♫ So, too, is the second movement, though in an entirely different way. Moving from the first to the second movement, Beethoven really turns a page and leaves the sweetness almost entirely behind, in favor of a quality which is more fundamental to him: humor. Now, I’ve talked over, and over, and over again about Beethoven’s humor, and I hope that one of things I’ve managed to convey is that it takes many forms. In op. 31 no. 1 alone, you have the manic and zany 1st movement, followed by parody – parody of Italian opera – in the second movement, followed by something more quizzical and riddling in the third. Here, in the second movement of op. 14 no 2, we find Beethoven in a sly deadpan mood. Here is the opening. ♫ What’s funny about this is the way the rhythm and articulation are so at odds with the simple, honestly, inconsequential nature of the music. That deliberate motion and clipped articulation – each. Quar. Ter. Note. Played. On. Its. Own – that suggest something formal, even ceremonial, like a march. Take away that articulation, and you realize how basic, how ordinary this theme is. ♫ That’s why the ceremonial quality inherent in the articulation feels so delightfully silly. This movement is a theme and variations – there are just three variations – and another aspect of the humor lies in the off-kilter nature of the theme. It’s a binary form, but while the first half is unrepeated, the second half is always played twice. And on top of that, the second half of the theme has what I’d call a ‘tag” – a superfluous little coda which comes after we’ve reached a resolution, and which makes the second half of the theme, even unrepeated, longer than the first. ♫ Should be the end, but… ♫ This tag is already an unexpected addition to the structure, so the fact that Beethoven includes it and THEN repeats the whole second half of the theme – tag included – really throws the whole thing delightfully off balance. This theme might be processional, but the procession is filled with people who are a little unsteady on their feet. The variations add a bit of motion, and enrich the counterpoint, but they keep the character of the theme intact: formal on the surface, winking just underneath. The first. ♫ The second. ♫ And the third. ♫ And Beethoven plays a little game with the tag: each time, it has a crescendo, but each crescendo crests in a different spot, further playing havoc with the listener’s expectations. The first. ♫ The second. ♫ And the third. ♫ So, it’s not just that the second half of each variation is longer, or that it’s the only half that gets repeated: it’s also where all of the irregularities lie. After the third and final variation comes a little coda. It features a kind of return of the theme, except that whereas initially, the theme’s walking motion was pretty imperturbable, it now gets… perturbed. We get the first phrase, but punctuated with a rest – a musical question mark. ♫ Then not even the full second phrase, and another question mark. ♫ And then further fragmentation. ♫ And then finally, Beethoven has had enough of this monkeying around. ♫ I don’t really need to explain why this last chord is a bit ridiculous. In addition to being much ado about pretty much nothing, it’s just about the only loud moment in this otherwise rather well-behaved movement. Beethoven wrote the rules for this movement, and then at the last moment, he declines to play by them. Normally, no matter what character, style, and form that Beethoven is writing in, he does so with a 110% commitment level. In this movement, it’s the sense that he doesn’t quite mean any of it that makes it so amusing.