Movement 1: Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato
Movement 2: Arietta: Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile
In the very last in the series, the Piano Sonata in C minor, completed in 1822, the vision is particularly elusive and its ultimate realization particularly sublime. The first movement, beginning with an implacable Maestoso challenge that three times defies the establishment of any definitive tonality, is a tremendous struggle. When it eventually finds its way into C minor, by way of a long low trill and a decisive change of tempo, it is to launch a fierce attack led by a peremptory three-note motif. As the salient feature of the first subject, that motif dominates the whole movement. Its dynamic grip is avoided only by the second subject which, briefly but significantly, affords a glimpse of the ideal in A flat major at the top end of the keyboard. Although it has no place in the contrapuntal development, the second subject is somewhat expanded in the recapitulation, where it not only reappears in C major but also uses its persuasive influence to bring about a quiet ending in that more peaceable key.
The precarious achievement of serenity is one thing. To sustain it is quite another. The second movement—an Arietta with a series of variations in which everything seems to change but in which everything fundamental remains the same—is a uniquely inspired eternity of serenity. The tempo seems to be twice as fast for the fugato of the second variation and faster again for the third, although in fact it is only the note values which change. The syncopations in the fourth variation are no more than superficially disturbing, since the long-preserved triple pulse is still perceptible below the surface and, eventually, on the surface too. There is only one significant change of key—brought about, after more than ten minutes of C major, in a long series of trills—which amounts to an affirmation that no serious threat to C major serenity exists. The Arietta melody, now restored to its original shape and its original key, aspires to the higher regions of the keyboard where, accompanied by the flickering arpeggios and trills since imitated by generations of visionary composer–pianists, it finally achieves its apotheosis.
from notes by Gerald Larner © 2009