This, the last of Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas, was also the last work of the so-called Middle Period, following closely after the composition of the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. Thereafter Beethoven lapsed into a period of silence, perhaps caused by the unhappy outcome of his hopeless adoration of Antonie Brentano, the “immortal beloved,” until gradually his creative spirit began to work towards a new style and a new and profound solution of structural and personal problems.
The Sonata was first performed in December 1812, by the renowned French violinist Pierre Rode, accompanied by Beethoven’s generous patron, the Archduke Rudolph. Rode’s playing influenced the style of the finale: “In our finales,” wrote Beethoven, “we like rushing and resounding passages, but this does not please R, and this hindered me somewhat.” The ethereal serenity of the work, however, is due entirely to Beethoven’s limpid classical muse, with a fascinating equality of dialog between the two instruments. The very first phrase of the Sonata, four simple notes with a characteristic trill, are passed from violin to piano and back before anything like a phrase or a theme develops. Very rarely does one instrument offer a new idea without the other dutifully responding a few bars later. The wandering arpeggios which pervade the movement are perhaps its most striking and original feature.
The slow movement opens with a solemn hymn in the piano, but instead of repeating the melody, the violin offers a serene, and more secular, melody of its own. In the reprise the instruments exchange melodies. A brisk and jerky scherzo follows directly, with a smoother trio.
The finale is a set of variations on the lightest and prettiest of themes, with a neat lapse from the key of G into B major for its second half. After four variations, the fifth is an intense adagio. Before the sixth we hear a brief snatch of the theme in the wrong key (E-flat); the sixth variation itself is full of “rushing” if not “resounding” passages, the seventh is a lugubrious fugato, and the melody returns before a witty, carefree coda. Some of Beethoven’s greatest utterances are thinly disguised as jokes.