My favourite moment in the second movement of Beethoven 3 is bars 157-159 (just after letter E), when we hear a very soft, very high a-flat in the first violins, followed by a very loud, very low a-flat in the celli and basses, then a very loud a-flat major chord with all the strings and the horns. I have my own, very personal, poetic idea of what this moment might express dramatically, but I thought it would be good to see if I could understand why Beethoven used those notes to create that moment. Certainly it is the most dramatic moment (of many very dramatic moments) in the movement, so why a-flat? Maybe the answer is in more questions…
Question: What is the first note with an expressive marking on it in the movement?
Answer: A-flat (First violins, bar 6, sf)
Question: If the E-flat major theme at letter A is the first sign of any hope or respite, what note takes us back to c minor?
Answer: A-flat (in the first violins in the third bar of letter A)
Questions: After the great, fortissimo climax of the Maggiore section, what note takes us back to c minor?
Answer: A-flat (bar 102. Note that bar 101 could still be in major, the down beat is a c major chord- I think many performances lose that sense that it isn’t until the next bar that we know where we’re going).
Question: What harmony signals our entrance into the coda
Answer: A Flat Major (letter H)
Question: What is the highest note in the last phrase of the movement?
Answer: A flat (first violins bar 242)
Now that is cool.
So, what does A-flat mean to Beethoven in this movement?