[MUSIC] So, from one type of preamble to another. Before delving into Opus 109, I'd like to briefly backtrack to the early period just so that its sound and its nature are fresh in the mind as a point of comparison as we enter the world of late Beethoven. The sonata I'd like to use to do so is the C minor, Opus 10, Number 1, written very shortly after Opus 7, which we dealt with in the second week of the course. It is in many ways a very different kind of piece than Opus 7, far more compact and in his fist-shaking C minor moodâthink the 5th symphonyâ but they are alike in that, despite being early works, they are not only fully mature, but fully representative of his personality. Opus 10, Number 1, vibrates with nervous energy in its outer movements, addresses infinity in the middle one. But, at the same time, it in no way challenges the existing concept of the sonata. Let's listen to the exposition of the first movement. [MUSIC] Again, Beethoven's voice is on full display here. But there is a certain formality to the proceedings. We begin with a driving first themeâ musicologists often refer to this sort of material as "masculine," to my irritation. [MUSIC] And then, after a suitable amount of bridge material, we get the contrastingâ"feminine"âsecond theme in the relative major. [MUSIC] Without getting hung up on this, that is standard procedure in a minor-key sonata. A major-key work moves to the dominant, a minor-key one moves to the relative major. The other movements, which I won't play today, similarly conform to tradition, without compromising Beethoven's personality. Only very near the end of the piece, in the midst of a rather remorseless prestissimo finale, is there a truly surprising event, with the narrative interrupted by a much slower iteration of the second theme in a distant keyâ a small suggestion of Beethoven's desire to give significance to the last movement, which becomes such a fixation later. But in general, this is a work that plays by the rules. With the sound of Opus 10, Number 1 fresh in the ears, let's now hear the exposition of the first movement of Opus 109. [MUSIC] It's really quite amazing. Other than a certain forcefulness of personality, there is no suggestion that these two works are written by the same composer. In addition to the almost frightening beauty of this, which doesn't need to be explained, and which I would not be able to do in any case, there are many things at work here. First of all, the tempo flexibility. I cannot think of a sonata movement written before this that is in two different tempi. A slow introduction is always possible, but that is an addition, it exists outside the form. In some case, like the PathÃ©tique Sonata, the introduction might make reappearances, but the material itself remains external to the sonata form. Then, there is the question of the sonority of this music. First of all, we have what I think of as "late Beethoven position," with the two hands positioned at the extreme ends of the piano. [MUSIC] As we talked about earlier in the course, this is already a much bigger piano than the one that existed when Beethoven started writing for the instrument. But this sort of writing demonstrates that he still regards it as a too-limited resource for him. This passage is absolutely not unique. The last movements of both Opus 110 and 111, in climactic moments, find the hands separated by five, six octaves. What is more impressive still about the sound of this opening is its edgelessness. The piano is famously the edgiest of all instruments. Think about how it is played: The finger hits a key, which in turn activates a complex mechanismâa hammer, damper, string. First of all, as pianists, we have no control over the sound of the note after the moment at which we play it. But beyond that, no other instrument emphasizes the moment of attack in such an extreme way. A string or a wind player can, if he so chooses, begin a note nebulously, and bring it slowly into focus. With a piano, there is no disguising the moment of contact between hammer and string. For hundreds of years, composers have looked for ways around this. But Beethoven, in his early works, is often quite comfortable with this extra degree of definition of sound. It gives the music an extra thrust, which suits him well. How far from that is Opus 109, which, at least in its first theme manages to have no edges, no points of gravity. It shows Beethoven once again asking the piano to go beyond its natural means. The most impressive aspect of this music is not its sonic nature, though. It is the structural magic trick it plays. For, while Opus 109's first movement has such a feeling of freedom about it and seems to have moved beyond the old forms entirely, it is actually a perfect sonata form. In fact, it is a distillation of the sonata form. First of all, it is pared down to necessities. Unlike Opus 10, Number 1, with its lengthy bridge, there is literally no material between its first and second themes. In fact, the first theme areaâthe first theme group, I supposeâ is eight measures long and takes no more than ten seconds to play. I also refer to it as a "distillation" of the sonata because of the contrast, because the contrast of its two themes is so absolute. On the most obvious level, there is this radical difference of tempo, the vivace of the opening giving way to an unprecedented adagio sostenuto. But beyond that, there is the contrast of the rhythmic regularity of the first theme versus the freedom of the second. In the first theme, we have an undisturbed pattern of two notes in the right hand, then two notes in the left, all the way through. [MUSIC] After this, the slowness of the second theme, combined with the length of its first note [MUSIC] instantly establishes it as flexible, improvisatory in a way that the first theme is not. Honestly, coming on the heels of what it does, the first chord here always strikes me as being sort of a big bang moment, a recreation of the universe. Lastly, there is the contrast of harmonic stability on the one hand, and great instability on the other. The first theme has plenty of harmonic motion, but first of all, the rate of this motion is absolutely regular, one harmony per beat, and on top of that it doesn't take us anywhere unexpected. By contrast, the second theme, while in the dominant B major, as it ought to be, takes several measures to establish it and begins on a dramatic diminished chord. [MUSIC] The B major arrival. There is yet another fascinating aspect of the construction of this exposition. This is clearly a stripped-down sonata form. The second theme might feel generous, but it is seven measures long. And yet, he leaves room in it for a variation, with this... [MUSIC] Turning into this... [MUSIC] It is sort of miraculous how he manages to take the second theme and make it sound grand and generous, and then he repeats the whole thing in this more elaborate version. And he does it all in seven measures, one fewer than the standard length of a single phrase. Without sacrificing economy one bit, this is yet another way he distinguishes the two themes, the first being totally unadorned. In the movement that is clearly all "about" what is essential in the sonata form, this inclusion of the second theme "variation" is very revealing. It demonstrates a very personal view of what is and isn't essential in a sonata. This movement takes about three-and-a-half minutes to play in totality. It is, if I'm not mistaken, the shortest first movement Beethoven ever wrote, and one of the shortest sonata four movements regardless of where they fall within the work. He follows this without so much as a pause by upping the ante with an even shorter sonata movement. [MUSIC] Now, the way these two movements interact with one another is really fascinating. The first movement is a bit of a neat trick, really, because again, it is extremely terse in construction with no wasted notes, and even more significantly, no auxiliary materials, no excess of any kind. And yet the overall impression it leaves the listener with is one of great spaciousness, of a leisurely generosity. I am, by the way, in awe of this, at a loss at attempting to explain how it was achieved. But anyway, despite the record-breaking brevity of the first movement, due to its character, when the second movement arrives, it gives the impression of disturbing the peace, of interrupting comfort with anxiety. Or, more to the point, it creates a massive contrast, a total contrast. So, these two movements collectively create a rather remarkable effect, a bit of a nested Russian dolls thing. The whole point of these very brief first two movements seems to be to represent absolutely opposed characters and ideas. But then, if you look more closely at the first movement, if you look within it, you see that it, too, despite seeming unified in the grander picture, is a study in contrasts itself. This is not only a highly impressive feat, it has a profound effect on the way we experience the piece, and demonstrates Beethoven's fascination with and mastery of structure. Based on whether we are zooming in or out, figuratively with our ears, the first movement becomes an entirely different sort of auditory experience. Only Beethoven with his uncanny gift for slowing or quickening time at will, could manage to make a movement simultaneously tightly wound and relaxed, simultaneously of a piece and a joining of opposites. What is unambiguous is that the first two movements are dissimilar, foils really. Again, they are united only in being dramatically pared-down sonata forms. One sees this not only in the expositions but in the developments. Each eschews the varied, exploratory nature one often finds in the Classical development, and instead is based on one solitary idea. Neither of these developments makes any reference whatsoever to the movement's second theme. In the first movement, this means a return after the chaos of the second theme to the absolute regularity of the opening. [MUSIC] This continues as unvaried rhythmically as the opening for the whole development, a full minuteâ absolutely an enormous length of time by the standards of the movement. In the second movement, the idea that dominates the development is the opening of the movement. But not the melody itself, the bass line. [MUSIC] This bass line, minus the vehemence, returns as a two-voice canon to take over the development. [MUSIC] As you can hear, this initially highly charged, highly determined music begins to lose its way. Which creates the final paradox of these two movements. The second movementâwhich initially in comparison to the first movement, or anything else really, seems to be economical and purposeful as can beâ ultimately has a moment which is more discursive and open-ended than anything that happened within the first movement. So there it is, two fully fleshed-out sonata movements, full of power and paradox, in six minutes flat. If you leave aside the two sonatas Opus 49 and the G major Opus 79âall three of them sonatinas rather than sonatas, reallyâthere is no other proper sonata-form first movement written by Beethoven as short as these two are together. If the sonata Opus 22, the last of the early period proper, was a perfected farewell to the traditional sonata form, perhaps Opus 109's first two movementsâwhich despite their brevity, communicate more than might be reasonably expectedâform a perfect elegy to the form altogether. Let's take a short break for a review question.