♫ So, for the first time in this course, I now begin a lecture not by introducing a new sonata, but by continuing where we left off: two movements into the sonata Op. 106, the “Hammerklavier”. And as you shall see, as electric and astounding as the first two movements were, they are, in a sense, just preamble to what comes next. What comes next being, of course, the slow movement, marked Adagio Sostenuto, in the unlikely key of f sharp minor. Now, just as I didn’t want to rely too heavily on the length of this sonata to try to convey its scope and ambition, I don’t want to rely too heavily on the length of the slow movement to try to convey its immense power and sense of devastation. But the fact is, this slow movement is absolutely enormous: tempi vary pretty wildly from performance to performance, meaning that this Adagio can range from about 13 minutes to nearly 20, making it roughly the length of the slow movements of the Eroica and 9th Symphonies, longer than any string quartet slow movement, double the length of any slow movement of any other piano sonata. (That is leaving aside the last movements of op. 109 and 111, which are variation movements that begin and end in slow tempi, but can't really be called slow movements.) But ultimately, there are other aspects of this movement that are far more significant and distinctive than its length. Beethoven, throughout his life, wrote one great slow movement after another, but most often, they are visionary, idealistic, utopian even. There might be plenty of pain in them – the Cavatina from the String Quartet Op. 130 evidently brought Beethoven to tears – but they describe an imagined universe, a world more perfect than ours, the conviction that life is beautiful, however great the pain of existence. This can be heard from the earliest works, and even more dazzlingly, in the final ones – the Trio, op. 1 no. 2, the Piano Sonata, op. 2 no. 3, The Sonata Op. 7, The Second Razumovsky Quartet, Op. 59 no. 2, The Fifth Symphony, The Archduke Trio, Op. 109, op. 111, the Quartet op. 127, the aforementioned cavatina, the Heiligerdankgesang from the Quartet Op. 132. Listen to ALL of them; they are all extraordinary. So Beethoven did also write tragic slow movements, of course. But he did not write as many, and in the early and middle periods, these tend to have a slightly theatrical element to them. When compared with the slow movements I just mentioned, which are suffused with deepest and purest feeling, tragedies like the Largo e mesto from the Sonata Op. 10 no. 3, or the “Tomb Scene” movement of the Quartet op. 18 no. 1, or even the “Ghost” trio – they are stunning, but they also feel just a bit performative. As great as these movements are – and don't misunderstand, they are GREAT – they rely on certain tropes, certain kinds of figuration that we know from the world of opera and that act as shorthand for grief. The Hammerklavier is not like this. For its, let’s say, fifteen minutes, for the most part with great austerity, an inconsolable anguish, a pain that cannot be eased is communicated. It is somehow simultaneously the most wrenchingly personal music Beethoven ever wrote, and communicative of something totally universal. In a word, it is devastating.