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The opening bars of the Tempest sonata

The Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2, was composed in 1801/02 by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is usually referred to as "The Tempest" (or Der Sturm in his native German), but this title was not given by him, or indeed referred to as such during his lifetime; instead, it comes from a claim by his associate Anton Schindler that the sonata was inspired by the Shakespeare play. However, much of Schindler's information is distrusted by classical music scholars. Renowned British music scholar, Donald Francis Tovey, in his authoritative book A Companion to Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas, states that "The story that Beethoven connected this sonata with The Tempest is evidently one of many such inventions by his biographer Anton Schindler" (pg 285).

The piece consists of three movements and takes approximately twenty-five minutes to perform:

  1. Largo - Allegro
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegretto

Each of the movements is in sonata form, though the second lacks a substantial development section. The first movement alternates brief moments of seeming peacefulness with extensive passages of turmoil, after some time expanding into a haunting "storm" in which the peacefulness is lost. This musical form, one will note, is rather unique among all Beethoven sonatas to that date. Concerning the time period and style, it was definitely thought of as an odd thing to write; a pianist's skills were demonstrated in many ways, and showing changes in tone, technique and speed efficiently many times in one movement was one of them. There is a long recitative section at the beginning of this movement's recapitulation. The second movement in B flat major is slower and more dignified. It mirrors the opening of the first movement both through use of a rolling recitative-like arpeggio on the first chord, and the rising melodic ideas in the opening six measures, which are reminiscent of the first movement's recitative. Other ideas in this movement mirror the first, for instance, a figure in the eighth measure and parallel passages of the second movement is similar to a figure in the sixth measure of the first. The third movement, in the key of D minor, is very moving, first flowing with emotion and then reaching a climax, before moving into an extended development section which mainly focuses on the opening figure of the movement, reaching a climax at measures 169-173. The recapitulation is preceded by an extensive cadenza-like passage of sixteenth notes for the right hand and the coda which follows is quite substantial, reaching what can be considered the climax of the movement at measure 381, a fortissimo falling chromatic scale.

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