Violin Sonata No.3

Ludwig van Beethoven

Violin Sonata No.3 in Eb major

Op. 12/3

About this work

In contrast to its somewhat humorous partners, the Third Violin Sonata of Beethoven's Opus 12 set is a serious work with a sober slow movement, and a particularly muscular opening section. That first movement, Allegro con spirito, keeps both instruments moving incessantly (though never frantically), yet the piano generally has the greater technical challenge with almost nonstop quarter-note triplets and sudden runs, pulling the violin along behind it. What the motifs lack in melodic distinction they make up for in energy and a demand for clean technique. As in the other early violin sonatas, the development section runs through the themes again sequentially, modulating to new keys but not really working over the material in new ways. That is, not until the section's very end, when the instruments stop short for a brief, broad melody over a tremolando accompaniment. But all this is soon brushed aside by a good-natured coda. The Adagio con molt'espressione is the most deeply-felt slow movement in this set of sonatas. It is, in fact, a single melody that evolves slowly over a double-dotted rhythm. The atmosphere is consistently serene, with the violin singing its long lines over a murmuring accompaniment, then trading roles with the piano. It's almost Italianate in its expressive, forward-moving lyricism, except that the Italians had not quite patented this style by 1798; that would come in another decade-plus with Paganini and the bel canto opera composers.

Serenity is banished by the cheerful finale, Rondo: Allegro molto. The primary theme is launched by a repeated-note figure, a musical chuckle that underlies most of what is to follow. Unexpectedly, the middle section falls into the minor mode and hints at some brief, mild conflict between the instruments. This is soon swept away by another surprise, a fugal treatment of the main theme that leads straight into a brief, high-spirited coda.