Beethoven’s first three sonatas for piano and violin duo (all ten of his violin sonatas were designated “for Piano and Violin”) were dedicated to one of the musicians with whom he studied in Vienna — Antonio Salieri, of theatrical and film fame. (When told of the speculation that Salieri had poisoned Mozart, Beethoven was indignant and dismissed the notion out of hand.) The Sonata No. 2 in A contrasts markedly with its siblings of the Opus 12 set: Nos. 1 and 3 are incisive and dynamic, reflecting the bold spirit of the firebrand from Bonn; No. 2 is a blithe spirit, full of quicksilver, buffo charm.
The opening of the Sonata tells everything about its stance. With the violin busily supplying staccato chords, the piano plays, fast and soft as you please, a pert little idea made of a series of six ascending half-steps outlining the A-major chord — certainly more a motif than a full-fledged theme. Reaching up to the high keyboard where it began, the piano then reverses the original direction and sweeps down in descending steps, this time outlining dominant harmony. The mood of the movement does not remain as antic as this opening suggests, but the materials are determinedly lightweight, even with the presence of the unexpected loud accents, the syncopations, and the breathless pauses that are typical of more serious Beethoven essays. The work is wonderfully designed even while being delicious fun. As an example of the latter, notice very close to the beginning, when the violin plays the first four pairs of half-steps and the piano answers low on the keyboard with the remaining three pairs: a pair of comedians, one stand-up, one sit-down. The union between the two instruments is deftly handled throughout, and if the piano is lord of this domain, the violin still comes into its own on many an occasion.
The middle movement is not really a very slow one, but it is in a minor key (A minor) and purports to be “serious and expressive.” The piano introduces the main theme (as it does again in the third movement), but the procedure becomes democratic in an “I take the melody first, then it’s yours” manner.
The tempo marking for the finale, Allegro piacevole (fast and charming, or amusing, etc.), tells it all about the lighthearted, breezy, syncopated, and endearing music that Beethoven concocted to end his exhilarating Second Sonata for piano and violin.