the Sonata as being "written from the heart".
The first movement, 'The Farewell', is dominated by a short motto of three descending notes, over which in the first bar Beethoven writes the three syllables Le-be-wohl. This motif furnished the material for both the first and second subject groups of the main Allegro, and while it adds an obviously programmatic element to the music it is, as he explained of the Pastoral Symphony, "not painting, but the expression of feeling". This can in fact be seen as the principle behind the whole Sonata.
The second movement, 'The Absence', expresses moods of both loss and consolation with its two contrasting themes, leading straight into the joyful 'Reunion' of the finale. This movement is in sonata form and contrasts a dynamic first subject and a more relaxed second subject with a distinctive bridge passage that alternates four-bar phrases of G flat major and F major, first in simple forte arpeggios and then in a more decorated piano form. Finally, a poco andante version of the first subject leads into an exhilarating coda.