Movement 1: Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo
Movement 2: Allegro molto vivace
Movement 3: Allegro moderato
Movement 4: Andante, ma non troppo e molto cantabile Piω mosso Andante moderato e lusinghiero Adagio Allegetto Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice Allegretto
Movement 5: Presto
Movement 6: Adagio, quasi un poco andante
Movement 7: Allegro
The first movement is a wonderful slow fugue; Wagner said it floated over the sorrows of the world, but even that description is too small for it. For the reader who knows something about normal fugal practice, the answer is here on the subdominant instead of the usual dominant, so that the expressive main accent of the subject now falls on the note D. This becomes the key of the quick, fleeting second movement, in a truncated sonata form, almost miraculously contrasted to the fugue. The subdominant inflexion in the fugue is now matched in a quite different way by the relationship between this D major piece and the next main movement, a great set of variations in A major, forming the central slow movement (beginning 'Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile'). There are six variations, the last a sublime Adagio in 9/4 time, one of Beethoven's supreme inspirations. The whole of this movement remains rooted in A major, and when the Scherzo breaks in, its E major feels more like the dominant of the previous A than like a key in its own right.
Beethoven shrewdly avoids fixing E as a tonality, always blunting its own dominant into G sharp minor; when the Trio (heard twice complete) slips into A we feel this to be by the force of gravity. G sharp minor, having been active in the Scherzo, next becomes the key of No 6 ('Adagio quasi un poco andante'), a deeply affecting slow introduction to the fiery C sharp minor finale in which both the note and the tonality of D may be felt at crucial times with penetrating force. The unfathomable unity of all this makes any description merely topographical and pedestrian, the more so in the attempt to be poetical. Musicians or no, we can be aware of it instinctively, even when we don't know why, when we are moved beyond expression.
from notes by Robert Simpson © 1991