♫ So, inevitably, we come to the final lecture of this course, on Beethoven’s final piano sonata: the c minor, op. 111. I say “inevitably”, but I’m still amazed to have arrived at this point. The overuse of the word “journey” makes me grumpy – you see, I’m older than I was when this course began, and thus grumpier – but preparing and delivering this series of lectures really has been a journey. It’s forced me to think differently and more deeply about these sonatas, and has played a significant role in shaping and reshaping my view of them, individually and as a whole. I feel like I’m a different musician than I was when I began. If we’re going to talk about journeys, though, let’s talk about the one that really matters: the journey that finds Beethoven at the sonata op. 111, the 32nd of 32, 27 years after writing op. 2 no. 1. I’ve made this point already, so I don’t need it belabor it here: the distance that Beethoven has traveled in this time is staggering – it is hard to think of an artist who evolved more over their lifespan, and the evolution Beethoven effected on the FORM of the sonata was so enormous, the word “evolution” is in itself inadequate. By op. 111, Beethoven has caused a rupture in sonata form, one that was never fully repaired, and that forced future composers to take the form in radically new directions, or to abandon it entirely. I think I’m going to get into the detail of opus 111 quickly and without too much preamble, first of all, because there is SO MUCH in it, this is going to take some time. But also, because I feel unequal to the task of conveying what this sonata has meant to me, and what it means generally. Obviously, we’ve gone through all the other late sonatas already – opp. 101, 106, 109, and 110 – and it would be silly to say that 111 is “greater” than these. But I would argue that it is more awe-inducing. Even if it was written five years – and many masterpieces – before the end of Beethoven’s life, it carries with it the unmistakable feeling of a farewell. There are many reasons for this, which I will of course get into, but it is in large part because op. 111 represents the culmination of so many things Beethoven has been leading up to – the idea of a sonata building and accumulating in emotional force until its last moments; the communication of struggle and even rage; and most of all, transcendence – the sense that he is reaching for the infinite. As I mentioned, each of the last five sonatas would properly be categorized as late Beethoven, but the last three, written over a span of three years from 1820 to 1822, form a trinity. Having said that, opus 111 has far fewer links to either op. 109 or op. 110 than those two have to one another. In this lecture, I’ll frequently use the variation finale of op. 109 as a point of comparison to op. 111’s last movement, as both are sets of variations. But in terms of specific harmonic and motivic links, there are not so many to be found. Again, op. 111 occupies a space all its own. The last thing to mention, before moving straight to the music, is that op. 111 is a sonata in just two movements. This is unusual: leaving aside the op. 49s, which are really too slim to be relevant to this discussion, and the Waldstein, which is sort of a hybrid between a two and a three movement sonata, there are only four Beethoven sonatas in 2 movements. If I had to say that the relationship between the two movements of op. 111 was closest to any of those other sonatas, I would probably have to say it was the e minor, op. 90. Op. 90’s two movements have a real yin and yang relationship, with the rigor and anguish of the first movement, ♫ answered by a completely contrasting second movement. ♫ But – and I say this as someone for whom op. 90 is a special favorite among the sonatas – to compare these two works is ultimately ridiculous. Op. 90, for all its beauty and fragility and tenderness, doesn’t have a fraction of the aspirations of op. 111. The second movement of 111, in particular, has an overwhelming sense of wonder which makes it stand apart from its counterpart in op 90. And really, from anything at all.