♫ Now, most of the rest of this rondo proceeds in the expected, inevitable way, so I’d like to move ahead, straight to the extensive, multi-part coda, which is surely one of the longest and most interesting rondo codas Beethoven ever wrote. It is prepared a bit like a concerto’s cadenza, with that strong V 6/4 chord. ♫ This preparation is a statement of ambition: sonatas don’t normally get cadenzas! And indeed, what follows really opens this rondo up, significantly expanding it in scope. First comes a long fugal section, based on the opening theme, and set on top of that theme’s D pedal point: ♫ So, the side of this theme that was not so straightforward, not merely playful, but rather a bit complex and mysterious – that side REALLY gets emphasized now. That’s accomplished by a number of means, but the most significant one is the chromaticism. Listen to all of the half steps, and to the suspensions. ♫ Without changing all that much, Beethoven has now encouraged us to hear this theme as borderline sinister. But what comes next is even more inventive and surprising. Still based on the opening theme, we see its continuity shattered, as it gets broken down into bits. The theme itself had no rests in it: it may have had this slight questioning aspect, but it proceeded unimpeded, going on its merry, casual way. ♫ But now, suddenly it is fragmented, fraught with silence. ♫ Now, all of this – these silences, this slowing to an adagio – obviously has a serious impact on the theme, changing its character. But as you’ll hear, it doesn’t make it darker. I would say that it’s quite the opposite: all these silences have a sort of playful, winking quality. I already used the line “much ado about nothing” once in describing this movement, but it REALLY fits here: this is a very involved, very complex treatment of a theme that, on its surface, anyway, sounds a lot like a nursery rhyme! So, this passage – just like most of the movement – has a precise parallel in the Schubert, and here we see the fundamental difference between the two works at its starkest. Because whereas Beethoven’s silences were sources of playfulness, wit, and maybe just a bit of mystery, Schubert uses the silences to turn an already poignant theme into something almost unbearably intimate and moving. ♫ Each one of Beethoven’s silences takes the game to a new level; each one of Schubert’s pierces the heart just a bit more. So to their very ends, the Schubert and Beethoven are similar in construction, and unalike in affect. Both works close with a presto coda. But whereas the high spirits in Schubert’s presto are, as ever, still tinged with an emotional complexity, Beethoven’s is pure fun and hijinks. Almost all of it is based on the first five notes of the movement. ♫ Beethoven repeats it over and over, getting worked up into a lather: he’s in what I call his “Rage over a lost Penny” mood. (And for the record, that is the real name of a real piece.) ♫ But then, at the very last moment, Beethoven turns his attention away from that motive, ♫ and back to the piece’s – not the movement’s – but the piece's-- opening idea: the two hands playing something that seems like it really ought to be together…separately. The separation is longer now than the sixteenth that it was throughout the first movement, ♫ but the point is the same. ♫ And again. ♫ And again ♫ And again. ♫ And then, finally, at five minutes to midnight ♫ Only the literal last chord – in pianissimo, on an offbeat – finds the hands getting organized. Now, the last movement may have been less outright funny than the rest of the piece, but EVERYTHING about this ending is a joke: the fact that it’s a reference to the opening movement, which ended nearly 20 minutes ago, the fact that it took the hands this long to get together, the fact that when it finally does happen, it does so with the opposite of fanfare. So, “humor” may have been a slightly misleading word to describe this last movement, which is generally more witty and tongue-in-cheek than anything else. But this ending demonstrates that playing games and making mischief remain high on Beethoven’s list of concerns. Op. 31 no. 1 might do many things and have many qualities, but above all, it is evidence of how much Beethoven liked to laugh, and to make his listener laugh, and of how many different ways he had of achieving that. It is a side of his personality that should be not overlooked, but treasured.