♫ But if the intensity and fury abate for a moment at the tail end of the theme, they don’t take long to come back with full force. ♫ This is yet another fine example of how severe this movement is, of how whenever Beethoven slackens the noose for a moment, he then pulls it even tauter than before. First he quickens the eighth note motion to sixteenths. ♫ Then he raises the line a step higher with each half bar. ♫ And then the line starts rising faster – not just from each half bar to each quarter, but to each third note. ♫ The intensity of this comes not just from the quickening of the rate of events, but from the fact that the rate of events is incompatible with the music’s pulse. Sixteenth notes, in 4/4 time, divide into fast groups of four. One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. That’s what has been happening up until this point. ♫ But now, all of a sudden, the music moves not in fours, but in threes. ♫ This would be disorienting enough like that, but Beethoven also asks that the pianist accent each beat. Again, the music is not moving by beat, so there is a terrific tension between the rising line, and the accented pulse. ♫ A tension, again, emblematic of the movement as a whole. This leads to a moment I find very moving: the only iteration of the theme in piano, and the only one with harmonic underpinning, instead of being in strict unison. ♫ How transformed the theme is: whereas it generally sounds primed for battle, this recomposition gives it a sadness and a resignation, which remain in the air through not one, but two more of these passages marked “poco ritenente”: this is a rare corner of the movement where Beethoven allows his fragility to show. ♫ This passage reveals the anguish that lies just under the surface of the movement as a whole; generally, that anguish is masked by the sheer force of enraged determination. Which is exactly the quality that dominates the subsequent passage: not quite a fugue, it is in rigorous two part counterpoint with unflagging rhythmic momentum. At any given moment, one hand is playing a slightly modified version of the opening theme, ♫ and the other is playing a countersubject that does not otherwise appear in the piece. ♫ The material never changes or develops – the two voices simply trade these ideas back and forth, one, two, three times, until, rising and rising, a boiling point is reached. ♫ This boiling point involves Beethoven’s late-period signature: the use of the most extreme registers of his piano. (I say “his” piano because the instrument has grown to encompass a couple of extra octaves in the 200 years since.) Usually, this involves pitting those registers against one another simultaneously, as Beethoven does in the recapitulation of the first movement of op. 109, ♫ or in the euphoric climax of op. 110. ♫ But here, the two extreme ends of the keyboard are both covered by one voice, which reaches them by means of absolutely massive leaps. ♫ These leaps, coming, as they do, hot on the heels of that counterpoint passage that rises and rises and rises, they convey not just the enormous intensity of this movement, but the enormous amount of want it expresses. These leaps, these pleas, finally lead us to an A flat Major landing, and the second theme. This is a slightly surprising choice of key – not the relative major, which would be E flat major, but the relative major of the subdominant. Never mind: even if it isn’t the key we expect, this arrival in major is like a sigh of relief. ♫ In fact, this A flat major theme is filled with sighs, appoggiaturas which lean into the piano with a gentleness that is a world apart from everything we have heard up until this point. ♫ Three appoggiaturas, and then, with the pace slackening as Beethoven marks the music “meno allegro” – less fast – three decorated ones. ♫ It’s not just the key, or the sonority, that’s so different from the rest of the movement: it’s the newfound sense of spaciousness. Those earlier “poco ritenente” markings were little blips on the radar: moments of hesitation before the motor revs up again. Here, in the second theme – which, after all, is meant to provide a sense of opposition to the first – Beethoven seems to be looking for a way out of the relentless drive, of the furious forward motion. After the “meno allegro”, he writes a “ritardando”, finally reaching a “poco adagio” – a dramatic departure in pulse from where we started. ♫ The “Allegro con brio ed appassionato” is, at least for a moment, far away… This break in the action does not feel like a point of rest, though: the silences dividing up the phrase, and the lack of a proper cadence or resolution, they create a sense of expectation, of the probability that another explosion is lying just ahead. ♫ And, in fact, another explosion IS lying just ahead. ♫ This all remains in the A flat major of the subdued second theme, but not only does it return to the tempo and tough, gritted-teeth character of the opening: it uses the same material. This is actually an important point: the second theme isn’t really much of a theme, per se. ♫ It's certainly not any kind of complete sentence. And, as we shall see, it will play no role in the development. All this means that the movement feels nearly monothematic. And so, the conclusion of the exposition is based entirely on material from that first theme group. First we get this passage – somewhere between triumph and defiance – which is entirely based on the opening three note idea. ♫ And then a passage of rising sixteenth notes with accents on each quarter, which clearly refers to that rhythmically irregular passage we discussed earlier. ♫ And finally, we land on an unadorned, unharmonized, octave A flat, brusque as can be. ♫ We might now be in major, as opposed to the opening’s minor, but this exposition is literally bookended by violent, forte, staccato unisons. ♫ Major mode be damned, there is no relief to be found in this music.