About this work
Beethoven dedicated the three sonatas of Op. 2 to Franz Joseph Haydn, with whom he studied composition during his first two years in Vienna. All three borrow material from Beethoven's Piano Quartets, WoO 36, Nos. 1 and 3, possibly of 1785. The sonatas were premièred in the fall of 1795 at the home of Prince Carl Lichnowksy, with Haydn in attendance, and were published in March 1796 by Artaria in Vienna.
The sonatas of Op. 2 are very broadly conceived, each with four movements instead of three, creating a format like that of a symphony through the addition of a minuet or scherzo. The second movements are slow and ponderous, typical of this period in Beethoven's career. Scherzos appear as third movements in Nos. 2 & 3, although they are not any faster than earlier minuets by Haydn. They are, however, longer than their precursors.
Beethoven's experimentation with tonal material within Classical-era frameworks begins with his earliest published works, as the first movement of the Op. 2, No. 2 sonata clearly demonstrates. After establishing the key of A major through a fragmentary, disjointed theme, Beethoven begins the transition to the dominant. When the second theme arrives, however, it is on the dominant minor (E minor), implying the keys of G major and C major. This implication is realized at the beginning of the development section, which is on C major. In the recapitulation, one would expect the transition to lead to the tonic, but here it suggests, again, C major through its dominant. At the moment the second theme arrives, Beethoven creates a deceptive cadence by moving to A minor, thus resolving the second theme to the tonic.
Sustained chords over a pizzicato-like bass part at the opening of the second movement could have been realized only on the most recent pianos of the time. In this movement, Beethoven borrowed material from the Piano Quartet, WoO 36, No. 3.
Beethoven retains the formal principles of the minuet for his third movement, an Allegretto Scherzo. There are, however, distinctly Beethovenian features, such as the second theme of the Scherzo being only a slight modification of the first theme, as well as the extension of the second section. In a reference to the key relationships of the first movement, Beethoven sets the Trio in A minor.
In the Rondo finale Beethoven applies some sonata-form procedures to the traditional rondo format and flexes his variation muscles. The overall structure is ABACAB'AC'A. Episode B touches on the dominant to such a degree that its return is rewritten to stress the tonic, while episode C is set in A minor, a key which is abandoned in favor of A major on its return.
Curated by Maria Nemtsova, Pianist