♫ Like the second movement, the finale of op. 14 no. 2 is a witty, amusing oddity. It is, in name at least, a scherzo – to the best of my knowledge, this is the only time Beethoven gave that name to one of his last movements. (Scherzos, of course, typically being a short internal movement in a sonata – usually movement 2 or 3 of 4.) The word “scherzo” doesn’t really accurately describe the structure of the movement: a true scherzo is always an ABA, with the trio being the B section. This movement is something closer to a rondo, with many short, contrasting episodes. Instead, the word “scherzo” is being used here to describe the character of the music. This is, indeed, very joke-y music, starting from the very beginning, the “A” section. ♫ This movement is in 3/8, one two three, one two three, but the upward figure that forms the majority of the theme is divided into units of two beats. ♫ This is what is known as a hemiola – when bars with three beats – 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 – are divided into groups of two – 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2. So after this misleading opening, the rhythmic ship is immediately righted, ♫ which helps us understand that the opening is in the “wrong” meter – gimpy, off-kilter. And that is what makes it wry and amusing. So, set against this wry and amusing main material, are three contrasting episodes. The first is faux-dramatic, toggling between heavy sustained chords and scampering triplets, and altogether over in a flash. ♫ The second is both by far the most extensive and by far the most lyrical, the only proper contrast of character to be found in the whole movement. ♫ The final contrasting episode has a different kind of joke – a harmonic one this time, rather than a rhythmic one. A modulation lowers the theme down from G Major to F Major, transforming the character from rambunctious to shy and halting. ♫ But after this moment of hesitation, order is quickly restored, and we go right back to the G Major and the joviality of the opening. ♫ This is strikingly similar to a passage at a similar point in the B flat Major piano concerto, op. 19 – a piece that was written more-or-less concurrently to this sonata. The rondo’s B flat major theme, ♫ is moved to remote G Major, prepared by a set of rising scales, just as was the case in the sonata. ♫ Here, the joke is more sophisticated, because Beethoven has altered not only the tonality, but the rhythm. From this, ♫ to this. ♫ But the passage in op. 14 no. 2 seems clearly to have been the inspiration and trial run for the concerto, which he wrote almost immediately after. The coda that comes out of this passage is totally in keeping with the rest of the movement – high-spirited and amusing, and dominated by hemiolas. First, after a bit of hand-crossing play, we get a new set of hemiolas, these ones more insistent, rather than merely playful. ♫ And then finally, a riff on the opening series, with offbeat accents adding to the rhythmic eventfulness. ♫ And just like that, it’s gone, disappearing into the ether! That ending, with its refusal to stand on ceremony, is a fitting one for this sonata – marvelous, but lacking in both airs and fat. Once again, there’s a certain kind of not just economy, but modesty here, which is not really typical of Beethoven. But movement by movement, his commitment to the character he has chosen is absolute, and that IS most typical of him. It is that commitment that makes this the pick of these smaller sonatas. It is a piece without grand ambitions, but it is also beautiful and entertaining in equal measure – great measure. It should not be overlooked.