Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2, No. 1, was written in 1795 and dedicated to Joseph Haydn. A typical performance of the entire work lasts about 17 to 20 minutes.
Tovey wrote, "Sir Hubert Parry has aptly compared the opening of [this sonata] with that of the finale of Mozart's G minor symphony to show how much closer Beethoven's texture is. The slow movement ... well illustrates the rare cases in which Beethoven imitates Mozart to the detriment of his own proper richness of tone and thought, while the finale in its central episode brings a misapplied and somewhat diffuse structure in Mozart's style into a direct conflict with themes as Beethovenish in their terseness as in their sombre passion."
The sonata is in four movements:
- Allegro in F minor
- Adagio in F major
- Menuetto – Allegretto in F minor
- Prestissimo in F minor
The first movement, in 2/2 time, is in sonata form. The first theme is driven by an ascending arpeggiated figure, very similar to the opening of the fourth movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 40. The second theme, in A-flat major, is accompanied by eighth-note octaves in the bass (usually with dominant harmony). There are two codettas; the first consists of a series of energetic descending scales in A-flat major, and the second is a lyrical passage marked con espressione. In this second codetta and in the second theme Beethoven makes interesting use of mode mixture as the right hand parts borrows from the parallel minor. The development opens with the initial theme, but is mostly dedicated to the second theme and its eighth-note accompaniment. The retransition to the main theme uses its sixteenth-note triplet. The recapitulation repeats the material from the exposition without much change, except that it stays in F minor throughout. There is a short coda. A tense, agitated feel is ubiquitous throughout the movement. Within the entire movement there seem to be two primary themes, with the remaining melodies simply making up the rest of score. The first theme consists of bars 1 to 8 which then repeats themselves, with very slight variations, in bars 101 to 108. It is variated in a bigger scale from bars 49 to 54. The second theme lasts from 20 to 35, and like the first theme is then restated in slight variations, in 55 to 60. It is also restated in bars 119 to 124.
Allegro: First movement.
The second movement opens with a highly ornamented lyrical theme in 3/4 time in F major. This movement is in ternary form. This is followed by a more agitated transitional passage in D minor accompanied by quiet parallel thirds, followed by a passage full of thirty-second notes in C major. This leads back to a more embellished form of the F major theme, which is followed by an F major variation of the C major section. This Adagio is the earliest composition by Beethoven now in general circulation; it was adapted from the slow movement of a piano quartet from 1785.
Adagio: Second movement.
The third movement, a minuet in F minor, is conventional in form. It contains two repeated sections, followed by a trio in F major in two repeated sections, after which the first minuet returns. The minuet is characterized by syncopations, dramatic pauses and sharp dynamic contrast, and like many minor-key minuets has a somewhat melancholy tone spanning major and minor tonality. The trio is built around longer, more lyric phrases that pass between the right and left hands in imitative polyphony. The main material is reprised after the trio.
Allegretto: Third movement.
The fourth movement, like the first and third, is in F minor, and is built using a modified sonata form (the development is replaced by new thematic material). The exposition is accompanied by ceaseless eighth-note triplets. The first theme is based on three staccato quarter note chords, and gives the impression of an energetic and frantic pursuit of something elusive. A transitional passage leads to a more lyrical but still agitated theme in C minor. The chords of the first theme return to close the exposition. Where the development would be expected to start, there is a completely new theme in A-flat major, with the first respite from the eighth-note triplets. This is followed by an extended retransition based on alternating motives from the first theme and the "development" theme. The recapitulation presents the first and second themes in F minor. There is no coda, only a fortissimo descending arpeggio—in eighth-note triplets—to conclude the piece.
Prestissimo: Fourth movement.