Scherzo: Assai vivace
Largo - Allegro risoluto
No two of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas are alike. Even more than in his string quartets, which similarly span his creative life, he seemed to make new strides in form and motivic development in each work. Yet the last five sonatas stand apart from the rest, in the same way that the late quartets do from their predecessors. Opp. 101 , 106, 109 , 110 and 111 enter new levels of scale and ambition - and all were intended by Beethoven to be published with the designation "for the Hammerklavier", the German equivalent of 'pianoforte', though only Op. 106 appeared in print with this instruction. It is also the most imposing of the five, with a slow movement alone that exceeds the length of many of his early sonatas.
The Hammerklavier Sonata was written in 1817-18 and dedicated to Beethoven's staunchest patron, Archduke Rudolph of Austria - the massive chords at the very opening were written to suggest the words "Vivat, vivat Rudolphus!" The powerful momentum achieved by this theme is maintained right through the first movement, which still manages to fulfil the general demands of sonata form.
Even the brief scherzo breaks the bounds of the form Beethoven had already himself established in other works, with several changes of tempo and metre and an almost improvisational flow. The slow movement, too, has its own sense of spontaneous creation. At nearly 25 minutes, it is the longest Adagio Beethoven ever wrote and is a set of variations in the relatively remote key of F sharp minor. Compared with the extrovert first movement it has the feeling of a very personal, intimate musing on the simple chordal theme, though there are some dramatic passages. The finale is an example of Beethoven's greatest formal preoccupation in these late sonatas - fugue; apart from the introduction and coda, the writing is entirely contrapuntal.