About this work
The timing of Beethoven's early publications was shrewdly calculated. Beethoven performed some of these works often enough for them to become familiar, and people encouraged him to publish them (the Trios, Op. 1, are an example). That his publications would be a success was almost a given, especially since the early ones involved the instrument on which he was an acknowledged virtuoso, the piano. It is also significant that his first publications were not symphonies, operas, or string quartets, genres associated with Haydn and Mozart. That his first 10 piano sonatas, as well as the two of Op. 49, were composed before Beethoven attempted a symphony or string quartet suggests that the piano was something of an experimental medium for the young composer, who was coming to grips with organizing large forms.
The three works of Op. 10 are in C minor, F major, and D major. The first was begun in 1795 and the third completed by July 1798. Published in September 1798, by Eder in Vienna, the set is dedicated to Countess Anna Margarete von Browne, whose husband, Count Johann von Browne (1767-1827), was one of Beethoven's chief early patrons. The Countess also received the dedications of the Variations, WoO 76 and WoO 71. An early critic praised the Sonatas of Op. 10, noting that they were composed in "an earnest, manly style."
Already in the opening Presto of the third sonata, Beethoven expands the traditional sonata form movement, but not the expository sections. It is true that the main theme is 10 measures long and followed by a six-measure contrasting phrase, but this was less striking to Beethoven's contemporaries than a transition that is twice as long as the theme. There is such a wealth of material that it is best to discuss the work in terms of "theme groups," not merely themes. The second theme and closing groups have 11 contrasting ideas among them, and the momentary shift to the minor mode in the second theme group is more than just a colorful device; it has long-range implications. When this material returns in the recapitulation, it does so on the tonic minor (D minor), the relative minor of F major and the key of the second movement. This brief appearance of a "flat" key in the recapitulation is anticipated by the "flat" key areas of the development section.
Marked Largo e mesto and in 6/8, the second movement is cast in D minor. Beethoven explores the full range of the keyboard in this emotive sonata-form structure before it dissolves in the manner of the "Funeral March" of the Third Symphony.
The Minuet returns to D major. In a move somewhat unusual for Beethoven, the second theme of the minuet is very different from the first, providing the same contrast typical of a Haydn minuet. The trio, in G major, does not follow the traditional format and gives the pianist a chance to do some fancy hand crossing.
The Rondo finale is a showcase for Beethoven's variation technique. The rondo theme is altered upon return, as is the material of the first episode, which is spliced to the beginning of a new episode later in the movement. Fragments of the rondo theme tease the listener in this high energy movement.