Sonata in E major
John Adams, pianist
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The sonata in E major, op. 109, was composed in 1820, when Beethoven was 50 years old. Music historians describe it as belonging to his "late period," a time of extraordinary achievements such as the Missa Solemnis, the last quartets, the ninth symphony, and the last 5 piano sonatas. It was written during a period of increasing isolation, partly due to the deafness that forced Beethoven to rely on conversation books to communicate. The opening movement has an improvisatory feel, opening with a serenely flowing progression that is soon interrupted by a dramatic adagio. The tension between these two themes underlies the rest of this brief movement, which ends with a lyrical return to the opening theme. The second movement is dramatically different--a driving perpetual motion race through dark minor keys that suggests a mood of tragic suspense. The third movement is a set of six variations that begins with a slow, stately theme that Beethoven wanted played with "deepest feeling." It is indeed a celebration of life, moving from deepest tenderness to joyful release before finishing with a luminous restatement of the opening theme that seems in its' autumnal cadence to speak of both loss and consolation.