Piano Sonata No.18

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata No.18 in Eb major

Op. 31/3 • “The Hunt”

About this work

This was the third of a group of piano sonatas with which Beethoven took another large step forward in the genre he ultimately revolutionized. This one was last of the 32 works to have a minuet movement, clearly a holdover from the eighteenth century that the composer subsequently felt compelled to abandon. The so-called "Hunt" Sonata's first movement, marked Allegro, begins with a three-note motif which seems to gently demand the listener's attention. From this fragment and the vigorous bass response of four chords, Beethoven ingeniously builds the first theme group. A fast, jaunty melody launches the second subject and keeps the mood light and relatively calm. The material is repeated and the development ensues, based mainly on the themes in the first group, though Beethoven uses all the previous material. The rhythmic appeal at the outset of the development section owes much to the composer's deft transformation of the bass response to the opening motif. The recapitulation follows and a brief coda closes the movement. The second movement is an unorthodox Scherzo marked Allegro vivace. It is unorthodox because it lacks a trio section, features substantial thematic development, and is in 2/4 (instead of triple) time. The main theme is fast-paced and optimistic, forming a double-arch pattern. A secondary idea here sounds almost like humorous commentary on the main material. Another theme, frantic and breathless, turns the mood toward the manic and ecstatic. The material is then developed, with much humor emerging as the music slides and slips via colorful glissando-like effects. The recapitulation features ingenious changes in the themes, and the movement closes with a brilliant, short coda. The third movement (Menuetto: Moderato e grazioso) is charming and without doubt the most traditional panel in the sonata. Clearly it hearkens back to the previous century, and perhaps, after the rather "modern" Scherzo, the composer intended it as a contrast. An elegant main theme leads to vigorous, almost disruptive, secondary material. The themes are repeated and a coda closes the movement. Beginning with a rush of energy, the finale Presto con fuoco features a spry descending melody with left-hand accompaniment. Another theme, likened by some to a "horn call" (thus giving this sonata its rather inappropriate nickname) appears, and the narrative unfolds unrelentingly. There is much playfulness in this rhythmic music: the "horn call" theme, for instance, seems to bounce all over the sonic landscape and the energetic, buoyant mood never flags. After the exposition repeat, there is some development of the materials, and a new theme appears. After the reprise, a brief coda closes the sonata.

Done