(MUSIC) So, to the last movement! This is a rondo – and really about as straight-ahead as rondos come, its form an unadulterated ABACABA…coda. Because the individual sections are quite brief, I’ll play the first A and first B, all in one go. (MUSIC) So, the first thing to say is, the curlicue leitmotif – that’s probably the first time in history that those two words have been used consecutively – it's there once again. This time, we just have to wait two bars for it. (MUSIC) And after the shocking deviation of the third movement, it’s been restored to the same scale degree as in the first two movements: 3, moving to 2. (MUSIC) Instantly (or just about instantly), the movement has been anchored to the work as a whole. Even without that motivic connection, though, this movement would seem like a fitting finale to this sonata. It's definitely a lighter movement than the first, and less ambitious than the first or the second, but its crackling energy – its unabashed virtuosity, really – this is very much of a piece with the other fast movements in the work, the C major movements. “Virtuoso” really is the appropriate word here: it is designed to be pleasurable, if difficult, to play, and pleasurable and ideally not difficult to listen to. It’s interesting to note that, however lofty, or philosophical, or spiritual Beethoven’s music could be, he never turned up his nose at the idea of earthiness, or of display. In his works, the sacred and the profane, even the raucous, coexist, from the very first published works to the end of his life. In fact, his last completed work, the string quartet op. 135, is a perfect example. The slow movement is one of the most searching things Beethoven ever composed; the scherzo which precedes it is alternatingly gritty and manic, both in the extreme. The superhuman side of Beethoven seems even more so, precisely because he is so human. Back to the movement at hand. Part of what I mean when I say that this is a straight ahead rondo is that its three principal parts – the A, B, and C sections – they have highly distinct characters. You get the scampering A, (MUSIC) the more grazioso B (MUSIC), and then the central C is something else again, sounding a bit like a church hymn. (MUSIC) While all of these episodes are good-humored, “good humor” is a big tent, and there’s lots of expressive variety here. In this way, the movement manages to have it both ways: it tows a line in terms of overall character, but remains constantly engaging. Since this rondo is really devoid of any formal surprises most of the way through, let's skip ahead to the coda. Now, the A section makes four appearances, and each time it comes back, it is introduced by this passage, or a very slight variation on it. (MUSIC) This is again the case when it returns one final time, with the difference being that when the A arrives, it isn’t playful, but rather declaimed fortissimo. (MUSIC) In the rondos one finds in concerti, or even chamber works for piano and strings or winds, it’s not uncommon for the principal theme to be played first gently, in piano, by the piano, and then vigorously, in forte, by the orchestra or full ensemble. Mozart occasionally mimics this “concerto rondo” plan in his solo piano rondos – the C Major piano sonata, K. 330, comes to mind, for example. That’s not quite what Beethoven is up to here, because this fortissimo outburst comes not immediately after the theme first appears softly, but rather, close to the very end of the piece, after all the main A-B-C business of the rondo has already been dispensed with. But when it does come, it certainly feels like a fulfillment of sorts – like the rondo theme’s energy has moved from contained to uncontainable, from potential to kinetic. And when this happens, it launches us on a rather wild adventure – the first off-script moment in a tightly scripted movement. (MUSIC) And that, that chord we’ve landed on (MUSIC), that's a V-64 chord, which, again, signals a cadenza. It’s not as formally laid out – or as surprising – as the first movement cadenza, but it has the same remove-the-shackles-and-go-hog-wild quality about it, creating yet another subtle tie between the outer movements. (MUSIC) So, when we get to that trill, it seems sure to be bring a final cadence with it. (MUSIC) But Beethoven still has one more trick up his sleeve. (MUSIC) A surprise. An 11th hour move away from C Major, and into far-off A Major. Beethoven loves these last-minute detours. Remember the coda of Op. 7? (MUSIC) Leading us down a garden path, just as the piece seems to be ready to wrap up, makes the ultimate wrap-up more emphatic. In this case, the A Major sidebar has a further function: it provides a link to the slow movement. The key relationship here, a submediant one, from C to A (MUSIC), is just the same as the one that unfolds in that extraordinary interruption in the second movement. (MUSIC) If one is meant to register this, it is surely only subliminally, but the subliminal can be powerful stuff! At any rate, we arrive in A Major rather abruptly, and when we leave it, it's even more abrupt: having opened a surprise door, Beethoven then quickly slams it shut. (MUSIC) I think the correct term for that is “red herring”. It seems poised to send the piece in a new direction, and ends up doing no more than delaying the inevitable, rollicking conclusion by a few seconds, and in doing so, making it seem more rollicking still. As a whole, the movement provides a perfect foil to the first: it matches it effortlessly in terms of virtuosity, and charm, without ever being truly arresting in the way the first half of the piece is. In this way, it is a vintage early period finale, to a decidedly vintage early period sonata. Its overall organization provides some hints to the future, and its slow movement stops time itself, but opus 2 number 3 is a grand and glorious document of the young Beethoven. The path to the future has been paved, but he hasn’t set out on it just yet.