Movement 1: Moderato cantabile molto espressivo
Movement 2: Allegro molto
Movement 3: Adagio, ma non troppo – Fuga: Allegro, ma non troppo
Movement 3a: Adagio, ma non troppo
Movement 3b: Fuga: Allegro, ma non troppo
Humour is abundantly evident in the middle movement of Op 110, which serves as a scherzo in form and character, although it bears only the tempo designation Allegro molto, in 2/4 metre. Beethoven alludes to two popular songs, Unsa Kätz häd Katzln ghabt (‘Our cat has had kittens’) and Ich bin lüderlich, du bist lüderlich (‘I’m dissolute, you’re dissolute’) in the main section of this movement.
The trio compresses the important motivic intervals of a third and fourth into cascades of descending figuration in the right hand, while the left hand crosses over the right with syncopated accents, creating a radical kind of rhythmic counterpoint.
Wrapped around the comic Allegro molto are movements of reflective and even transcendental character. Jürgen Uhde and Renate Wieland have described the opening Moderato cantabile molto espressivo of Op 110 as ‘Music of expectation’ on account of the special capability of the work to foreshadow its own future. One aspect of this tendency is demonstrated by the affinity between the fugue subject of the finale, with its three ascending fourths (A flat-D flat, B flat-E flat, C-F), and the similar contour of the opening bars of the lyrical first movement; this initial phrase is set apart from the ensuing music through its polyphonic texture and sustained trill, and takes on almost the character of a motto for the entire work.
This connection between the motto and fugue subject is part of a network of thematic anticipations and reminiscences – a network no less concentrated here than in the Ninth Symphony. As in the Ninth, Beethoven incorporates a transition utilising recitative at the threshold of the finale. The counterpart here to the ‘Joy’ theme of the Ninth Symphony is the fugue subject, especially in its closing apotheosis, which acts both as an alternative to the Arioso dolente and as the goal of various foreshadowings heard since the beginning of the work.
The weighty finale contains a twofold pairing of the despairing arioso and consoling fugue. The first fugue proves unable to be sustained: the music breaks off on the dominant of A flat, which is reinterpreted as an augmented-sixth chord in G minor, and this dark sonority is treated as tonic for the return of the Arioso dolente. The tonal relationship is bold and unprecedented in Beethoven: the entire lament is restated in intensified form, in G minor; and the framing cadential gesture brings a shift to the major, which assumes the character of a miraculous discovery. Nine increasingly intense repetitions of this G major sonority follow, and a gradual arpeggiation of that sound leads upward to the inversion of the fugue subject, which enters quietly and una corda, in G major.
The concluding fugue thus begins in the key of the leading tone, to re-emerge only later into the tonic A flat major, in the triumphant final passages. This unusual tonal relationship enhances the power of the conclusion; equally striking is Beethoven’s masterful treatment of contrapuntal permutations in the transition from G major to A flat major. Not only does the subject appear against itself in diminution and augmentation but it appears in double diminution at the Meno allegro, comprising a decorating motivic cell that surrounds the sustained note values of the inverted subject.
Donald Francis Tovey claimed that in this closing fugue Beethoven eschewed an ‘organ-like climax’ with its ascetic connotations as a ‘negation of the world’: ‘Like all Beethoven’s visions this fugue absorbs and transcends the world’. It is significant in this regard that the transitional double-diminution passage recalls the earlier comic allusion in the Allegro molto. The rhythmic and registral correspondence renders the beginning of the Meno allegro transparent to Ich bin lüderlich, reinforcing the sense of an absorption of the ‘world’; a similarity is clearly audible, because Beethoven compresses the fugal subject in diminution, deleting the second of its three rising fourths. The import of Beethoven’s inscription nach und nach wieder auflebend (‘gradually returning to life’) is symbolised in this passage. The abstract contrapuntal matrix beginning with the inverted subject is infused with a new energy, which arises not naturally through traditional fugal procedures, but only through an exertion of will that strains those processes to their limits.
The rhythmic developments that point the way out of Beethoven’s fugal labyrinth thus distort the subject, compressing it almost beyond recognition, while simultaneously opening a means of connection with the earlier movements. The entry of the original subject in A flat major is accompanied by shimmering semiquavers (sixteenth-notes) continuing the texture of double diminution, giving the effect of the theme being glorified by its own substance; at the same time this rapid figuration recalls the ethereal passage from the first movement. The transition from the darkness and pessimism of the Arioso dolente to the light and ecstasy of the fugue is now fully accomplished; and in the final moments Beethoven extends the fugal subject melodically into the high register before it is emphatically resolved, once and for all, into the closing A flat major sonority. This structural downbeat represents a goal towards which the whole work seems to have aspired. Yet the true conclusion lies beyond this chord in a rapport with silence, as (in Alfred Brendel’s words) the work throws off even ‘the chains of music itself’.
from notes by William Kinderman © 2002