Indirectly, we have Beethoven to thank for the 'Tempest' tag to his D minor sonata Op 31 No 2. Anton Schindler, one of Beethoven’s circle, reported that he once asked Beethoven to explain the 'key' to the Opp 31/2 and 57 sonatas, to be gnomically advised 'just read Shakespeare’s Tempest'. The story has a ring of truth about it; it was not the only time that Beethoven made reference to Shakespeare with regard to hidden 'programmes' in his music. If it was his intention to link his genius with Shakespeare’s, it worked; during the nineteenth century, the notion became a critical commonplace. The D minor sonata opens with a stark opposition of materials; a soft, arpeggiated chord, marked Largo, followed by a nervous burst of active music, which has more than a hint of the opera house about it. The arpeggios take on an unsettling quality when they reappear at the beginning of the recapitulaion. They flower into strange recitatives, their poetry intensified by their very wordlessness. As Charles Rosen has remarked, Beethoven’s direction to hold down the sustaining pedal at this point lends them 'a hollow and even cavernous quality like a voice from the tomb'. Both the arpeggiated chord and elements of the recitatives are employed in the succeeding Adagio, in which the concept of opposites is also continued. Here, the farthest reaches of Beethoven’s piano are exploited in a dialogue of extreme registers. In the concluding Allegretto, the arpeggio is transformed into the material for a nagging perpetuum mobile in which the intimation of the human voice, ever present during the first two movements, seems entirely absent.
from notes by Sandy Matheson © 2003