The first Op.31 sonata is by far and away the funniest of all Beethoven’s 32 sonatas, and it’s kind of hard to explain why it isn’t one of the most famous of them all: all the movements feature attractive melodies, and it brims with good humour from the subtle to the ironically crass. You’ve got the first movement, where the hands can’t play together and the development is built almost entirely around an apparently inconsequential motif, the second, which is a joyfully overlong and increasingly absurd parody of (bad) Italian opera, and the third, full of wily chromatic movement and wry counterpoint.
MVT I, Allegro vivace
00:00 – Initial statement of Theme 1, containing two main motifs: a descending scale (Motif A), and a group of 3 syncopated chords (Motif B). At 00:09 mm.1-11 are repeated a tone lower
00:25 – Extension of Motif A, leading into counterstatement of theme at 00:39 which wanders into B min
00:56 – Theme 2, B maj. Syncopated melody introduced
01:02 – Counterstatement of melody in B min, in bass. After 5 bars it starts to modulate using the closing figure of the melody (1:07)
01:14 – The modulating section is treated like a new theme
01:23 – Cadential theme. Tonic-dominant swings alternating between major and minor
03:12 – Motif B used to transition into C min, then F, then Bb
03:29 – Motif A, initially in Bb, given highly dramatic extended treatment, with cadential trills in RH. C min, D min, then G (dominant at 3:51)
03:58 – Prolongation of the dominant using Motif B, with flattened 9th harmony introduced
04:17 – Theme 1, with repetition of initial bars in F omitted. Modulation into E min
04:38 – Theme 2, in E, modulating rapidly into G and staying there. Note the 2-note transition (Tr) at 5:30 which was also used earlier to move from B min into G
05:31 – Theme 1, with Motif A extended
05:44 – Mimicking the opening, and using Tr. After a while Tr disappears, and Motif B dominates, alternating between tonic and dominant, before the movement flickers out
MVT II, Adagio grazioso
06:17 – A SECTION, Theme 1. Cantabile & richly ornamented melody over operatic pizzicato accompaniment, repeated twice. Second time in bass, with absurd if elegant cadenzas in RH
07:26 – A SECTION, Theme 2. Darker, harmonically complex, and not at all parodic
07:56 – Arrival at tonic, followed by a cadenza
08:20 – A SECTION, Theme 1 repeats itself again, with more ornamentation (it becomes clear that this melody is besotted with itself)
08:52 – B SECTION, Theme 1. Eerily beautiful and still, new melody moving from i to VI
09:20 – B SECTION, Theme 2, reaching the dominant via Neapolitan harmony
10:00 – Extended dominant preparation, featuring surprising amounts of chromaticism and dissonance. Self-consciously + self-indulgently overlong
10:52 – A SECTION repeats itself, with yet even lashings of ornamentation. A deliberately clumsy statement of Theme 1 appears at 14:12, with silly emphases on A-flats that come out of nowhere (14:25 and similar)
MVT III, Rondo: allegretto (ABACABA + Sonata form)
15:15 – A: MAIN THEME, containing two main ideas: a symmetrical melody (at 15:15 – Idea 1), and a chromatic descent (15:26 – Idea 2), itself implied in the bass of Idea 1 (at 15:21).
15:38 – Both ideas repeated in inner voices
15:58 – Transition, developing the tail of Idea 2
16:11 – B: EPISODE 1 / QUASI THEME 2. Note triplet octave tremolo, which will recur later.
16:41 – A: MAIN THEME, now with triplet counterpoint in LH
17:02 – C: MIDDLE EPISODE / QUASI DEVELOPMENT. Idea 1 in bass, then developed in 2-part canon (17:07). At 17:22 a new theme enters, and alternates with Idea 1, modulating constantly.
18:01 – Music pauses on the dominant, with a droning tremolo in the LH taken from Episode 1
18:05 – A: MAIN THEME / RECAPITULATION. Idea 1 enters over drone, Idea 2 elaborated in triplets. At 18:36 Idea 2 also gets its own triplet drone.
18:47 – B: RECAPITULATION OF TRANSITION + EPISODE 1. Latter now in G.
19:31 – The ending section of Episode 1 is extended
19:41 – Cadenza-like development of Idea 1 over dominant pedal. Finally 8 bars of dominant 7th, with the C rising unexpectedly to a C#
20:06 – Idea 1 stated, now more wistfully, and with extravagant pauses. Each phrase alternates between the original tempo and agadio.
20:43 – Cadential trill for 3 bars, over which the opening figure of Idea 1 suddenly enters. A playful dialogue around this tiny figure ensues, after which loud repeated chords enter and slink away with something like insouciance.