Movement 1: Adagio sostenuto
viola obbligato; 57 bars survive; remaining 20-odd completed and edited by Lawrence Power
Movement 2: Allegretto
Movement 3: Presto agitato
The Op 27 sonatas were issued in 1801, both of them with the sub-heading of ‘quasi una Fantasia’—a qualification indicating the freedom with which Beethoven was treating the traditional sonata design. The ‘Moonlight’ Sonata’s famous opening movement bears the direction: Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino (‘This entire piece must be played with the utmost delicacy, and without dampers’). ‘Senza sordino’ was Beethoven’s habitual marking at this stage of his career for the use of the sustaining pedal, and although on a modern piano his instruction needs to be treated with some caution, a certain degree of harmonic blurring is implied in order to convey the music’s unbroken atmosphere of plaintive mystery. Beethoven was to exploit similar overlapping pedal effects in the rondo theme of the ‘Waldstein’ Sonata.
As he was to do the following year in his ‘Tempest’ Sonata Op 31 No 2, Beethoven maintains the darkness of the minor mode throughout the two outer movements, while writing the middle movement entirely in the major. (‘A flower between two abysses’ was Liszt’s evocative description of the minuet-like second movement of Op 27 No 2.) The finale is an unrelentingly agitated piece whose coda, with its ‘strummed’ diminished-seventh chords sweeping up the keyboard, reaches new heights of turbulence. Not until the ‘Appassionata’ Op 57 did Beethoven write another finale for piano of comparable dramatic intensity.
from notes by Misha Donat © 2010