In 1819 Beethoven began to compose three Piano Sonatas. The three works were completed respectively in 1820, 1822 and 1823 and were published separately by the publisher Schlesinger of Berlin. However, the separate publication and the attribution of three opus numbers does not exclude - the critics are convinced of this - that it is a triptych, three poems that mutually complement each other.
And since Beethoven was working on the Missa Solemnis, begun in 1819 and finished in 1823, when he composed these Sonatas, some commentators argued that a religious thought also governed the triptych.
It was also noted that the manuscript of the Sonata Op. 110 is dated 25 December 1822 (a date easily transformed by some into "Christmas 1822") and that the Sonata is without dedication, something quite unusual in Beethoven.
A dedication in pectore to himself, or a dedication in pectore to Christ? Both hypothesis had their partisans and I will not comment on this.
But nothing prevents us from believing that the second part of the Sonata Op. 110, with the Arioso dolente and with the Fugue ending with an apotheosis, actually makes us think of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.
And that the first movement makes us think of the Nativity.
We mentioned earlier the problem, deeply felt by Beethoven, of the reassumption of baroque music principles in the classical style. In this sense, the Sonata Op. 110 represents the penultimate stage, while the final one will be represented by the Fughetta and, above all, by the Double Fugue of the Variations on a theme by Diabelli Op. 120 (1823).
At first Beethoven had thought for the Sonata Op. 110 to a finale formed in practice by a prelude and fugue, that is, by the Arioso dolente in A flat minor and by the Fugue in A flat major. In a second time he modified this plan and, after the Fugue, he re-enacted the Arioso in G minor, followed by the re-exposition of the subject of the Fugue but in contrary motion, by a short Stretto and by the peroration on the subject.
In the final part, the peroration, the contrapuntal style of multi-voice writing is abandoned, and the subject is harmonized in chords with an accompanying figuration in rapid sounds. This juxtaposition of two opposing styles had never yet occurred and constituted a model for Mendelssohn, for Liszt, for Brahms and for Franck.
The first movement, which bears the rare caption “with amiability”, is in classical form, with an exposition of two main and two secondary themes, development, recapitulation and coda.
The second movement is in the form of a Scherzo con Trio, and the Trio is one of Beethoven's most bizarre and amusing piano inventions, with rapid and dangerous crossings of the two hands that strain the nerves of the pianist (Webern will remember this in the second Tempo of his Variations Op. 27).
The tonality of the second movement is F minor with conclusion in F major. Nothing unusual in this, except that Beethoven considers the F major as a dominant key of B flat minor and, without interruption, starting from B flat minor, he creates a connection between the second movement and the Arioso dolente.
A typical effect of the clavichord, the Bebung, the fading repeated keystroke, is recreated pianistically here.
The will to synthesize baroque and classical extends to instruments as well as to compositional styles.
The Sonata Op. 110 became, even more than the Hammerklavier, a manifesto of historicism.