The Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op.
109 was composed in 1820, which it is dedicated to Maximiliane Brentano. This
piano sonata breaks the bounds of the traditional sonata by not following traditional
movement forms. Instead it is characterized by a compact and brief form and
original in approach.
The Op. 109 differs from the ‘standard
model’ in several ways. This sonata although written in three movements, feels
more like ‘two balanced movements’ with the first movement somewhat linked to
the second movement The third movement is most unusual for a sonata as it is a
theme and variations, whereby the variations describe its theme in different,
individual ways. The theme of the third movement takes on the role of the slow
movement, which is often the second movement in the standard model. Although
the form of the whole piece seems dispersed off, there is at least a sense of
unity provided by the thematic material.
The opening of the first movement is
marked as Vivace and has a rather
arabesque-like figuration which is bright, lyrical and rapid. After only eight
bars, the first theme leads into a contrasted second theme, Adagio which is homophonic in texture.
There is an obvious sense of tension in the usage of diminished seventh chords
which eventually merges to a light and glittery downward motion passage. The
contrast in mood and character is apparent between the Vivace and Adagio sections.
The Exposition section has only 15 bars before moving into the Development section
which is an improvisatory section of the opening theme before finally reaching
its climax with the return of the main theme in the Recapitulation. This
movement finally reaches its end with a quiet ending.
The second movement
is stormy and agitated in nature. This movement is in the sonata form and takes
on the function usually assigned to the first movement, which would be in the
sonata-allegro form. The second movement has the principles of polyphonic
writing with the use of baroque forms and explores the elements of canon. The
usual contrast between he first subject (E minor) and second
subject (B minor) is absent here because of the nature of the thematic
material.The third and last movement consists of
a main theme with variations of differing character and piano technique. The
tempo of all six variations changes virtually in every variation, compared to
variation movements in early Beethoven sonatas which is usually kept to the
basic pulse and form of the melody, gradually introducing increasingly
decorative figuration. The main theme gives something like the character of a Sarabande through its song-like theme
which emphasizes the second beat of the bar through the dotted notes. There is
a certain dignified and meditative feel, strengthened by emphasis on the tonic
chord (E major).
The first variation keeps the tempo of
the main theme and is formed like a ‘ceremonial waltz’. It is even more
pianistic and lyrical with the melody in an octave higher, stirring some of the
peaceful emotions of the main theme. The melodic material of this variation
seems to depart from the basic melodic pattern of the main there. The third
variation is based not on the theme’s melody but on its original bass line with
a quicker tempo. It is a virtuosic Allegro
in a two-part contrapuntal texture reminiscent of a two-part invention. The
fifth variation is an extended Allegro with
canonic texture. The driving rhythmic energy gives a complex, many voiced like
fugue. Beethoven was also writing the Missa Solemnis during this time and that
would have also influence his melodic style of the fugal writing. The last
variation reverts to the tempo of the theme which starts quietly in extreme
contrast to the energy and speed of the previous variation. Its peaceful,
static character is emphasized by the repeated B in the top voice as the music
progresses into shorter note values which intensify the rhythm. The repeated
notes that quickly thicken until they become a trill with raging arpeggios and
sequences in the top voice build further towards a climax. The movement finally
dissolves into a last presentation of the simple main theme, recalling the
start of the movement, looking back at the whole movement in retrospect.