Piano Sonata No. 18 (Beethoven)
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The Piano Sonata No. 18 in E♭ major, Op. 31, No. 3, is a sonata for solo piano by Ludwig van Beethoven, the third and last of his Op. 31 piano sonatas. The work dates from 1802. The sonata was given the nickname The Hunt by a third party due to one of its themes being reminiscent of a horn call. A playful jocularity is maintained throughout the piece. However, as with many of Beethoven's early works, the 'jocular' style can be heard as a facade, concealing profound ideas and depths of emotion.
Roger Kamien has performed a Schenkerian analysis of facets of chords of the sonata.
The sonata consists of four movements:
- Allegro: Beethoven's progressive harmonic language is apparent from the very first chord of the piece (3rd inversion of the 11th on dominant B♭); the stability of a tonic chord in root position is delayed until bar 8. The expressive harmonic colour, coupled with the changes of tempi in the introduction (1-18), creates an evocative opening, reminiscent of the improvisatory style of C. P. E. Bach's piano sonatas. This opening cell is repeated extensively throughout the movement - at the start of the development (89), in the recapitulation (137), and also during the coda (transposed into the subdominant A♭ (220), and then at its original pitch (237)). The codetta (33-45) explores the opening chord, but in a minor variation (with a C♭, implying ii7 of E♭ minor), even appearing in bar 36 in the exact spacing (albeit with different spelling) of the 'Tristan chord', written by Richard Wagner some 55 years later.
- Scherzo. Allegretto vivace: This scherzo is different from regular scherzos, as it is written in 2/4 time as opposed to 3/4, and because it is in sonata form rather than ternary form. This wasn't the first time Beethoven wrote a scherzo that wasn't in ternary form; the Op. 14, No. 2 sonata has a scherzo, in rondo form, as its third movement. However, this movement still contains many characteristics of a scherzo, including unexpected pauses and a playful nature. The theme is in the right hand while the left hand contains staccato accompaniment.
- Menuetto. Moderato e grazioso: It is the most serious of the movements, with a sweet and tender nature presented in the piece. Both the minuet and the trio are presented in E♭ major.
- Presto con fuoco: A very vigorous and rolling piece suspended by continuous, rollicking eighth notes in the bass, featuring tarantella rhythms.
The form of the entire sonata is unusual because it does not have a slow movement.
- Camille Saint-Saëns used the Trio section of the Menuetto as the theme for his 1874 Variations sur un thème de Beethoven, Op. 35, for two pianos.
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