♫ With the arrival of the last movement comes a shift in character as extreme and as immediate as the one the arrival of the menuet brought. If the first and third movements of this sonata, different as they are, are both emotionally complex and bittersweet, the second and fourth are not just high-spirited, but unambiguously so. This last movement, in particular, is a romp. It is marked “Presto con fuoco” – very fast and with fire – one of the fastest and altogether most emphatic tempo indications to be found in Beethoven’s music. If Beethoven’s marking of the second movement tells us that however optimistic and happy-natured the music, it should be delivered with poise and control, the marking here is a request to just go for it, unbridled. So, my use of the word “unbridled” here was not accidental: this sonata is sometimes called “The Hunt”, purely on account of this last movement. There’s no evidence that Beethoven had anything to do with this nickname, but a hunt is, beyond a reasonable doubt, what Beethoven is depicting here. First of all, E flat major as a key is uniquely well positioned to suggest a hunt – because of the limitations of natural horns, a huge proportion of the music that features them prominently is in E flat major, and horn fanfares in music of this era almost automatically evoke hunting. Beyond this, the rhythm of the music is just as suggestive: the movement is in 6/8 time, and large swaths of it unfold with the first and third of every group of three notes played: a long-short-long short-long-short-long pattern that is gentler – less “snappy” – than a dotted rhythm. ♫ That is the quintessential rhythm of the hunt. I’ll get into this more as we hear the music, but for now suffice it to say that both harmonically, and rhythmically, this movement makes its subject very clear. So, I think the moment to start hearing it should be now! Here comes the finale’s exposition. ♫ So, when you listen to this galloping music, you probably find yourself thinking that it has very little in common with the previous three movements – certainly not the first or third. And as far as character goes, that is certainly true. But there is a kind of link between the outer movements of op. 31 no. 3, because both have beginnings that are not really beginnings. This was perhaps more striking in the first movement, starting as it did on that remote II-7 chord. ♫ But really, what sort of an opening phrase is this? ♫ Its harmonic shape is V-I. ♫ It's the answer to a question that isn’t actually asked. After that question-less answer gets played four times in a row, we finally get a proper opening – music that begins, confidently, on the tonic, in forte, establishing the tonality and the general tone of the movement. ♫ All the components that make this movement so clearly a “hunt” are present here. That not-dotted long-short-long short-long rhythm I was talking about, ♫ and also the suggestion of horns: if you had to make a broad outline of this theme, ♫ it would be as follows – ♫ a horn call stereotype. Just like the opening of the much later Lebewohl Sonata, ♫ only backwards. I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out the similarity between this movement and an even later work: Schubert’s sonata in c minor, D 958, written in 1828, the year after Beethoven’s death. The last movement of Schubert’s sonata uses this same rhythm just as obsessively – actually, more obsessively. ♫ That goes on for minutes at a time – again, obsessive – but as you can hear, the character couldn’t really be any further from Beethoven’s finale. They have great energy in common, I suppose, but whereas Beethoven’s music is full of joy and vivaciousness, the Schubert is morbid – driven by visions of death, pitch black in mood to its very end. The reason I point this out, in spite of the utter lack of common ground in character, is that this is not the only time Schubert took inspiration from one of Beethoven’s opus 31 sonatas. If you remember the lecture on Op. 31 no. 1, you’ll remember that the lighthearted last movement ♫ become the formal model for the finale of Schubert’s A Major sonata, D 959. ♫ Schubert’s rondo is incredibly tender and amabile, so again, there’s little common ground between him and Beethoven in terms of character. And that’s what’s so interesting: that on two separate occasions, Schubert found, in Beethoven’s op. 31 sonatas – great works, certainly, but not among his more iconic ones – a source of inspiration that he could use to completely different emotional ends. Anyway! This movement is another sonata form: just as the second movement had the sound and flair of a scherzo but was actually a sonata form, this movement has the feel of a rondo, but is in fact a very straightforward sonata form structure – exposition with first, second and closing themes, development based on those themes, recap that mirrors the exposition but stays (mostly) on the tonic, brief, summarizing coda. And this sonata form movement further resembles the “scherzo” second movement in that its three principal themes are not really there to provide contrast. The second theme, despite beginning in the manner of a broken record, ultimately has even more motion, energy and spirit than the first. ♫ Part of the reason this theme seems more active than the first is that ]the opening theme really just toggles back and forth between dominant and tonic. ♫ But this one has a new harmony per bar – and the bars go by very fast in this movement! It makes the theme seem like it is headed somewhere new, in a hurry. ♫ Not agitated, exactly, but definitely restless. And while the closing theme doesn’t have this kind of harmonic activity – like the first, it’s all just I and V – it scampers about so much, covers so much territory, it, too, strikes me as more active than the first theme, not less. ♫ You’ll notice that the exposition ends with a fermata – a hard stop. This is yet another reminiscence of the earlier movements of the piece, of the ritardandi leading to fermatas in the first movement, ♫ and of the ritardandi and THEN fermatas in the second. ♫ These breaks in the game, these cessations of momentum, they serve decidedly different functions in all three movements. But their presence in any of the three is surprising, and their presence in ALL three is a real binding agent – it’s one of the ways we come to feel that these disparate movements truly do belong together.