(MUSIC) So, this has already come up again and again: in the early sonatas, in razor-sharp contrast to the later ones, the first halves of the piece are where the action is. We’ve seen this already with opus 2 number 1, with opus 7, and with opus 10 number 2. The extensive, inventive first movements – and in the case of the bigger of these works, the metaphysical second movements – they have a depth of imagination and feeling which are not matched by the pieces’ conclusions. This is certainly the case with opus 2 number 3, and so I will not go into the same kind of painstaking detail with the last two movements. Hopefully you’re relieved! The third movement is a scherzo, which is yet another way Beethoven stamps this early work with his personality. No courtly, early-classical menuet here. Opus 2 number 2 also has a scherzo, but it’s a rather decorous one. (MUSIC) One could imagine it being danced to; I doubt anyone would try to dance to opus 2 number 3’s scherzo: (MUSIC) This is every inch a scherzo, in large part because it’s funny! Remember, scherzo means joke. It’s easy to forget, as Chopin’s famous scherzi are predominantly dramatic works, strangely enough. It’s also easy to forget because humor is such a woefully overlooked aspect of music. Anyway, this scherzo has just a touch of that thing from the finale of opus 10 number 2 —that thing of being a fugue-that-isn’t-a-fugue -- here, there is a strong emphasis on counterpoint that is felt nearly throughout, and he does clearly introduce three voices right off the bat. (MUSIC). But it’s all done in a very free-form, non-fugue way – he drops the counterpoint whenever it becomes inconvenient. The other thing worth mentioning about this opening is that it has the same curlicue motive as the other movements. The only difference is that whereas the first two movement’s openings hinged around the third scale degree, (MUSIC) this one is on the fifth (MUSIC). So it’s just a little bit the odd man out. Still, despite being lightly differentiated this time, this is the third time out of three that this idea has opened a movement. It’s really the sonata’s leitmotif. And anyway, this movement’s place in the sonata is never in doubt. Its character, part-impish, part determined, ties it instantly to the opening movement. With the return of the C Major comes the return of everything the piece was initially, everything thrown into doubt by that second movement. This is music of energy and confidence. It’s not 100% untouched by darkness, though. There are two moments of drama in this scherzo, in which Beethoven seems to get caught in the no-man’s land between major and minor. (MUSIC) He can’t seem to make up his mind (MUSIC), and then keeps repeating the curlicue motive, like a dog chasing his own tail, until he finally finds his way out. But this is jokey, scherzo-y drama – one never senses that Beethoven really has his dander up. In the center of this brief scherzo is a trio that, in its own way, is quintessential Beethoven. (MUSIC) The reason I say this is “quintessential Beethoven”, on top of the determined, almost pig-headed character, is that it is resolutely un-melodic. Now, the cliché that Beethoven wasn’t a great melodist is indeed a cliché, and an irritating one at that – there are, quite literally, hundreds of examples of Beethoven turning a phrase in an arrestingly beautiful way, any one of which gives the lie to that notion. But what is true is that Beethoven is able to create music of tremendous power – literal power, and emotional power – via other sources, and he is willing, in certain cases, to eschew melody altogether; this is one of those cases. The music is nothing more than a series of arpeggios, running up and down the keyboard, outlining a chordal progression. (MUSIC) The points at which he changes direction imply a kind of rhythm (MUSIC), but there isn’t really any rhythm either, as the right hand simply plays even triplets throughout. And yet this music doesn’t sound like a sketch, a line drawing – it’s a fully realized, fully compelling painting. Part of this is that it doesn’t wear out its welcome – even with a repeat, the trio is no more than 1 minute long – but mostly it’s a testament to the way in which Beethoven can build something out of nothing. The first movement already had melody-free material (MUSIC) – in fact, that passage has virtually no harmony either; but that’s a transitional passage, whereas the entire trio is built this way – that is to say, out of virtually nothing. One last note on this movement: it, too, has a coda. The scherzo proper ends with a flourish, one that would be perfectly adequate to draw the movement to a close. (MUSIC) This leads to the trio the first time around, and when it returns, it sure sounds like an ending. But instead we get this: (MUSIC) Beethoven’s predecessors wrote menuets with codas often enough, so its presence in this scherzo is not in itself especially noteworthy. What is interesting about the coda is that the only material from the main body of the movement it references is that arpeggio with a suggestion of the minor (MUSIC). And not just once: we get that appoggiatura 8 times, and then this one (MUSIC), which creates just as much ambivalence about whether we are in major or minor mode as the first one, a further 8 times. So after a scherzo dominated by energy, confidence, and a sense of play, we end with a bit of a question mark, or at least an evaporation into nothing (MUSIC). This, again, is drama of a stagy, even jokey sort, but it adds a layer to the movement as a whole, making it cut just that much deeper than it otherwise would. Accomplished with one little appoggiatura, times sixteen. Once again: here is Beethoven, doing a lot with the most meager of tools.