♫ And that is why the opening of the second movement of op. 111 is so, so, so astonishing. The rage, the rigor, the agony, that were so all-consuming in the first movement: they are gone. When this set of variations begins – on the same C Major chord that just ended the first movement so miserably – everything has already changed. The teeth are no longer gritted; the muscles are no longer twisted; fury has become wonder. ♫ There is a part of me that doesn't want to analyze this – that doesn’t want to “demystify” this music. Its mystery is part of what makes it glorious. But the effect – while it cannot be entirely accounted for by its individual components – does owe much to the specific choices Beethoven has made. If you consider what all of music’s fundamental elements are – rhythm, harmony, melody – Beethoven has completely flipped the script from the opening of the first movement to the opening of the second. Let’s start with the rhythm: the introduction to the first movement is dominated by dotted rhythms – taut, tight and sharp. ♫ The Arietta of the second movement, by contrast, is all in triplets – the long note less long, the short note less short, the whole thing lacking the kind of tautness that defined the opening of the piece. ♫ Harmonically, too, the contrast is absolute. Again, remarkably, the piece opened far away from a tonic – from a statement of the key of c minor. The opening interval, instead, outlined a diminished chord. ♫ By contrast, the second movement opens with a pure, and complete C major chord, voiced with the texture of a chorale. ♫ And the motivic natures of these two openings are just as opposed: all of those diminished 7ths ♫ answered by 4ths, 5ths, 6ths – the most consonant and open of intervals. ♫ The clenched jaw has been replaced with the widest of eyes. Again, the way in which the two movements of a two movement sonata relate to one another is really its central issue; it is among this sonata’s miracles that the second movement begins in absolute opposition to the first, and yet feels exactly right. So, this last piano sonata movement Beethoven wrote is a set of variations, and like all of Beethoven’s late sets of variations – for example, the last movement of op. 109 – it is philosophical, even transcendental, in nature. The theme undergoes transformations that the word “variation” is inadequate to describe; these variations are psychological explorations of the theme, explorations that reveal inner truths about it. This process is all the more moving and extraordinary because the theme itself is, on its surface, so simple. Its first half is defined by its growing intervals. A falling fourth, ♫ then a falling fifth, ♫ and finally, gloriously, a rising sixth, ♫ and then comes a rising seventh, but this time with both notes played together, simultaneously. ♫ ♫ Bit by bit, and without the slightest hint of excess, one feels an expansion taking place. The second half of the theme is defined by a harmonic event – its initial move to a minor. The first half of the theme remained firmly in C Major, and really just outlined a progression from I-V. The a minor that begins the second half, before it comes to a peaceful close back in C Major, is the theme’s only other tonality – this theme has a lack of harmonic complexity to go with its motivic and rhythmic simplicity. ♫ This is faithfully mirrored in each of the five variations to come.