Piano Sonata No. 31 (Beethoven)

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Piano Sonata
No. 31
by Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven in 1820 by Joseph Karl Stieler
Key A major
Opus 110
Composed1821 (1821)

The Piano Sonata No. 31 in A major, Op. 110, by Ludwig van Beethoven was composed in 1821 and published in 1822. It is the middle piano sonata in the group of three (Opp. 109, 110, and 111) that he wrote between 1820 and 1822, and is the penultimate of his piano sonatas. Though the sonata was commissioned in 1820, Beethoven did not begin work on Op. 110 until the latter half of 1821, and final revisions were completed in early 1822. The delay was due to factors such as Beethoven's work on the Missa solemnis and his deteriorating health. The original edition was published by Schlesinger in Paris and Berlin in 1822 without dedication, and an English edition was published by Muzio Clementi in 1823.


The work is in three movements. The Moderato first movement follows a typical sonata form with an expressive and cantabile opening theme. The Allegro second movement begins with a terse but humorous scherzo, which Martin Cooper believes is based on two folk songs, followed by a trio section. The last movement comprises multiple contrasting sections: a slow introductory recitative, an arioso dolente, a fugue, a return of the arioso, and a second fugue that builds to a passionate and heroic conclusion. William Kinderman finds parallels between the last movement's fugue and other late works by Beethoven, such as the fughetta in the Diabelli Variations and sections of the Missa solemnis, and Adolf Bernhard Marx favourably compares the fugue to those of Bach and Handel. The sonata is the subject of musical analyses including studies by Donald Tovey, Denis Matthews, Heinrich Schenker, and Charles Rosen. It has been recorded by pianists such as Artur Schnabel, Glenn Gould, and Alfred Brendel.


In the summer of 1819, Adolf Martin Schlesinger, from the Schlesinger firm of music publishers based in Berlin, sent his son Maurice to meet Beethoven to form business relations with the composer. [1] The two met in Mödling, where Maurice left a favourable impression on the composer. [2] After some negotiation by letter, the elder Schlesinger offered to purchase three piano sonatas for 90 ducats in April 1820, though Beethoven had originally asked for 120 ducats. In May 1820, Beethoven agreed, and he undertook to deliver the sonatas within three months. These three sonatas are the ones now known as Opp. 109, 110, and 111, the last of Beethoven's piano sonatas. [3]

The composer was prevented from completing the promised sonatas on schedule by several factors, including his work on the Missa solemnis (Op. 123), [4] rheumatic attacks in the winter of 1820, and a bout of jaundice in the summer of 1821. [5] [6] Barry Cooper notes that Op. 110 "did not begin to take shape" until the latter half of 1821. [7] Although Op. 109 was published by Schlesinger in November 1821, correspondence shows that Op. 110 was still not ready by the middle of December 1821. The sonata's completed autograph score bears the date 25 December 1821, but Beethoven continued to revise the last movement and did not finish until early 1822. [8] The copyist's score was presumably delivered to Schlesinger around this time, since Beethoven received a payment of 30 ducats for the sonata in January 1822. [9] [10]

Adolf Schlesinger's letters to Beethoven in July 1822 confirm that the sonata, along with Op. 111, was being engraved in Paris. The sonata was published simultaneously in Paris and Berlin that year, and it was announced in the Bibliographie de la France on 14 September. Some copies of the first edition reached Vienna as early as August, and the sonata was announced in the Wiener Zeitung that month. [8] The sonata was published without a dedication, [11] though there is evidence that Beethoven intended to dedicate Opp. 110 and 111 to Antonie Brentano. [12] In February 1823, Beethoven sent a letter to the composer Ferdinand Ries in London, informing him that he had sent manuscripts of Opp. 110 and 111 so that Ries could arrange their publication in Britain. Beethoven noted that while Op. 110 was already available in London, the edition had mistakes that would be corrected in Ries's edition. [13] Ries persuaded Muzio Clementi to acquire the British rights to the two sonatas, [14] and Clementi published them in London that year. [15]



From the 1810s Beethoven's reputation went largely undisputed by contemporary critics, and most of his works received favourable initial reviews. [55] For example, an anonymous reviewer in October 1822 described the Op. 110 sonata as "superb" and offered "repeated thanks to its creator". [56] In 1824, an anonymous critic reviewing the Opp. 109–111 sonatas wrote in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung that contemporary opposition against Beethoven's works "had only small, fleeting success". The critic then commented, "Scarcely had any of [Beethoven]'s artistic productions entered into the world than their fame was forever established." [55]

Adolf Bernhard Marx, in his March 1824 review of the sonata, lauded Beethoven's work and particularly praised the third movement's fugue, adding that the fugue "must be studied along with the richest ones by Sebastian Bach and Händel." [57] In the 1860 edition of his biography of Beethoven, Anton Schindler wrote that the fugue "is not difficult to play but is full of charm and beauty." [58] Likewise, William Kinderman describes the fugue's subject as a "sublime fugal idiom". [28]

When writing about the sonata in 1909, Hermann Wetzel observed, "Not a single note is superfluous, and there is no passage ... that can be treated as you please, no trivial ornament". Martin Cooper claimed in 1970 that Op. 110 was the most frequently played out of the last five Beethoven piano sonatas. [59]

In the program notes for his 2020 online concert of the Opp. 109–111 sonatas, Jonathan Biss writes of Op. 110: "In none of the other 31 piano sonatas does Beethoven cover as much emotional territory: it goes from the absolute depths of despair to utter euphoria ... it is unbelievably compact given its emotional richness, and its philosophical opening idea acts as the work’s thesis statement, permeating the work, and reaching its apotheosis in its final moments." [18]


The Op. 110 sonata was recorded on 21 January 1932 by Artur Schnabel in Abbey Road Studios, London, for the first complete recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas. The piece was the first to be recorded in the set. [60] Myra Hess' recording of the work in 1953 [61] was described by The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians as among her "greatest successes in the recording studio". [62] Op. 110 was included in Glenn Gould's 1956 recording of the last three Beethoven sonatas, [63] and its third movement was discussed and performed by Gould on a 4 March 1963 broadcast. [42] As part of complete recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas, Op. 110 was recorded by Wilhelm Kempff in 1951, [64] Claudio Arrau in 1965, [65] Alfred Brendel in 1973, [66] Maurizio Pollini in 1975, [67] Daniel Barenboim in 1984, [68] and Igor Levit by 2019. [69]

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  8. 1 2 Tyson 1963, pp. 184–185.
  9. Tyson 1977, pp. 25–26.
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  18. 1 2 Biss 2020.
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  27. Tovey 1976, pp. 273–274.
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Kinderman 2013, p. 81.
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  55. 1 2 Wallace 2001, pp. 4–5.
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  60. Bloesch 1986, p. 80.
  61. Hess 2013.
  62. Morrison 2001.
  63. Gould 1956.
  64. Kempff 1995.
  65. Arrau 1998.
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  67. Pollini 2014.
  68. Barenboim 1999.
  69. Levit 2019.


Book sources

  • Brendel, Alfred (1991). Music Sounded Out . New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN   0-37452-331-2.
  • Cooper, Barry (2008). Beethoven. The Master Musicians. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-531331-4.
  • Cooper, Martin (1970). Beethoven, The Last Decade 1817–1827 . London: Oxford University Press. ISBN   0-19-315310-6.
  • Kinderman, William (2013). "Beethoven". In R. Larry Todd (ed.). Nineteenth-Century Piano Music. New York: Routledge. pp. 55–96. ISBN   978-1-13673-128-0.
  • Matthews, Denis (1986). Beethoven Piano Sonatas. London: BBC Publications. ISBN   0-563-20510-5.
  • Rosen, Charles (2002). Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, A Short Companion. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. ISBN   0-300-09070-6.
  • Schindler, Anton (1972) [1860]. MacArdle, Donald W. (ed.). Beethoven as I Knew Him . Translated by Jolly, Constance S. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. ISBN   0-393-00638-7.
  • Thayer, Alexander Wheelock (1970). Forbes, Elliot (ed.). Thayer's Life of Beethoven . Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN   0-691-02702-1.
  • Tovey, Donald Francis (1976) [1931]. A Companion to Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas (revised ed.). New York: AMS Press. ISBN   0-40413-117-4.
  • Tyson, Alan (1977). Beethoven Studies 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   0-19-315315-7.
  • Wallace, Robin (2001). "Beethoven's Critics: An Appreciation". In Senner, Wayne M. (ed.). The Critical Reception of Beethoven's Compositions by His German Contemporaries. Translated by Wallace, Robin. Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN   0-8032-1251-8.
  • Wallace, Robin, ed. (2020). The Critical Reception of Beethoven's Compositions by His German Contemporaries, Op. 101 to Op. 111 (PDF). Translated by Wallace, Robin. Boston: Center for Beethoven Research, Boston University. ISBN   978-1-73489-4820.

Other sources


Further reading