The key of C minor is a sure sign with Beethoven of high drama and this sonata is no exception. The first movement opens with a dark, sombre theme in the piano, then taken up by the fiddle. The first subject concludes with ferocious chords leading directly into the second subject, a tightly constructed theme with a powerful dotted rhythm. The urgency of the music forbids, for the only time in the series of Violin Sonatas, the usual exposition repeat. It also led one imaginative writer to hear in it the charge of Prussian cavalry. Both themes take part in the development, which opens with a menacing sense of mystery, created by the left hand of the piano playing the first two bars of the main theme and the violin answering above the modulating harmonies of the right hand. This leads to an energetic discussion of the second subject. The movement ends with the drama unresolved.
The Adagio cantabile is the longest slow movement in the series apart from the variation movement in the Kreutzer. Apparently it was originally cast in G major, but Beethoven transposed it up a semitone to A flat in order to heighten the tonal contrast with the other movements. It is in ternary form with an eloquent theme in two sections, each half introduced by the piano. There is a short contrasting middle section in the minor that gradually leads back to the main theme, which is now decorated in many exquisitely ingenious ways. Towards the end, there are dramatic interruptions with rapid scales in C major that bring us back to the outside world and prepare the way for the scherzo.
This brilliantly witty little movement in C major is guaranteed to make everyone smile. It is a sharply pointed movement with a more melodic trio. At one stage Beethoven thought of suppressing the scherzos that can be found in three of the ten sonatas, but luckily he changed his mind. The high spirits of this movement carry over into some of the finale despite the return of C minor. This rondo finale is launched by a quaver figure in the bass that Beethoven delights in using to signal the return of the main rondo theme. There are three episodes followed by a fiery and tempestuous presto coda.