The Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, is the last of Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Along with Beethoven’s 33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120 (1823) and his two collections of bagatelles—Op. 119 (1822) and Op. 126 (1823)—this was one of Beethoven’s last compositions for piano. The work was written between 1821 and 1822. Like other “late period” sonatas, it contains fugal elements. It was dedicated to his friend, pupil, and patron, Archduke Rudolf.
The Sonata comprises only two very contrasting movements, with the second, an Arietta with variations, being consecrated in the words of Thomas Mann as a ‘farewell to the Sonata’. Nearly ignored by contemporaries, it was not until the second half of the 19th century that it found its way into the repertoire of most leading pianists. Rhythmically visionary and technically demanding, it is one of the most discussed of Beethoven’s works.
Beethoven conceived of the plan for his final three piano sonatas (Op. 109, 110 and 111) during the summer of 1820, while he worked on his Missa Solemnis. Although the work was only seriously outlined by 1819, the famous first theme of the allegro ed appassionato was found in a draft book dating from 1801–1802, contemporary to his Second Symphony.
Moreover, the study of these draft books implies that Beethoven initially had plans for a sonata in three movements, quite different from that which we know: it is only thereafter that the initial theme of the first movement became that of the String Quartet No. 13, and that what should have been used as the theme with the adagio—a slow melody in A♭—was abandoned. Only the motif planned for the third movement, the famous theme mentioned above, was preserved to become that of the first movement.
The Arietta, too, offers a considerable amount of research on its themes; the drafts found for this movement seem to indicate that as the second movement took form, Beethoven gave up the idea of a third movement, the sonata finally appearing to him as ideal.
Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 32 In C Minor, Op. 11