Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2, No. 3, is a sonata written for solo piano, composed in 1796. It is dedicated to Joseph Haydn and is often referred to as Beethoven's first virtuosic piano sonata. It is both the weightiest and longest of the three Opus 2 sonatas, lasting over 25 minutes, presenting many difficulties, including difficult trills, awkward hand movements, and forearm rotation. It is Beethoven's second longest piano sonata in his early period, only to Beethoven's Grand Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 7, published a year later.
The sonata, in C major, consists of four movements:
- Allegro con brio, common time
- Adagio, 2/4 in E major
- Scherzo: Allegro, 3/4
- Allegro assai, 6/8
The first movement follows the Sonata-Allegro format of the Classical period. The movement opens with the main theme in the tonic key, beginning with a double-thirds trill-like pattern. This opening passage is famously nightmarish for pianists, and Arthur Rubinstein even used this passage to test pianos before performing on them. This pattern leads into an energetic outburst of a broken-chord and broken-octave section. The second theme of the exposition is written in G Major, the dominant key of C Major; starting with a descending G minor scale adding to the virtuosity of the movement. Some believed Beethoven was influenced here by the Weiner ideals of expressionism. A forte shows later, leading to a very rich melody with left and right hand. Then a similar outburst of a broken-chord and broken-octave sections appears in fortissimo. Then it ends with some difficult trills and an octave scale. In the Development section, the composer opens it by improvising on trill patterns introduced in the end of the exposition, which are much more difficult to play. Following a broken-chords section filled with harmony changes, the main theme is restated in D Major (pianissimo), the supertonic key of C Major. Then a fortissimo and Beethoven's very common syncopations appears in the music giving a rhythm, this continues on to the resolution. The recapitulation is a key change from G Major to C major, which is finished by a Cadenza, which begins with a sudden A-flat major chord. This music is also an exception because cadenzas do not usually appear in music other than concertos. The cadenza is very light and vibrant and it ends with a long trill and descending chromatic scale in the right hand. The first movement is about 10 minutes long and is one of Beethoven's longest movements from his early period.
The second movement is marked Adagio and written in the key of E Major. This is written in the style of a string quartet, as there are four clear voices. The middle section, in E minor, contains numerous examples of Romanticism, and is considered a prelude to the master's later sonatas. Later in the movement, it repeats the E minor passage in E Major.
The third movement, a Scherzo, is written in Minuet-Trio form. It opens with a joke-like statement, and the composer uses some polyphony. The trio is in the relative minor key of C Major (A minor) and contains running arpeggios in the right hand with the left hand playing a melodic line in octave form. The coda of this short movement ends the Scherzo softly with a perfect cadence.
The final movement, listed as a Rondo, is in the Sonata rondo form. The movement opens with an ascending run of first inversion chords in the right hand, which is the movement's main theme. Like the first movement, the second theme in the exposition is also written in G Major. The great speed of this movement makes it challenging for pianists.