annotated tempest largo

Performance and Analysis: Beethoven’s Tempest Op. 31 No.2 first movement

The focus of this article is to show the relationship and development of the motifs used in the first movement of Beethoven’s Tempest sonata. At this point in his composing, Beethoven began to distill his motifs to very short phrases, often just a few notes. The Tempest sonata is a great example of how Beethoven uses fragmented motifs as the essential components of the sonata’s thematic material.

The opening of the sonata is the most dramatic that Beethoven had yet to compose. Within just six measures we have three different tempi, which also contrast motivically and by mood. The slow rolled chord followed by three notes which outline the dominant chord of A-major sounds like an introduction, but make no such mistake, this is a motif on which much of the movement is built, recurring in faster tempi and various keys. Take a look at Ex. 1, below, and notice the different tempi and motifs:

Beethoven tempest 1 opening

Ex. 1

The opening Largo is the basis for the first theme of the piece. In Ex. 2, I’ve circled just the four-note motif in the Largo. This develops into the first full theme of the piece shown in Ex. 3. Both of these examples are below:

annotated tempest largo

Ex. 2

annotated first theme Beethoven tempest

Ex. 3

Circled in red in Ex. 3 is the opening motif from the Largo, which is being used as a fully developed theme. You’ll also notice that Ex. 3 has a blue-circled motif as well. This is actually used, rather discreetly, as an accompaniment for the second theme of the piece. More on that as I discuss the second theme.


The Allegro of the opening bars is the basis of the second theme, which I’ve isolated in Ex. 4.  It is characterized by small two-note phrases. This developed into the second theme as shown in Ex. 5. See them both below:

second theme intro Beethoven Tempest

Ex. 4

annotated second theme Beethoven Tempest

Ex. 5

In Ex. 5 You’ll notice two different colored examples. The blue-circled material shows the full development of the motif first stated in the opening Allegro as shown in Ex.4. Also, notice the circles in red. This is the accompaniment of the second theme that uses, again rather discreetly, the motif from the first theme shown in blue in Ex. 3. Compare the blue in Ex. 3 with the red in Ex. 5. While the original statement in Ex. 3 uses quarter notes and the accompaniment uses eighth notes, the contour of the line is the same and is a play off that original motif.

Here is a live recording from one of my recent recitals. This took place at Stage 7 in Kirkland, WA on 1/16/16.

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