Movement 1: Allegretto
Movement 2: Vivace
Movement 3: Lento assai, cantate e tranquillo
Movement 4: Der schwer gefaßte Entschluß: Grave, ma non troppo tratto – Allegro
It leaves us unprepared for the fire-breathing, suppressed energy of the Scherzo, full of dislocated syncopations. The wild Trio, with its extraordinarily hectic violin solo, lets fly the force of an exploding atom. Its astonishing A major climax (tonally at polar opposition to the fierce E flats which from time to time interrupt the Scherzo) then subsides all at once, muttering, into the return of the Scherzo, one of Beethoven's weirdest transitions.
All this tension is not dispelled by the D flat major slow movement, utterly quiet though it is. The stasis of these variations seems to breed a new tension, equally great. There are three variations on a theme of complete simplicity, and the central one is in the minor, full of breathless oppressed pauses, more frozen than the beklemmt section of the Cavatina of Op 130. The last moves into a trance-like coda. No relaxation here — only an iron self control, needed to cope with the enormous contrast from the Scherzo.
The reaction to this heavily subdued D flat music is F minor, and the famous Difficult Resolution. This originated in a joke of Beethoven's about someone who owed him money. On being asked to pay up, the fellow moaned 'Must it be?', and Beethoven replied 'It MUST be!', thereupon setting the words to an atrocious canon. Joke or not, some kind of difficult resolution has to be found after the fantastic Scherzo and the paralysis of the slow movement. The hard stepwise progression of this introduction to the finale, painfully edging its way up towards the light and freedom of movement, is inescapable, and breaks out with delighted relief into what MUST be —life again. The introduction recurs, intensified, more theatrical in an inextricable blend of humour and seriousness, and subdued questions precede the delicate laughter of the end. The gayest and simplest material in this finale is cast in A major, the key of the Trio's overwhelmingly vital climax, and the only traces of D flat are elliptically hinted at in the struggling introduction.
from notes by Robert Simpson © 1991