♫ So, four variations in, now, the theme has become cosmic, visionary – crevices and inner meaning of the theme that we didn’t know were even there initially have been revealed. And so it’s probably not just appropriate, but necessary, that at this point, Beethoven moves beyond variation, and into new material. And this is the moment where the plot diverges – fundamentally and permanently – from the one to be found in Op. 109’s variations. Those variations might be mind-blowing, psychological explorations of the theme, but they are variations: there is quite literally not one note of Op. 109’s last movement that is not extrapolated from the theme. Op. 111’s last movement is not hemmed in in this way. The exact moment at which we leave the world of variation is possible to miss, because the sound world remains so similar to the “angel babble” music which did, in fact, comprise the second half of the fourth variation. But once that variation reaches its cadence, the meandering arabesques that follow are brand new material. ♫ We’ve gone from “angel babble” to “happy baby” – this is pure, child-like contentment, with those bouncing C major chords in the left hand ♫ enhancing the mood already created by the curlicues in the right hand. But this child’s dream only lasts a few moments. Soon, the register drops back down to earth, and that C pedal ♫ is replaced by harmonic motion, and the resultant music is all about Beethoven’s humanity. ♫ Please do not look to me to explain why this is so powerful, so moving. I can’t do it. Harmonically, it’s so simple: C Major, to a minor, and back to C major, mirroring the shape of the theme. ♫ Really, very little is happening here. But Beethoven’s loftiness and humaneness – the combination of those two elements being his signature – are on full display, in music that seems to expand the known universe… …a process which is only just getting started. What follows is…just…staggering. There are so many moments in this movement that take the music in directions that could not have been predicted, and none is more astonishing than this one: a passage obviously drawn OUT of the theme, but which is something so much more than merely a variation. It begins in an expected enough way, with the theme’s opening gesture appearing in the bass. ♫ But from there, we take a road never before travelled, winding through one new key, and then another, with those trills in the treble seeming like a kind of rupture in the space-time continuum. ♫ So much of the miraculousness of this is beyond what can be explained or described… but can we please marvel at this arrival in E flat major? ♫ E flat Major! If you hadn’t already noticed that we’ve left behind the world of mere variations, this E flat major ensures that you notice. Its three flats mean that we are three links down the circle of fifths away from any second of the theme or the four variations that followed it – the arrival at a new and even somewhat distant key is just the sort of result this completely otherworldly passage demanded. And it’s not just that this is a new key, a key that was never a part of the theme’s, or its variations’, harmonic plan. It is that that plan was SO simple, so bare-bones. The power of that theme came, in large part, from its simplicity, and its harmonic simplicity – C Major to a minor to C Major – was perhaps the most important component of that. And it is that context that makes this E Flat Major such an event of wide-eyed wonder. Wonder. It’s the word that defines this movement, and maybe really Beethoven’s entire output, ultimately. It's the quality that has grown in magnitude throughout this movement, and that now grows ONCE AGAIN. Having arrived at this E flat Major mirage, Beethoven gives us one of his great “this is not enough” moments – “this” being the piano, life, the universe – asking the pianist to do what is quite literally impossible: to make a crescendo on one note. Now, I would argue that the piano has PLENTY of limitations, but its most extreme and insurmountable one is that not only does one have no control of the note once it has been struck, it begins decaying – let’s be real, dying – almost immediately. The impossible crescendo is on the third note – the apex of this phrase. ♫ The crescendo that Beethoven asks for CANNOT BE MADE. You can understand exactly why he wants it – this music is infinitely yearning, questing, questioning – but that makes you no more able to actually achieve it. And that is exactly the point. It cannot be done, but you try anyway. It's the distillation of Beethoven’s worldview, and of the experience of playing his music. You aim at the impossible. You fail, but if you fail in the right way, the experience – yours, the player, yours the listener – might reach transcendence.