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Ludwig Van Beethoven, Piano Sonata in A flat Major No.31 Op.110 First Movement Analysis

Updated on March 8, 2017

Summary of Beethoven Biography

Beethoven was born on 17 December 1770, in Bonn, Germany. Similar to Bach and Mozart, he came from a family of musicians. It was said that his father, was the first person he received music training since he was a child.

In 1779, he began his studies with his most important teacher in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, whom taught him composition and helped him write his first published composition, 9 Variations in C minor for Piano (WoO 63) in 1782.

He then moved to Vienna in 1792 where he studied with Joseph Haydn where under his direction, he sought to master counterpoint. Other notable teachers that taught him there were Salieri whom taught him primarily in Italian vocal composition style and Ignaz Schuppanzigh whom taught him the violin.

By 1793, Beethoven has established a reputation in Vienna with the Viennese audiences and aristocrats with his virtuosic techniques and improvisations on the piano. However, around 1796, Beethoven began to lose his hearing which made it hard for him to perceive and appreciate music, feeling depressed, he wrote to his friends and families about the difficulties he faced.

Despite the fact that his hearing was beginning to deteriorate at that point of time, he still continued to composed, perform and conduct. His hearing finally became profound in 1812 and his last public appearance as a pianist was in 1814 before he fully concentrated on composing, and selling them to publishers to maintain his financial income.

Beethoven finally died on 26 March, 1827 in Vienna after many other health problems besides his deafness, such as liver damage due to heavy alcoholic consumption.


Background on the composition

Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op 110, No. 31 (1st Movement)

Beethoven’s career is divided into three stages; early period (1792 – 1802), middle period (1802 – 1814) and final period (1814 – 1826). This sonata was composed during his final period in 1821 where he was composing pieces for music firm publishers to maintain his financial income. This sonata was the only sonata that was completed during that year.

This piece was originally dedicated to his student named Ferdinand Ries; however Beethoven found out that he had plagiarized some of his compositions and hence got so hot-tempered and upset that he decided to dedicate this piece of work to his “Immortal Beloved” named Antonio Brentado, however, he could not find the publisher and therefore this piece remained un-dedicated too.

This Sonata is in Sonata form and has three movements where the first movement is in sonata form which is marked con amabilita, which is then followed by a fast scherzo in the second movement. Finally, the finale comprises of a slow recitative and arioso dolente with a second fugue that builds to an affirmative conclusion.

It’s first movement begins with a slow introduction (Bars 1 – 4) before it opens up into the first theme (Bars 5 – 12), immediately after the first theme comes a variation of the first theme (Bars 12 – 20) before the transition (Bars 25 – 26) into the second theme (Bars 28 – 38). In the development (Bars 40 – 62), Beethoven starts it in the relative minor but he did not leave it entirely there but use it as a transition back to the tonic key. In the recapitulation, instead of coming back in the home key, he made the first theme reappear in the subdominant key (Bars 63 – 100) , D flat major, which was common for Beethoven, as he tend to experiment harmonic changes during the late period of his life. Finally, he reuses the variation of the first theme in his closing theme (Bars 105 – 110) and finally ends the movement with a final cadence that is resolved by two soft chords before the appearance of second movement.

Piano Sonata no.31 in A flat Major Op.110 by Artur Schnabel

Slow introduction

First theme appears in bars 5 – 12 in A flat major.

Variation of first theme appears in bars 12 – 20; these thirty seconds notes are based on harmonic likeness and have a hint of melodic parallels.

Bars 25 – 26 have a presence of trills where the music gradually opens up to Forte which marks the beginning of second theme.

Second theme appeared in Bar 28 – 38, in E flat major with presence of chromatic notes in bar 33. The starting E marks the beginning of the second theme while the last E in bar 38 marks the end of second theme.

Development occurs in Bars 40 – 56 in F minor. The crescendo builds intensity for the reemergence of the main theme but in the relative minor of A flat major. In the development, Beethoven modulates the harmonic context of the opening motive and hence intensified it giving it different shadings of mood.

The development section continues in bars 56 – 62 in the home key A flat major. However, in this section Beethoven puts the first theme and the first theme variation together. In contrast, he even puts the first opening motive in the left hand in bars 60 – 62

The recapitulation happens in bar 63 – 100 whereby the first theme reappears again, this time in D flat major, unlike the usual recapitulation where it will always bring back the home key, however, during Beethoven final years, he likes to experiment with different harmonic changes, and therefore instead of the home key in tonic, he introduces the recap in a subdominant key in D flat major

Still in the recapitulation, where from bar 69 – 75, he recaps the variation of first theme of the thirty second notes in E major chord V.

Bar 76 – 77 is a transition before the return of A flat major.

The return of theme two in A flat major from bar 87 – 100

Before the closing theme, the intensity from bar 100 – 104 builds the return of thirty second notes from bars 12 –20

Closing theme in bar 105 – 110 in A flat major which brings back the return of thirty second notes from the exposition but is lowered an octave.

Opening motive goes into the left hand again in bar 111 – 114.

Final cadence is resolved by 2 soft chords over a tonic pedal in the bass before the appearance of second movement.


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